I do confess that when I had my first consultation with my oncologist I asked that universal question, how long do I have to live. I did frame the question with “outs” for him. “I know that you can not be sure and everyone is different. You see so many men with advanced prostate cancer; surely you can make some sort of educated guess.”
At first, he avoided the question, not responding directly to my concern. I can be tenacious and so I hit him again. This time he did respond, but he was clearly unhappy about having to respond. He told me that he believed that I would be a patient of his in five years, but probably not in ten years.
I have to say that I truly appreciated his answer. It was honest (confirmed by my understanding of the literature), but it did not give me a real time schedule or even a deadline (pardon the pun). His answer gave me a feel for my time. I left his office not feeling overwhelmed or in a crisis. I did not feel that my death was scheduled.
I now had a prospective on my life. It has allowed me to think about how I want to conduct the rest of my life. It has allowed me to make a list of what experiences I want to have. It has freed me to let my family and my friends know how I do feel about them. However, I do admit that I have become less patient and totally unwilling to involve myself with minutia and petty interpersonal conflicts.
I know, many of us do not believe that any human being has the right or the ability to look into a crystal ball and predict the future. Yes, when a physician does take a glimpse into the crystal ball they maybe stepping out of the traditional healing role, but for me this information has been very healing.
I know that my condition is serious, but it is treatable. I also know that my doctor understands that I am a person who needs honesty. My knowing what he has told me has not made me sicker. It has allowed me to free up my resources to be realistic and more importantly, to live my life as fully as I possibly can.
Joel T Nowak MA, MSW