Coping with illness, my way

The day one learns one has cancer, everything changes. That’s my sense three months into my battle with prostate cancer.

me, this morning

The notion that I have a serious illness is always with me, but I fight hard against the disease taking over my mood. The odd thing is that I have no pain or sickness from the disease. I feel perfectly healthy and am in peak condition from all the cycling I do – or did for the time being.

Perhaps by default, I seem to make sure that I do not get too low…or high. My emotional state has been stable and I have yet to melt down or fail to deal with my disease rationally. If I felt lousy, I am fully aware my mood would take a sharp turn for the worse. You’ll know: my posts will read something like “don’t feel much like blogging right now…”

For now, blogging about my experience helps me cope. Add in a good dose of rationalizing – hey, something’s going to get me – and my head clears pretty fast.

But it’s not always easy.

The lowest moments have been in the doctor’s office. My prognosis has steadily gone downhill after a urologist gave me the initial news on June 15 that cancer has been detected in the prostate biopsy. He was confident I had a 95% or higher chance of cure with surgery. Well, I had surgery Aug. 28 and it looks as if I will require radiation to zap cancer the sawbones could not get – or missed. I’ll have much more on the docs and our medical system in future posts.

I have gotten used to the idea that I have cancer and no longer struggle with using the word. I even added ‘cancer’ to my blog categories and tags! I may as well stare it down.

I walk, eat right and do the things I need to do to heal from the surgery and to regain continence, which took a major hit in the prostatectomy. I set goals such as playing tennis and golf again by mid-October. Biking will have wait the full three months as my parts heal.  In a week, I plan to move from Depends to pads and to wear regular belted trousers instead of sweat pants with a draw string in deference to the incision’s rawness. After all, I am only 16 days off surgery.

Today, I set up a firewood pallet on the porch and loaded it with nine sticks of firewood, carrying in three at time from my wood crib. My normal load is 7-8 sticks. I’ll do nine more tomorrow. While it’s important to modulate activities relative to one’s capability to safely carry them out, it’s worse not to do them at all even if on a drastically reduced tempo and scale.

Doing the things I did pre-cancer helps make life seem normal. After all, the last thing I want to do is sit around and dwell about what’s going on in my body. One thing I’ve learned through all of this is how complex the body is and how many things can go wrong! The systems in the body now seem like disasters waiting to happen.  Why? Because they are.

As one who has hardly ever been sick (I just turned 63), I have to wrap my head around my condition very day. And I do.

One thing that affects me is people’s reaction to my disease, which is all over the map. Prostate cancer is no walk in the park even though it’s one of the most curable cancers. The surgery is major, requiring a 5-6 inch vertical incision (18 metal staples in my case) that cuts deeply tissue and muscle (can you say C section?). Using a Foley catheter for nine days was not much fun, either. The condom-esque alternative was a Texas catheter, whose name alone scares the bejeezus out of me.

And, well, you know….cancer really sucks.

But at the same time, people who are startled by my news or who react in a negative way bring me down. For instance, “you must be freaked out” or “that’s scary” is not what I want to hear. “You’re going to beat this” or “keep fighting” are much better. As someone gazes at me with empathy, I try to  change the conversation by asking how they are doing. “Better than you,” one noted with irony. That response didn’t exactly make me feel better.

Encouragement is critical and helps me or any patient maintain a positive attitude. The startled or negative comments don’t throw me much, but a little cheerleading goes a long way.

Anyhow, this how I cope and I would hope those around me will confirm I am doing a pretty good job of it.

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13 Comments

  1. Bob Scheier says:

    John, am sorry to hear it but if anyone will beat it you will — keep fighting, keep doing the right things and you shall prevail. Be well and take care;

    Bob

  2. Jonathan Oski says:

    John – was great to see you on Sunday. Can’t wait to get together on 2 wheels and a court as soon as you’re ready. Your bocce game is in top form.

  3. John says:

    Thanks, Jonathan….won’t be long…

  4. Regina Lynch says:

    John, you’re the picture of strength – and your words and attitude are beyond inspiring. Anyone who’s met you knows cancer doesn’t stand a chance.
    Take care!
    Regina and Greg

  5. John says:

    Thanks, Regina…hope you’re well.

  6. Lynda Chamberlain says:

    John, you are touching my heart all over the place. You WILL beat this! We have a dear friend in his 70s who has gone through what you are going through. He is healthy now and bikes daily so keep the faith!

  7. John says:

    Great to hear, Lynda…thanks

  8. Allan Brinckmann says:

    John: you WILL beat this! I was diagnosed with NHL 8 years ago and declared in remission after 2 years. I can identify with everything you’ve said – it’s a scary journey and I found that my own lack of knowledge about the disease made it all the more so. But over time I gained in knowledge and confidence that I could beat it, with the help of the right professionals (make sure you find the experts in your disease, not the generalists). I look forward to hearing more about your progress! (I’ve been lurking on the E-CIO Forum for a while now, and enjoying insights.) Best wishes – Allan

  9. John says:

    Allan, Your encouragement is very helpful. What I am finding is that my confidence is building every day that I can beat this. And hearing from folks like you is enormously helpful. Best wishes…..J

  10. LionelatDell says:

    John:
    Sorry to see this… Hope that those low points are few and far between as you battle through this. Keep fighting.

    –Lionel

  11. John says:

    Thanks, Lionel…

  12. Bill Fowler says:

    John,

    It’s long overdue for us to have that beer! I just read your blog about dealing with prostate cancer and was not surprised to see that you have been dealing with it with courage and grace. You’re right that there is so much that can go wrong with the body as we age, so it’s best to keep your mind on the good things. I had a heart attack in Nov 2010 and that, too, is a wake up call. How could this happen to someone who runs 20 miles a week or more? Just ask Frank Shorter, I guess! Anyway hang in there Kid you’ll make it. My neighbor’s dad had prostate cancer diagnosed….he was 67 then and now, 15 years later, I wave to him as I go by him mowing his lawn. I’ll be calling you.

  13. Jim Lynch says:

    Hi John,

    I was browsing your site and saw the cancer link. I am very sorry to hear of your illness.

    You have a lot of balls for sharing your story with everybody. I always respected you professionally, but I respect you even more as a man and human being.

    Cancer, unfortunately, runs in my family. My father passed away a few years ago from lung cancer. I hope I never get it, but if I do I hope I have even a little bit of the courage and grace that you’ve shown in dealing with yours.

    Take good care of yourself, my best to you and your family.

    Jim

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