Sunday, January 2, 2011

Winning the Battle With Prostate Cancer: A very personal story, Part IV

The Last Post of a Four Part Blog

The 10 month span from that shocking diagnosis through tough decisions, debilitating treatment with angst filled recovery and finally to relieving remission has been, I can honestly say, the most interesting ten month span of my life. It has been an ordeal, albeit a far less severe ordeal than others who may have been diagnosed at a later stage and some who were diagnosed too late to prevail. Yet for me and a few of those closest to me, this was an ordeal from which a lot could be learned. And the lessons learned were many. I share some of them with you now in the honest hope that if you or someone you love is diagnosed with prostate cancer somewhere in my recorded experience is just one (or perhaps more) comment, some action taken, some decision made or some observation which will help you or a loved one get through this challenge more easily and quickly and with the same good results I’ve had.

1. Get a PSA Test: If you are over 40 years of age make sure you get your level of Prostate Specific Antigen tested once a year. It’s a simple blood test requiring only one tube to be drawn. It’s over and done in about 3 minutes and is completely painless. If your PSA level is under 1.0 ppn (parts per nanogram) there’s nothing to worry about. If it’s approaching 2.0 ppn you might want to talk with your doctor about all the reasons that can happen. If it’s climbing beyond 2.0 and headed to 3.0 don’t ignore it!! When it comes to prostate cancer and your PSA level the old adage holds true: where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

2. Don’t Delay a Diagnosis:
Like any disease, the earlier prostate cancer is detected and diagnosed the greater your options for treatment and the better the success rate.

3. Don’t Be Fooled by Unorthodox Diagnostic Claims: If you listen to sports talk radio or political talk radio during the day you can’t help but notice the radio ads and claims for “no needle diagnosis” and diagnosis by imaging methods such as CT Scan, MRI and even “ultra-sound”. The fact is, the only sure way to know whether cancer is lurking in your prostate is to get tissue samples from the gland and have a certified lab look at the cells under a microscope. Cancerous cells don’t look anything like healthy cells and cannot be mistaken for anything other than what they are. . .ugly and misshapen markers of disease. And the only way to get those tissue samples is through the standard needle biopsy. Yes, it’s painful, nasty and incredibly undignified but the needle biopsy is the ONLY sure diagnostic tool- - -the ONLY one. So, man up, suck it up and get it done. The sooner you are diagnosed the better. Treat it like a matter of life and death because- - - it is. Did you get that, brother? Did I make it plain enough for you? I sure hope so.

4. Research Your Treatment Options Carefully: The earlier stage at which your cancer is found the more treatment options you have. Cancers found at more advanced stages require more radical and limited forms of treatment. The more radical the treatment the longer and more difficult the recovery and the path to remission. Information is the key to selecting the right treatment option. Yes, your doctors will give you reams of information to read but, that information is likely to reflect their own treatment biases. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, after all these folks are highly trained and highly skilled professionals worthy of your trust. But because you are making a life altering decision you want to back up your trust in your doctors with your own ability to verify the information you have. The Internet makes it easy to do your own in research and in Part II of this 4 part blog I’ve given you four good places to start. Don’t ignore this. Doing your own research will give you greater confidence in selecting your treatment and the more confident you are going into that treatment the easier your recovery and path to remission will be.

5. Get Fit and Stay Fit: Yes, I’m repeating this again: the healthier you are going into your selected treatment plan the healthier you will be during the recovery period and on your path to remission. Even if your cancer is discovered at an advanced stage and the time you have between diagnosis and starting treatment is only a matter of days rather than weeks or months, start working on an exercise and fitness plan incorporating any and all exercise your medical team will permit then stick to it. The discipline will pay off. You will feel like you have some control over your recovery and that you are giving your body the means to heal itself . . . because you are. Aerobic and cardio enhancing exercise will force more oxygen to your healthy cells and tissues which in turn will negate a lot of the side effects of your treatment and speed up your body’s ability to recover.

6. Expect the Unexpected:
All prostate cancer treatment is based on one of two processes; surgery or radiation or both. Some treatments such as radical removal followed by high intensity radiation are harder on your body than others. But every treatment option without exception will cause side effects- - -some anticipated, some not. Your body will do strange things, things you’ve never experienced before and some of it won’t be “polite”. But these things are most often temporary and eventually you will regain control of them. The need for surgical correction is rare. Learn to expect the unexpected from your genito-urinary system and intestinal tract. And yes, sexual dysfunction is also the norm during recovery. But this too can be easier to deal with if you have an understanding partner who will help you keep that part of your system functioning through the recovery process.

7. Listen to Your Doctors Carefully: This should be obvious but doctors are humans too. They have different personalities and different styles (bedside manners). They all deliver their ideas, comments, information and messages differently. Ask your doctors to be specific about what they want you to do or not do and more importantly, why they want you to do it (or refrain from doing something). Unclear communication between you and your doctor will slow down your recovery. Yes, your doctor has a responsibility to tell you the things you need to know but you have a responsibility to listen and act.

8. Don’t Overlook the Power of the Mind: Techniques like self-hypnosis and focused imagery can harness the energy of your mind and body to help you heal. Consider adding a licensed holistic practitioner to your medical team if you can. If you cannot do that then consider the technique I described in Part III of the blog. It’s easy and effective.

9. Don’t Discount the Power of Prayer: Even the most rabid of atheists when pressed will admit a belief in some sort of force in the universe . . . something to explain the unexplainable. Religion teaches us that force is God and instructs us on how to make use of His power through prayer and meditation. Your religious friends, as mine did, will offer to put you on their ‘prayer lists’. Let them do that. You will feel it and you will know it. They do it because they love you and that love has the power to heal.

10. Don’t Be Embarrassed to Lean on Others: This disease and its treatment WILL wreak havoc on you mentally as well as physically. On many days it will sap you of your energy and stamina. It will challenge your sense of self-worth and your notion of your masculinity. No one told me this and I didn’t handle it very well at all. But now you know it. And if you make certain that your family and friends know what you are going through and that, while you recover, you won’t be the “Mr. Reliable” they have always known you will get through the ordeal more easily. The people who love you will want to know and they will want to help. Let them do so. Be honest with them about what is happening to you. Most will understand. Only the selfish few will not.

So that’s it, dear readers. The thing men don’t like to talk about, even though we know that, like women, we should talk about it. We should talk to our friends and our sons- - -and our daughters, too. We should proclaim we are survivors. We should have races for the cure. We should be asking for more research funding. We should be wearing lapel pins. We should have a “Prostate Cancer Awareness Month”. . . .but wait, we did. It was proclaimed by President Obama, for the first time ever, to be the month of September 2010. A Presidential Proclamation was issued and yet I didn’t know about it because I saw nothing on the Internet or TV news programs. I read nothing in the newspapers, and Moffitt Cancer Center- -where I’m being treated- -sent me nothing about it. If I had not seen, by chance, a brief segment about it on the Geraldo show one night, I would never have known.

Such is the way we treat the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in this country. And we men, through our silence, allow it to happen. But, hopefully, this four part blog will, in some small way, help to get other men- - -and the people who love them- - - doing all those "shoulds".

No comments: