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Turning My Prostate Cancer Diagnosis Into a Comedic Tale

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Why are any of us here? Ah, it is the age old question over which philosophers have mused for eons. And you might as well add to that, “What were you thinking?”

I can almost hear my mother admonishing me for something I had done that didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned. “Put down those rose-colored glasses son!” And my analytical father adding, “What did you think would happen?”

Both my parents had cancer in their lifetimes and both were lucky enough to have kicked it. Mom’s was in the early 70s when, compared to today, cancer treatment was in the dark ages. Eye of newt, leg of toad kind of stuff. It was cancer of some lady parts with surgery done to remove “things” and subsequent radiation treatments done with actual capsules of radium.

But all said, the things done must have been exactly what was needed, because she is 97 today and still ticking along.

Dad’s cancer involved his colon and occurred in the early 80s. They cut out a foot or so of his large intestine and reconnected the loose ends. Good to go. (OK, this is a dramatic oversimplification of what he went through, but I was just skipping to the result). He was an analytical chemist and as such, probably wouldn’t object to me going right to outcome.

Cancer embarrassed Mom. She didn’t want anyone to know she had it. She didn’t want to talk about it. For awhile she withdrew and almost became someone else. It colored her life in an altered persona — not necessarily bad, but definitely different.

Dad, on the other hand, would hold court on his cancer surgery and treatment if anyone was interested. The great educator. I lived through two people handling their individual cancer diagnoses differently, yet both were appropriate for them.

Cancer is personal.

It seems throughout my life I have always been able to find humor — sometimes in the oddest of places. Although never voted as such, I’m quite sure I could have been a contender for “class clown.” I think I used it as a way to deflect criticism — perhaps to buy time for an appropriate response.

For as long as I can remember, I have written. It started with prepubescent corny love poems and simplistic songs reflecting on the universe at large. Singing and songwriting was a longstanding basis for expression and still is today.

One day, songwriting was no longer enough. I wanted to write something more substantial. When I sat down to write my first book I didn’t dare tell anyone. At first I was even unaware I was writing one. It sort of snuck up on me and in fact, it wasn’t until 120,000 words later, that I emerged from the basement and told my wife, “I think I just wrote a book.”

To quote her published first cousin, “There was nothing wrong with the first 60 pages a chainsaw couldn’t cure.” Ouch.

At the urging of my uber creative sister, I participated in and subsequently won the national novel writer’s month competition in 2010 and 2011. It is an annual worldwide creative writing endeavor, where you make the commitment to write 50,000 words in thirty days; the month of November. By submitting the quota of words, you win. Everyone who signs up either wins or participates. There are no losers when one writes. It is cathartic.

Before my prostate cancer comedy, four novels had been plucked from my head and committed to e-paper. I felt both competent enough and confident enough to take on almost any writing assignment. Oddly different for an engineer!

A confirmed prostate cancer diagnosis set me on the path so familiar to many, tests and diagnoses ad nauseum. Checking my dignity at the door became a rite of passage seemingly less important each time it occurred. When all was said and done, I didn’t even have to look at the hook by the exam room door. I knew well dignity had left me.

Because my kids worried about me, I eased their concerns with light-hearted comments. I avoided the seriousness of the situation, preferring instead to joke about the latest procedure or test result. It wasn’t long until laughter overtook the disease and became the main staple of how I viewed my cancer.

Laughing about things diminished its insidiousness — at least on the surface.

I put pen to paper to to remember specific incidents or things said that amused me. Bits of papered scribblings took the form of a timeline, chronicling my journey. It was cathartic for me to write it all down.

When cancer recurred three years after surgery and I required eight weeks of radiation treatment, humor returned with it. Nurses and medical technicians went out of their way to make me feel at ease and I found myself doing the same for them. Finding humor brightened my outlook, and I am convinced it made the journey easier for me and those around me.

I decided almost immediately my cancer’s return would be the epilogue to what I had written before. Just another chapter in my life.

Near the end of June in 2017 my daughter told me one of her friend’s father had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he was having some difficulty coping with the uncertainty of it all. She asked if I would share a copy of “Laughing With Cancer” with him. I protested mildly, saying I wasn’t finished editing it yet, but relented and spent the weekend doing so.

The following Monday I mailed a hard copy of the final draft to Boston. The father read it immediately then wrote an email to me, calling it a roadmap for what to expect. He was insistent it prepared him for his pending surgery and recovery from it. At every turn in his recovery, he knew what to expect and in fact, would quote from the book to his wife. It completely allayed his fear — to a far greater extent than I imagined it could. His wife and children read it, too, and stressed that import.

To think my book had such a positive effect on an entire family facing a prostate cancer diagnosis head-on is extremely gratifying. Each person who reads it urges me to make it available to men and women alike. It is the story of my adventure, but at the same time, details options presented to me and my basis for choosing between them. The purpose for each test is explained in definitively non-medical terms. It is easy to understand and fun to read; albeit, unfiltered bordering on bawdy.

Feedback from readers has propelled me to advocate for prostate cancer awareness.

The importance of PSA testing to establish a person’s individual baseline cannot be overstated.

Cancer awareness groups have been quick to offer their support of my efforts as I support them.

I am finding an international community of advocates who share their cancer stories and offer each other sympathetic ears and moral support.

I have been driven to create a website so I can contribute in my own way.

I offer fact and opinion where I feel comfortable doing so, but always stop short of dispensing medical advice because I have no basis to do so. Instead, I encourage people to educate themselves and to seek professional advice to make informed treatment decisions.

A confirmed cancer diagnosis should never be taken lightly. Cancer is serious personal business and is different for every person it affects. Cancer research in recent years has yielded astonishing treatment options and methods.

Get the latest information.

Talk to doctors.

Talk to friends and others who have had what you have.

Read articles and educate yourself so you can be an active participant in your cure.

Decide on a treatment program and then stick to it.

Don’t believe there is an easy way out.

Homeopathic and natural remedies might have their place in your adventure, but by all means include doctors on the forefront of cancer technology.

Be your own best advocate so you become your own best friend.

The same way you don’t want other’s pity, try not to cause them undue pain.

You are going through cancer, but they are going through you having it.

Be kind.

And keep smiling — it lights up the world.

This post originally appeared on Laughing With Cancer.

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Thinkstock photo by beerphotographer

Originally published: September 6, 2017
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