Not only is having cancer a life changing experience, but it also is a life-long event. Once you have been diagnosed, even if you think that you are cured, you remain a cancer survivor until you die.
Cancer is never cured it is only controlled. We all are constantly subject to having a recurrence and so we have to remain vigilant. We need to constantly go back to our doctor to have blood work, scans and x-rays. We need to remain on guard until we either have a recurrence or until we get hit by a bus.
Those of us who have had a recurrence (about 1/3 of all prostate cancer survivors will experience a recurrence) will have to return to treatment, treatment that will spew additional morbidity issues (negative side effects) into our lives.
Once you have a recurrence it is even more difficult to just get on with a normal life. My personal experience has been that the cancer, actually the fight against the cancer, has become a main focus point of my life. Many people have criticized me for being too focused on cancer. However, these accusers are never cancer survivors. They don’t mean anything bad, they just don’t understand. I do not blame them, how could they possibly grasp the experience (and I hope they will never have to).
The standard treatments all cause a myriad of morbidity issues. Pain, incontinence, erectile dysfunction and foggy and confused mind are a part of the expected process. These issues travel with me, they never leave, they are life-long.
There are times in my life that it seems all I do is go to see a doctor or get a test or treatment. I have a prostate cancer oncologist as well as a kidney oncologist, an urologist, an endocrinologist and a pulmonary doctor. I have consulted with a neurologist, a pathologist, a rheumatologist, an alternative medical practitioner, a dentist and occasionally my primary care physician. As I list these doctors I am amazed that I have time for friends, family and work.
I take drugs and supplements every day on top of the ones that I have had injected into me every few months. Just like some many other cancer survivors I do all of this while working full time and while trying to live the rest of my life.
Non-survivors, civilians, cannot possibly understand what life is like when you are fighting cancer, especially a recurrence. I find it difficult to talk to people about the situation because I sound like I am just complaining. I don’t want to complain, so instead I often find myself closing down. Besides, most people really don’t want to her anything more than, “Oh, I am feeling great, couldn’t be better.”
Fighting cancer is a never-ending process, which often becomes overwhelming. All we can do is keep our head down and take the next step.
Joel T Nowak MA, MSW