I was diagnosed with prostate cancer when I was 57. My PSA (prostate-specific antigen) remains undetectable seven years after my surgery.
I expected there’d come a time when I’d give up my cancer survivor status. I thought I’d return to thinking about myself in the same way I thought about myself prior to my diagnosis. That never happened, and I don’t believe it ever will. In other words, once a cancer survivor, always a cancer survivor.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in remission for 10 months or 10 years. I suspect most of us living with cancer live with the possibility of a reoccurrence.
I realized I’ll never go back to my pre-cancer days or identity. I’ll always be a cancer survivor. I think all cancer survivors have certain sensitivites we wish our healthly friends and family knew.
I asked several men with prostate cancer what they wished their friends and family knew about living with cancer. Some of their responses are listed below. I added a few of my own.
1. Looks are deceiving. You can’t judge how well I’m doing based on my physical appearance.
2. Living with cancer is highly stressful before, during, and after treatment.
3. Please don’t share stories about miracle cures.
4. I don’t want to hear stories about people you know who died from prostate or any other form of cancer.
5. Don’t feel pressured to say something wise, give advice, or cheer me up.
6. If you’re seriously interested in how I’m doing, listen rather than talk.
7. Before, during, and after treatment, physical, emotional, and relational challenges occur.
8. There’s no such thing as “good cancer.”
9. Cancer isn’t contagious. Using a cup, fork, or spoon at my home won’t give you cancer.
10. If treatment has affected my erectile functioning, I probably feel awful about myself as a man and as a partner.
11. Sometimes I feel anger, jealousy, or hostility toward folks who are healthy.
12. I’m facing financial pressures. Missed work and high deductibles and co-pays changed my economic circumstances.
13. I may feel so discouraged or depressed that I’m sorry I survived my treatment.
14. I need breaks from thinking or talking about cancer.
15. The effects of treatment cause quality-of-life issues that are difficult to talk about.
16. My values and priorities may remain unchanged or undergo a radical transformation.
17. My relationship with my partner is changing. We don’t know whether coping with cancer will bring us closer or tear us apart.
18. Comfort clichés like “You’ll beat this” or “Think positive” can permanently damage our relationship.
19. Don’t judge me if coping with cancer challenges my faith or the goodness of God.
20. Waiting for test results is highly stressful, even if I’ve been in remission for years.
After reading through this list, you may wonder what you can do to help your partner, family member, or friend cope with cancer.
Here are a few of my suggestions:
• Before you say or do anything, give up on the notion that it’s your job to say or do something to make it easier to cope with cancer.
• Give the gift of focused listening. This means listening to things that are uncomfortable or difficult to hear without changing the subject or fixing a problem.
• Share some non-cancer-related time together. When possible, ask to go out together for a meal, a cup of coffee, a movie, or a walk. Any activity you can enjoy together is a valued gift.
• If you feel called to pray, rather than say, “I’ll pray for you,” ask if there’s something specific you can pray for.
• Laughter is great medicine. Finds ways to share laughter. Watching a comedy together is one way to laugh together.
• Give specific rather than general offers of help. Rather than say, “Call me if you need anything,” say, “Is it OK if I bring a meal over tonight? What would you like?”
If you have other suggestions, please share them.
Note: Prostate Cancer News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Prostate Cancer News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to prostate cancer.