My Diagnosis and Treatment & Life Choices
By Lenny Hirsh, Israel
Fighting Prostate Cancer has made me aware of many aspects of life that I was not aware of previously. During my seven-year battle I have become focused on my newly found strengths and learned to accept that I also have weaknesses.
I compare being diagnosed with cancer as being kicked in the stomach. Hearing the words “We have found cancer cells in your biopsy,” was bad enough, even worse was learning about the possible side effects of the numerous treatments. The fear of dying from cancer coupled with the possibility of being impotent and /or incontinent for the rest of my life was devastating to me.
Fortunately I soon learned that Prostate Cancer is in most cases slow growing and there is no need to immediately commit oneself to any specific treatment. The marker generally used to gauge the growth of prostate cancer is known as a PSA test. My need to remain potent and continent led me to choose a rather controversial form of treatment known as Watchful Waiting. I changed my eating habits. I became a vegetarian. As a person who was used to eating large quantities of red meat, dairy products and other foods considered not healthy for prostate cancer patients, this was a complete switch around. I started taking vitamins and food supplements. Within three months of starting this new way of life and loosing weight, my psa dropped by 30%. I was elated by what I had done for myself. I continued this new way of life with my psa not increasing. Then, after three and a half years the psa started climbing.
My marriage at this stage was heading for the rocks and I was unemployed. My psa doubled within a month, I knew that the time had come to take decisive action against the cancer. The prostate was too large to be operated and had to be shrunk. Hormone injections would achieve this. However these injections affected my quality of life. I lost my libido, experienced mood swings and depression. For six months hot flushes denied me a full nights sleep. Another side effect was fatigue. By now I was active on the Internet having joined various support and chat groups dealing with prostate cancer.
At the end of February 2001, I under went surgery. The operation did not cause me any problems and was told that the operation was successful. My main worry was, would I have control of my bladder after the catheter was removed and were the nerves controlling my ability to be potent saved. Within a few weeks I had control of my bladder and soon after there were indications that in time I would be potent.
Three months after surgery I had a psa test. The results were reasonable, but not wonderful. In the States the operation would have been classified as a failure and salvage treatment would have been recommended. My urologist assured me that “there was nothing to worry about.” It was easier for me to go along with his opinion than follow my gut feeling and start salvage treatment. Three months late my psa had doubled and I knew that I was facing an aggressive cancer.
At this stage my marriage was on the rocks and my wife (of 36 years) and I were making arrangements to separate I was racked with fears about my economic future and my chances of surviving the spreading cancer. My main fears were: Would I make out financially? Would the treatment that I had chosen keep the cancer in check? How could I date women without any money and an erectile dysfunction? I knew that one of the best options was to have radiation treatment. However, the hospital where I would undergo the treatment, did not have a good record in terms of quality of life. I ruled this option out as well as having the hormone injection. This left me with a relatively new treatment which involved the use of a milder form of hormone. It was not highly recommended, but I felt that I had nothing to loose.
I must point out that after our separation all my longstanding friends cut me dead. My son distanced himself from me: perhaps due to the return of the cancer. My other two children lived over seas. I was alone. I sunk into a quagmire of my fears and unhappiness. I decide to end my life. Then on opening my computer for the last time I found an email from my youngest daughter telling me how much she loved me and how important I was for her. I must have cried for hours. This was when I decided to live and make the most of every minute. I always knew that there was the option of seeing the empty half of the glass. I would concentrate on the full half. This was the most important decision I made for a long time.
I immersed myself in establishing a Malecare Prostate Cancer Support Group and manning a hot line for Israeli Cancer Association. Speaking to newly diagnosed men and their wives besides giving them hope for the future, it gave me a sense of doing something positive. I found that I was no longer criticizing people and began seeing beauty, which I had not seen previously. It was as if somebody had waved a magic wand. My psa became undetectable, I made new friends. I was asked to give talks on prostate cancer. I met up with a woman that I had dated over 40 years ago and we took up a relationship where we had left off so long ago. My son re-established contact with me. My relationship with my ex wife is good.
One year after taking the decision to live and make the most of every minute, I stopped all medication. I know that the cancer is still there, but I can control. I relocated to the north and am experiencing one of the best periods of my life.
I have become a crusader for the power of positive thinking and living without tension. Other than the cancer I have faced death a few times in the past, so why worry about it now? I survived not having any money and being completely alone without any support. On looking back over the last seven years at my war against cancer, I can plot the times when this terrible enemy got the upper hand. This can be shown on the graph of my psa tests. Each time my psa rose was when I was under tension. I know that when I am under tension or fear, my body becomes tense, I experience aches and pains all over my body. 42 years ago I hurt my back parachuting and have suffered from pains until I changed my out look on life. To day I find that I not only think positive, but also act positive. I really believe that in all situations no matter how black they might seem, there is always a glimmer of light. Why not concentrate on that glimmer and ignore the darkness?
Another cause of tension is worrying about the past. You can learn from the past, but no matter how hard one tries, one cannot redo it. We can try and plan for the future, but how much control do we really have on what might be? A couple of years I could not imagine living without my wife, I am now. My youngest daughter’s husband was run over by a drunk driver less then 2 months after their wedding and all their plans and dreams have been put on hold. One might ask: how can one live without thinking about to-morrow? I do think about to-morrow, but I do not make it a major factor of my day to day life.
I am in contact with hundreds if not thousands of people all over the world that have been effected by prostate cancer. One example is a man who lives in the Cape, South Africa. He was diagnosed in 1995. He made the decision to fight the cancer through a change of life style, eating habits, taking of vitamins and food supplements. His change in life style includes yoga, meditation and exercise. He assisted in setting up support groups and runs an Internet site dealing with prostate cancer. To day he has no signs of the disease.
The second example is of a man who lives in England. 5 years ago he was diagnosed with very advanced prostate cancer. The diagnoses was made shortly after his wife was found to have Multiple Sclerosis. He was told to get his affairs in order, as he did not have long to live. Four years later he ran the London Marathon! He told me that he lives for the here and now finding something good in every situation. He spends 20 minutes each day meditating and another 20 minutes visualizing the vitamins, medication and healthy food attacking the cancer cells. Peter pointed out to me that we all have to die some time or the other so why not make the most of every day. He intends to live for many years to come. I am sure he will.
I prefer to use the term “Warrior” against cancer as against a cancer victim . A warrior takes the fight to the enemy. He plans his moves to better his situation. He is always on the look -out for new weapons, but at the same time they have to be realistic and suitable for him. He cannot afford to experiment with every new idea of warfare unless they fulfill his needs. A warrior knows that he must conserve his energy and be positive about the out- come. I associate a warrior as a person who knows how to go out and enjoy himself whenever possible.
I hope for those reading this article will find some glimmer of light that can bring some fun into their lives and improve their quality of life
My Diagnosis and Treatment & Life Choices