Sunday, April 30, 2023

Night is the Darkest Time

 I’ve written before that the mental battle is one of the toughest parts of fighting cancer. I’m sure that everyone’s experience with cancer is different, but I’ve heard from enough people to know that this is a common part of the struggle.

In my case, the physical effects of the cancer were not bad since it was detected before I had any noticeable symptoms. That left me primarily with the mental battle. In other cases, where the cancer is more advanced, there is a larger physical component but the emotional effects still take a toll.

lunar eclipse
Photo by Ryan Olson on Unsplash

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In psychology, there are five defined stages of grief that people experience when confronted with bad news. These include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are all common but can be different for different people. For example, I definitely experienced denial and depression before moving on to acceptance, but I never really felt the anger or bargaining phases. In reality, I probably moved through denial, depression, and acceptance more than once.

When I was first diagnosed, I was in shock. I felt completely numb. I would find myself thinking “I can’t believe this is happening” about 50 times every day. And that’s probably a conservative estimate.

For a guy who is normally in control and has a plan in mind, cancer was a shock. I was completely out of control. I could do nothing except show up for appointments and try to schedule things as quickly as possible. What happened to me was totally up to the doctors and the microscopic cancer cells within my body. It left me feeling totally helpless.

I was in this fog for several weeks, although I may not have always shown it. That didn’t really change until shortly before the surgery.

I didn’t make my diagnosis public at first. I wanted to tell certain family and friends before I made the news public and I planned to keep working as long as possible. Even though I confirmed with the medical experts at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association that I was legal to fly until my surgery, I thought it better to keep my condition on the down low other than telling my bosses and coworkers.

I want to say here that my flying is one thing that wasn’t affected by my anxiety. I carefully monitored my performance in the cockpit and concentrated on the task at hand. When I was flying, I was able to forget about cancer for a while. The escape and distraction that work provided were valuable.

Eventually, about three weeks after I got the bad news, my wife and I made Facebook posts and asked for prayers from our extended family and internet acquaintances. Although we had been praying and having people pray for us already, it was after this point that I finally started finding some peace.

I had started keeping a prayer journal early in the process. Looking back through it, I see that I made the Facebook post on February 10. On February 11, I noted that I got the call from the doctor scheduling my surgery for February 21.

In that entry, I wrote, “It also seems miraculous that my fears have ebbed. I was having a good day before getting the call. Even since hearing that news, I’ve felt better about things.”

A few days later, as I was waiting to go into surgery, I wrote, “I’m afraid but not terrified and as much at peace as possible. My heart rate is about 30 points lower than for the PET scan.” As you may recall, my Fitbit thought I was doing cardio as I sat in the waiting room for the PET scan a few weeks earlier.

I went into the surgery optimistically, but I went into another downward spiral when I saw the pathology report after surgery that showed the cancer had spread into one of my lymph nodes. This is the point where the depression really took hold for me as I described in my post-op post.

I couldn’t see how things would work out. I thought that I had done the surgery for nothing. I thought that I would have to have radiation and hormone treatments. I thought I’d be away from flying for years and possibly lose my job and insurance. I thought that both my life and financial well-being were threatened.

If you’ve read the previous post, you know that ultimately I got good news. The surgeon said that the cancer was likely to not return for a long time and that no further treatment was required at the moment, but from within my bubble before I heard from the doctor, I couldn’t see that. Part of it was that I lacked the relevant medical knowledge, but part of it was a tendency to expect the worst in the middle of a crisis. It’s easy to let your imagination run toward worst-case scenarios when dealing with a life-threatening situation that is filled with unknowns.

I’ll say this again as well: Guard your emotions and expectations and be prepared for news that is worse than expected. Don’t allow yourself to be blindsided. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

For me at least, cancer was a slow-moving crisis. Prostate cancer typically moves pretty slowly so there isn’t a real sense of urgency. I had to wait several weeks for the PET scan and another few weeks for the surgery. So how do you rein in your emotions and fears in the meantime?

I eventually realized that I couldn’t focus on the whole, seemingly insurmountable mountain of problems and concerns that I was faced with. I sometimes ask my kids, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.”

I needed to take my battle with cancer one bite at a time. Sometimes that meant one day at a time and sometimes it meant one hour or one minute at a time. The key was to just get through the short-term hurdles and not focus on the long-range problems.

For some, support groups may help. It didn’t work for me though. I didn’t have an in-person group, but I joined a Facebook prostate cancer group. This group had the opposite effect from reassuring and comforting me. The posts about returning cancer and problems with recovery were not what I needed to see at the time.

My wife had a similar experience with a support group for families of prostate cancer patients. Many of the wives complained about the lack of intimacy and emotional distance from their recovering husbands. That led to some emotional distress on her part as she worried that our marriage would grow cold.

Guys, let me say this: Don’t ignore your wife as you go through a crisis. Even if sexual intimacy isn’t an option at the moment, keep talking to her and giving her kisses and affectionate touches. It’s about mutual support and encouragement.

For me, coping also involved a lot of prayer and devotional reading. I started with Bible study plans on the Youversion Bible app that dealt with anxiety and crisis. In my prayer journal, I record a lot of instances in which God encouraged me through Bible verses or other little signs that I’d see in my daily life.

After surgery, my mom gave me a devotional book by Sarah Young that helped a lot. Whenever I started to feel panicked or depressed, I would pick up this book, “Jesus Today,” and read a devotional or two. I can’t count how many times Sarah seemed to address exactly what I was feeling at the time.

But the worst time was at night. I’d normally go to sleep easily, but wake up in the middle of the night with dark thoughts running through my head. In the middle of the night, the demons - whether figurative or literal - stalk you and plant the seeds of despair and fear. That’s why I titled this piece, “Night is the Darkest Time.” If you’ve been through something similar, you probably know what I mean.

It was at this point that I learned the true meaning of the Bible’s admonition to “take your thoughts captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5). When I’d wake up to the thoughts that cancer was moving throughout my body and killing me and that I couldn’t fly and I’d lose my job and insurance and go broke, I started repeating Psalm 143:8 as a mantra:

Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning,
    for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk,
    for I give myself to you.

Another simple prayer that was passed along by some of my cousins is “Lord, help me while I wait for you to help me.”

We aren’t promised that everything will be okay. In fact, we are promised the opposite (John 16:33), but we are assured that Jesus and God will be with us in whatever we face (Hebrews 13:5). Sometimes we just need some extra assurance to get us to the point where our prayers are answered.

As I said earlier, cancer makes you realize just how little control we have over our lives. We can feel like we are as healthy as we’ve ever been one day and then find out that we have a malignant tumor the next. But even healthy people have the potential to suddenly meet their maker in a car crash or a spree shooting or a thousand other ways. Life can turn - or end - on a dime and there’s nothing we can do about a lot of those possibilities.

For me, what kept me from lapsing into a deep depression was the decision to put my faith in God, the being who does have control over my life and the universe. Like the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, cancer patients are powerless over the disease and need to depend upon “a Power greater than ourselves.”

Throughout the process, I told a lot of people that cancer was a roller coaster ride. To quote Jimmy Buffett, there were “good days and bad days [and] going half-mad days.” But the roller coaster’s dips eventually shallowed out. The low points weren’t as deep and the bad days weren’t as awful. Eventually, you just get tired of being afraid.

It was almost a month after my surgery that I realized that I was starting to think positively about the future again. It was beginning to dawn on me that I was actually going to have a future.

If you are suffering through cancer or some other crisis, just know that you aren’t the only one who has felt this way or who has suffered through similar problems. Take it one step at a time and don’t be afraid to reach out, both to your earthly friends as well as to God.

I can’t promise that everything will end well. For all of us, something is going to be fatal one day. The best we can do is to seek God’s comfort and assurance as we go on our individual journey through our life. One day at a time.

Thank you for reading My Prostate Cancer Journey. This post is public so feel free to share it.


I intend to make this blog free, but as I write this in April 2023, I am out of work and on disability as I recover from my cancer. I’m not broke, but I am on a reduced income. If you feel led to buy a subscription or make a donation, it will be greatly appreciated. To make your donation go further, you can also donate directly to on Paypal or @captainkudzu71 on Venmo.

If you don’t want to send money, I also appreciate prayers, comments, and shares. If you know someone who has or may have prostate cancer or someone who loves someone with prostate cancer, feel free to share this blog with them.

Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional and this blog does not provide individualized medical advice. If you think you are sick, you should seek treatment from a real doctor.

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From My Prostate Cancer Journey

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