Habig: Lessons learned from prostate cancer
September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States. In 2020, approximately 191,930 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States.
While it is often seen as an "old man's disease," adult men of any age can develop prostate cancer. I was diagnosed in my early 50s. Fortunately, I survived. This past week, I met the partner of another man diagnosed in his early 50s who has just a few short months to live.
I was diagnosed in November 2008. Fortunately, the cancer was contained in the prostate. (If the cancer spreads outside the prostate, the treatment methods become more severe and the survival rate begins to drop). I had a radical prostatectomy in April 2009 and fortunately have been cancer-free for over 11 years.
But no matter what age a man is when he is diagnosed with prostate cancer, it plays mind games with him. It raises questions not only of mortality, but also of what it means to be a man.
In the months and years after my diagnosis and surgery, I learned several life lessons that I should have learned earlier, but for me were only learned through the crucible of cancer. Let me share three of a longer list:
1. I am stronger than I thought; I am more vulnerable than I thought.
There is a feeling of vulnerability and betrayal when you realize that your body (or at least part of it) is trying to kill you. But as one faces that, he sees that they have the strength to face whatever comes. I survived. Survival was not a foregone conclusion. But there was strength within me I didn't know I had, and strength shared with me by friends and those who loved me.
2. You will be surprised by those who come around you and those who don't. Don't sweat it.
People who I expected would be there for me suddenly disappeared in painful ways. But others, some whom I expected would be there and some I didn't think about being there, showed up and shared their strength, their courage and their love with me. Either way, it was OK.
3. Procrastination can kill. Take action today.
Prostate cancer screenings are not fun. They are easy to procrastinate. For me, I had received a clean bill of health in my 2007 prostate exam. I could have easily skipped it the next year. But the 2008 exam showed a problem. After the surgery, the surgeon came in and said how fortunate I was to have acted quickly. While most prostate cancers are slow-growing, mine was aggressive. He said that if I had waited much longer, the cancer would have escaped from the prostate and metastasized into other parts of my body. That is very difficult if not impossible to survive.
Whether your procrastination involves putting off screening or moving quickly on a diagnosis, remember procrastination can kill. Take action soon so that you may offer love and support to those around you, just as they did for you.
Cal Habig is a life coach who has lived in the King City area for more than 20 years.
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