Over the years, I have met with therapists for a wide variety of reasons: to unlock childhood issues; to help strengthen my marriage; to find direction as a parent; to relieve the anxiety from a stressful job. I have found that just the act of verbalizing the issues at hand makes a huge difference in maintaining good mental health. Coupled with suggestions from a professional, my willingness to talk as honestly as possible yields positive results.
Reflections from therapy
When I first started my journey with prostate cancer, over two years ago, I found solace and support through talking to my wife, my children, my siblings, my friends, and my doctor. At the end of the first year, I joined a support group at a local hospital, and that reservoir of empathy and knowledge helped immensely. A few months later, in March of 2018, the accumulation of uncertainty about the future, following a decision to have a radical laparoscopic prostatectomy, and other relatively recent health issues, led to an emotional upheaval and a return to my therapist.
At first, I spoke to my therapist by myself and then my wife joined me. My health issues and other family matters had created some distance between us. Now we were facing a new, post-surgery life that included uncertainty about the outcome of the surgery, the impact of potential side effects, our ability to adjust to a new normal. Those meetings helped us close the gap and find new momentum in our relationship, and it led to one major decision. My wife would join me in retirement as soon as possible, which turned out to be in December of 2018. Today, a few months from our 38th anniversary, our marriage and our love for one another is stronger than ever.
The negativity still hurts
Recently, an unexpected event occurred that upset my emotional equilibrium and made me realize how vulnerable I still am almost two-and-a-half years into my prostate cancer journey. I was blindsided by a negative, and what felt like a very personal, reaction to my treatment decision. My wife and I recently spent a few days hiking and sight-seeing in Death Valley. Someone once described the heat there as being like “someone punching you in the stomach and taking your lunch money.” That’s how I felt after the negative reaction: defenseless, vulnerable, violated. I felt it at a visceral level.
I took some time to think and feel my way through the experience, take some of the power out of it, and then I made an appointment with my therapist. We talked for over an hour, during which I was able to broaden the context of the incident, see where it fit into a pattern of responses to such moments that go way back in my personal history, all the way to childhood. I walked out of the office feeling like my balance had been restored.
Our journeys are all unique
In all of the articles I’ve written for ProstateCancer.net over the last 15 months, I’ve emphasized the importance of understanding that every journey with prostate cancer, or any potentially life-threatening disease, is unique and personal. And that on some level, no one who has not had your experience can understand it completely. As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I have found that therapists, who are professional listeners, have the knowledge, the empathy, and the intuitive ability to understand my experience, and to help me better understand my experience as well. They can’t climb into my skin, but they can help me feel more comfortable in it. Talk helps.
Do you feel heard and understood by your doctor?