Using All the Arrows in Your Quiver to Fight Cancer

When cancer strikes, we all have weapons at hand with which to fight.

When a high Gleason score and a stage 3 pronouncement told me I was soon to be treating one of my gender’s specific killers, I didn’t really know that I had already been given some of the greatest weapons available to all of us, regardless of gender.

I have to admit that I didn’t know the strength of those weapons at the time. Sure, their strength is arguable, but my opinion won’t ever change. More on that later.

I had already been through the desperate times, having been in a 40-plus year marriage with a woman I loved and who didn’t deserve to have to fight for her life. She had a very rare female-specific cancer that amazed the young female oncologists at Massachusetts General Hospital with its speed and ferocity. They had never, ever seen anything like it. Eighteen months after severe, disfiguring surgery and radiation that was painful and fatiguing, cancer’s inevitable march called a halt to its journey and she was dead, leaving me confused and without the ability to act with the sharpness with which I had always prided myself.

So that’s where I was. Then.

After the high Gleason score started to dictate my life, I met privately with three oncologists, a surgeon, a doctor who specialized in chemotherapy and a radiation oncologist. I was to choose my course of treatment.

Surgery was out, surgeon told me, because of earlier work on my prostate necessitated by benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). I really didn’t want the chemotherapy because of everything I had heard about it, and the chemo man told me he thought I was making the right choice. That left me with the radiation guy, a young doctor with a sensitive face and radiation training at Veterans’ Administration hospitals and a leading hospital in Pennsylvania known for its war on the beast. I remembered how the radiation burned my wife and fatigued her. I didn’t want that, but I felt I had no choice. It was either radiation or what’s called “watchful waiting,” which seems to me like no solution at all. I needed a full round of 38 sessions, weekends off, and I would start in early autumn.

A few weeks later I reported to the Mass. General satellite cancer center in my area to be tattooed — getting guide marks on my pubic landscape – and to talk with a support person about how to deal with cancer, its treatment and what I could expect after treatment ended. After that, I was left with my own thoughts about how to deal with what was ahead.

I thought of my friends, both civilian and shipmates, all about my age and, if they hadn’t already, might be facing the same future as I. Why not create my own blog about these treatments, letting them know by email how it went, what was involved and what they might be facing with the same diagnosis, I thought. Looking back on this, it might have been invasive, but some of them later told me it was helpful and they thanked me for sharing the experience. As it turned out, it was a big help to me.

As the days passed before my first early morning radiation appointment, I began to wonder how I would do. As I walked my dog, I thought of various strategies. The blog would be of service to those who might be in the same boat now or someday. That was me, looking from the inside out. But I needed something else for my own wellbeing.

This is where I reached internally and came up with the answer that would stay with me and help me through the treatment. My weapon. I’m convinced that, as skeptical as others may be, it was the right thing. I resolved that I would consciously put a smile on my face, laughter in my heart and would be confident, optimistic and courteous to everyone, and positive about everything concerning my cancer.

The treatment began beneath a big machine that slowly rotated and made its own noises for a short measure of time. There was no burning. No pain. I never had the terrible fatigue that my wife suffered. She was a trouper, but I was the one to benefit by her experience.

I know there are skeptics when you hear someone tell you to be positive and optimistic and that everything will turn out alright. Sometimes it doesn’t. But I believe in this with all my heart. Stay positive, be optimistic, know that others are trying to help overcome this threat to your body and life. Positivity and optimism are the keys. Smile and keep being upbeat. You learned this many, many years ago from parents, coaches and others who were older and wiser than you at the time. Now is the time to exercise this. It works. And I have told many other cancer patients the same thing. It helps all the time. Sometimes it conquers. Oh, and don’t forget the Spirit. The Spirit is part of the arsenal, too.

In January 2016, I became a cancer survivor, coping with some of the warned-about wreckage left behind, but still, five years after my treatment ended and I was pronounced cured.