What My Cancer is Taking Away and What it May be Giving Back
I want to share what my prostate cancer is taking away, and what it may be giving back.
What are the negatives?
The first negative that comes to mind is time. If I were to total up all the time spent in doctor visits, testing, and working to get my meds and my tests scheduled and done, I think I’d be shocked at how much of my limited time on Earth is spent on these endeavors. This doesn’t include all the time, often unproductive, spent thinking about my cancer and what it is doing to me.
The ability to plan
The cancer has, to some degree, taken away my ability to plan. Can I plan a vacation without knowing if I’ll be feeling well enough in three to six months to take that trip? Will my medicine intervene with travel, will I need more radiation treatment, and will it affect my bowels even more than my last radiation did? Can I join the church choir given that my hot flashes can come on at any time, causing sweat to drip off my nose during the Alleluias!!
In addition, for many folks the cost of treatment is a very real negative. If you have Medicare or Medicaid or private insurance, will your preferred treatment be allowed or covered? If you are lucky enough to be able to pay for your preferred expensive meds or treatment when they are denied, how will this take away your long-term security or your ability to help out your struggling children or family?
Some drugs can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year if they are denied by your insurer. Referring back to the cost in time, I personally spent hours talking with my insurer to be sure they would cover my newly-prescribed medicine. I’m still not sure exactly how much my expensive medicine will actually cost me! When you have cancer, waiting for approval for a test or procedure that is already available elsewhere around the world can be very frustrating.
Sexual identity and emotional stability
While time spent, cost, and interference with planning are important, the cancer can also take away or damage our sexuality and our self-image. Our emotional responses to sexual simulation can be blunted and, to the degree that our pride and self-image are wrapped up with our libido and ability to perform, our self-image can take a real hit.
Those of us on ADT (androgen deprivation therapy) know only too well how much our lives have changed on these drugs. We can begin to doubt our ability to maintain the security of our relationship with our partner or significant other. All of this can lead to the feeling that treatment isn’t worth it and that we might be better off to roll the dice and take whatever fate hands us!
Are there any positives?
While I’ve painted a pretty dire picture of the negatives associated with cancer, it wouldn’t be fair not to talk about what our cancers can, and often do, give us.
Increased gratitude for my life up to the present
Having been part of a prostate cancer support group for several years, I've found that it is important to appreciate the positives. For example, the group has given me a chance to “open up” about my cancer and to even share my feelings and experiences more fully with others.
Knowing that two or three decades ago I probably would not have survived my diagnosis, I work hard to have a warm and grateful response to the fact that the PSA and most of today's best treatments and medicines have come along just in the nip of time! Every hot flash I have is a reminder that this flush coming over me has also slowed my cancer to a near standstill for now!
A better understanding of how to care for my health
In reality, I think cancer can even prolong the length and quality of one's life. The lifestyle changes that can help to navigate this disease and its treatments can be statistically likely to actually prolong our lives! Weight loss and a diet with lots of plant-based foods and fewer calories may give us energy we didn’t even have before our diagnoses. In addition, and even more importantly, I think increased exercise may well be the biggest key to longevity!
An openness and honesty about what is really important in life
Years ago, as a hospice doctor, patients would often tell me that only when they faced the end of life did they full appreciate and understand what was truly important. Having cancer has offered me the same opportunity; and hopefully with newer treatments, we all can live a longer and much more fully examined life than ever before!
What steps can I take to make the most of my situation?
We can be open to new habits, be informed about our disease, and search for the best medical care and treatments available. We can be proactive! We are not victims. We are survivors. With a little work, we can use this disease to be our best selves for a very long time! The way I see it, I’m living with cancer... not dying from it!
How familiar are you with inherited gene mutations and cancer?