People think I’m a COOL GUY.
I’ve hung out with Michael Jordan before college basketball games at North Carolina. I flew jets off aircraft carriers, dodged missiles and never screamed or whimpered once. I’ve done some really cool stuff with Navy SEALs, but I can’t tell ya much about it. And I’ve strummed Bruce Springsteen’s guitar while the E Street Band played “Born to Run”.
But you gotta trust me on this one: there’s nothing cool about cancer.
Believe it or not, as I stand here, I don’t even like to talk about cancer.
Like, Let’s move on, you know? But I’ve found cancer never completely leaves us, and I think bearing witness – here and now before you - is the greatest weapon we have against this cruel disease.
In retrospect I think keeping silent about my cancer was a twisted way to be cool about it. I had been getting regular blood tests to look for prostate cancer. (For the record I never had any other indication I had cancer - it was simply a consistently abnormal number from a blood test. And I’m amazed that lots of men don’t get a PSA test - you know! IT’S ONLY A BLOOD TEST!
Finally, I had a biopsy – and it confirmed that I had Stage 1 prostate cancer. But the doctor reassured me that I had time – that conveniently suited this cool guy’s denial! So rather than going under the knife, I watched and waited, and I indulged in New Age mysticism and Oriental medicine – and the cancer was halted for a while.
I suppose my daily discipline of mediation and tea ceremonies didn’t hurt, but over time my PSA was starting to rise again, so I got another biopsy; this time the cancer had progressed to Stage 2. I almost waited too long. Only dumb luck saved my life. At that moment I realized a few things: I knew no amount of herbs, acupuncture, mediation or crystals were going to heal me. Also, I knew I needed help, so I began to reach out to friends and family and built what I called a “SYMPHONY OF SUPPORT” .
I found that once I put out there, there was a sense of relief in revealing the secret; – and I found a new sense of strength from growing a team of support.
I learned that people generally follow the emotional lead of the person with the illness. I would not believe in naïve happy endings and I would not wallow in chaotic crisis. I was going to fight this methodically; I would be the smart, BRAVE FACE of this battle. But let me clear - I was no saint. I went through the emotional cycles of denial, irritability, anxiety, and depression. But with the support of my symphony, I decided not to fight or hide those emotions;
I allowed those emotions to flow and express themselves.
I tried to be open and explain these feelings to myself, my family, my friends, and my symphony. I found that generally men don’t talk about these things easily so most of my symphony of support was comprised of women. But I must point out there was ONE MAN who generously shared with me his own experience with prostate cancer and some intimate details of his happy, post-treatment life.
And I found a CANCER LIBRARY that provided me information to make informed choices; and there was a humor section! I found there are actually some good jokes about cancer! “Do you know the best way to get gum out of your hair? Chemotherapy.” “What did the cancer cell say to it’s neighbor? Mind if I join you?”
But anyway, what I learned is that sometimes you need to ask for support, for help. We’re human- even men are human and need help sometimes even though its hard to ask for it.
Perhaps the biggest help came when I unexpectedly met a special woman - and I fell in love. After reluctantly telling her about my cancer, her love & support never wavered. She kept my attitude positive, tolerated my mood swings, and painted a vison of a sexy & exciting future together.
Navigating our health care system is hard enough but selecting cancer treatment options is a daunting task. I seriously considered going to Mexico, but their “cash up front” policy gave me pause, so it basically came down to two options, surgery or radiation. Both options have high rates of success but either way, I was looking at impotence and incontinence (either permanently or temporarily) and sterility (which would be forever).
My final treatment selection was based on a conversation with a doctor who thoroughly answered my questions, respected my knowledge, explored all the risks, and satisfied my concerns. In the end I chose to have my prostate surgically removed.
My symphony of support continued to help me through all the major recovery milestones. My parents provided me a place to recover surrounded by love and even allowed my dog Clint to sleep in the guest bed with me. My girlfriend, who is now my fiancé never left my side from day 1. And praise God, follow-ups revealed there are no lingering cancer cells. YES!
However, I did not walk away unscathed. Prostate cancer is especially emasculating. While I no longer depend on Depends, I do cross my knees extra tight when I sneeze and hope for the best!
While my surgeon saved my nerve cells which allowed me to continue enjoying sex… I STILL GOT IT, BABY! We have to plan for it… unfortunately spontaneity is a thing of the past.
While I have my sperm safely stored on ice in a reputable sperm bank, I call and check in on them regularly because I’m so worried someone’s going to accidentally thaw them out or maybe give them to someone else or something like that...
And while the cancer is gone, I worry about its return.
Going forward, there remain unknowns about body image, physical dysfunction, potential complications, insurance market uncertainties, etc, but I cannot control those concerns and will simply have to deal with these issues when or if they come.
I’m not going to pretend my cancer experience compares to the horrors others have endured. But any encounter with cancer will have a profound impact on your life. My past ideas about manhood have been transformed; luckily, I am “woke” enough to see a path forward toward a new definition of manhood.
My passion is more than the sum of any body parts, but it lies in my imagination, my soul, and my love of life itself. Now I actually see how this experience has made me a “better man” – with deeper relationships, self-knowledge, humility, and intimacy.
I continue my daily prayer & meditation practice
I continue placing my faith & trust in God.
I have a higher sense of mission & purpose.
I don’t curse my fate; instead every morning I count my possibilities.
We talk about being a “CANCER SURVIVOR” – as if it’s a past event, a distant battle won - but I now appreciate that we are all “SURVIVING CANCER”. The battle goes on.
I really don’t care what other people think is cool, but I think these new scars of hard-won wisdom are the best part of me.