Saturday, April 20, 2024

My Prostate Cancer Journey: You Are Not Alone

 If you’re experiencing prostate cancer, it can be easy to feel isolated. Even if you have friends and family around you, it’s a burden that no one lift or carry for you. Ultimately, you have to walk the road yourself.

Even so, you aren’t alone, and getting in touch with other fellow travelers can help. I didn’t have anyone to relate their experience before my surgery, but I’ve talked to several men about their cases since. I know at least three people in my circle of family and friends who are currently undergoing treatment or awaiting surgery.

But pace yourself. A prostate cancer diagnosis takes time to process. Go at your own speed and don’t feel pressured to spill your feelings and get in touch with your emotions before you’re ready.

view of two persons hands
Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash

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The flip side is that, as men, we tend to try to be strong and independent. We need to admit that sometimes we need help and support.

If you’re a friend or family of someone going through prostate cancer, just be there for them. Understand that they may not want to talk about it. They may need space but they also need someone to keep them grounded so they don’t drift off into a deep funk. Knowing when to adopt which strategy can be tricky.

As I said, you aren’t alone and I was reminded of that this week when I read that Francis Collins had opened up about his diagnosis. I write a blog on Substack. Collins got an op-ed in the Washington Post.

I became familiar with Francis Collins during the pandemic when he directed the National Institutes of Health. As I watched him help lead America’s response to COVID-19, I learned he was a Christian. Ultimately, I read his book, “The Language of God,” which details his journey as a scientist who came to Christ and rejects the notion that science and religion cannot mix. Collins presents scientific arguments for evolution and questions the notion that life begins at conception while simultaneously defending the existence of God and Jesus. It’s an interesting and not-at-all typical book.

In his new article, Collins describes how he had low-grade prostate cancer and was utilizing active surveillance. Over a short period, his cancer became much more aggressive and his PSA rose sharply to 22 with a Gleason score of nine. (For a discussion of these terms, read my earlier post, “What Is Prostate Cancer?”.) Collins’ experience does illustrate the risk of the surveillance strategy, but his experience seems to be somewhat atypical.

Collins’ prognosis seems to be good despite some early concern that the tumor might have breached the capsule around the prostate. Thankfully, that does not appear to be the case.

There are a couple of important points in Collins’ article, which I have gifted at the link below. First, his father also had prostate cancer. This underscores the genetic and hereditary nature of the disease. If you are a middle-aged man with a family history of prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about getting checked.

Second, Collins is optimistic about the future. New therapies are boosting the chance for successful treatment, thanks in large part to Collins’ work on the Human Genome Project. Prostate cancer patients have many more options now than a few decades ago and the toolbag is getting bigger.

“If my cancer recurs, the DNA analysis that has been carried out on my tumor will guide the precise choice of therapies,“ Collins says. “As a researcher who had the privilege of leading the Human Genome Project, it is truly gratifying to see how these advances in genomics have transformed the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”

Finally, Collins relates a story about how he received a message as he comforted a dying friend.

“I had the experience of receiving a clear and unmistakable message,” he writes. “This has almost never happened to me. It was just this: ‘Don’t waste your time, you may not have much left.’ Gulp.”

Even though prostate cancer is something that men often die with rather than from, Collins’ point is a valid one. With or without cancer, we all have terribly finite lifespans. We need to make the most of our time.

In my own journey, I’ve turned a corner from fear and dread to being thankful for each day.

Last week, I had another blood test. I’m just under 14 months past surgery and my PSA level is undetectable, a good thing. (It’s a good result in that it isn’t positive. A positive result isn’t a positive development!) In addition to being thankful, I’m also cautiously optimistic.

As I’ve written before, one day at a time.


Francis Collins’ op-ed:

The Language of God:

From My Prostate Cancer Journey

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