Prostate Wrapup

Prologue: This is long, with many moving parts. We’re all busy, we care more or less about matters of great moment to others, and we have our own lives to live. I understand that. So forewarned, you may read this now, or save for later, or simply move on…..

Fourteen months ago, I shared having prostate cancer with members and Chairs. Facing a very aggressive cancer, I could not reconcile two opposites: silence while fighting for my life, and the openness and authenticity we all cherish. And as a human being, living alone and working solo, I wanted support. I was also asked if, at the end, I would share my experience, how a Chair “gets through” with members and self, what happens when we are unable to Chair as they have come to expect. This is it. I hope there will be some value for you in my experience, or perhaps for others in your life.

First, what to include? I have decided on the following: Treatment Types, My Treatment, Physical Challenges, My Fellow Chairs, and My Members. You will have more-or-less interest in each of these; thus, you can read as curiosity dictates.

That left the decision: from what perspective to write this? I again choose to be wide open. So I will share it as a very personal experience. While the first two sections are more about process, the last three come from my heart. In the end and beyond the physical pounding, this was about internal struggle, large emotions, and a surprising confrontation between head and heart.

As you read, faith and family may not appear as companions on my journey. Not true! I have abiding faith, but that does not always keep weakness from the door. Family? They are precious, present at every step, and I could not love them more.

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First, I acknowledge this may feel gender-specific. Part is. But much is not. The big stuff is about being in peril, how we get through, and who might be there to lend a hand. This can happen to any of us, lad or lass.

Second, my game plan was dumb. My goal was to beat cancer and radiation on my terms, to take radiation without missing a beat. I made that “winning.” But I had too big a load to do both. It was a failure of reason and ego. It cost me. Don’t do this to yourself!

Finally, many told me how well I was handling it, how they admired my attitude. I may look back and agree. But at the end, I could not take the beating. Trying to do it all, racing for the end, I fell apart. Attitude took a pass. Vice Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Please accept that as you read this…..

Treatment Types: I have little new to say about treatment types. There are several processes, surgical and non-surgical, as well as “wait and watch,” and limitless literature on the shelves and over the internet. As I write, much is happening: perfecting Da Vinci (robotic) surgery, advances in radiation technology and process, and improving cryogenic (freezing) treatment. We are leaps ahead of 5, 10, let alone 20 years ago. Yet we remain Barbarians, but with much greater technology to wield in the knife fights, roasts and cocktails we mix to battle cancer. I pray for a simple, benign pill!

Each of these paths has benefits and downsides. No choice is right for everyone. It is your life, and you must not delegate deciding for yourself. So detach up front from outcomes, get in front of genuine experts, ask questions, listen like a champ, decide on the right treatment, pick the best Doc, and finally move to the turf you own: your attitude, and what you will chose to think. Some bonus advice: stay off the internet, until you can best judge your options, which will be after you absorb from the experts!

My Treatment: I chose long-course, external-beam radiation. It was dished up at 7:20 a.m. every weekday over nine consecutive weeks, by an IMRT device I christened “Betsy.” I got one “hall pass” — an added Friday-and-Monday break around the last weekend, to let disintegrating skin make it through the home stretch. That helped.

Radiation is the universe in reverse, a sun orbiting you for 340-degrees, attacking the cancer for seven minutes. Forty-Four sessions, the first 36 frying the prostate and creating a “bloom,” like sun behind moon during an eclipse, nabbing stray cancer cells at the margin. The last eight are more concentrated shots, with cancer on the ropes, a final barrage to finish it off. All the while, you hope it is working!

Physical Challenges: The Four Horsemen of prostate treatment are incontinence, impotence, and possible damage to bladder or bowel. None are good, all are life-changing, even the prospects are mortifying. I decided these would not be part of my experience, and my odds are now good that I’m out the other side and OK. Time will tell.

Which left, for me, the shocking physical surprise. Over nine weeks, radiation inexorably drives out energy. Like a boa, Betsy squeezed until I could not go on. Gently at first, then relentlessly, then with a wallop that chased away any notion of my “beating the game.” Radiation destroys, and as it kills part of you, all your energy races to the rescue, leaving little for just living, let alone work. Some are hit harder, some slip through with more left.

I did not. Half way through, I had it by the tail; at the end, it had me by the throat. I have never backed down, always hung in. Proud Larry. But near the end, I could not go on, could not keep working. So I quit. I quit in the middle of a 121, and I don’t even remember driving home. I was so close. But I was also foolish. Done in, I cancelled my meetings, did what I could by phone, and tried to find myself. I will now pay a price, in speed of recovery, for ignoring good advice.

My Fellow Chairs: Were terrific. I got so much back from so many. Offers to fill in, to help, or to just “be there.” All wonderful. Yet it was really the encouragement that meant so much during the last hard weeks. Resting at home, I again read each of those early emails. They were an emotional handhold.

Within our Chair community, there was a very special cadre of Chairs who helped me through. Caring, encouraging, questioning, teaching. Mostly questioning, helping me forward. There had to be times they didn’t relish the task, but when I looked up, when I needed help, they were there. They stood with me, reaching down and lifting. So take a long, long look around you, my friends — you are running with a great pack!

My Members: Were terrific. They were beyond terrific. As radiation took its toll, they made it more-and-more about me. Some shortened, refused or did phone 121s, telling me to “Rest,” or, “Go home.” As I visited docs and met daily with Betsy, they started and ran parts of meetings. They called and emailed with friendship and support.

In the closing weeks, 121s became precious, full of concern and scolding, always from the heart. They held me with their eyes until they were satisfied. And they seldom were, pushing me toward the same balance I have asked of them. They were dear and relentless. I should have listened. They gave me love and life. I will love them forever.

What might this mean to fellow Chairs? I’m not sure. We invite folks into our groups, and into our lives, just as they do us. Our lure is “better leaders, better decisions, better results.” And these all matter. A lot! Yet over time, it is relationships, being there when these friends cannot find port, when they have lost their heart and they suddenly feel very small. I know of no manual on how to do that. I believe, if there were one, it would speak of authenticity, trust, “carefrontation” — and love. Mostly love! Life makes no promises, but offers clues that if we take this path, our members will help us get home when it’s our turn to be lost and small. They will be there to love us when we need them.

My first “reading” on how radiation worked will come in February. Meanwhile…..

Postscript: I will end this on a very personal note. On December 16, 1993, I left a 121 to head home, turned onto busy MacArthur Boulevard, and began to die. A mile and a minute and a miracle later, pure luck gifted back my life in a crash that should have ended it. Whether an invention of chance or fate, that day brought greater focus and a much tighter purpose.

The 13 years since have been my best, each day a bonus. Now it’s cancer, a very different way to touch mortality. This is the quiet terror, the news we all dread. Can it be a catalyst for another fabulous new chapter? I believe so. I wonder if other Chairs who have been down the cancer road feel this in the same way, now see events and themselves differently, and are asking even more of life. I am closing in on a young 70. Mine has been such a great life, full of terrific people who have touched me in so many ways. I have learned much since cancer knocked. About my friends and myself. And I am where I am meant to be, with room ahead.

End-2006

In early-January 2012, I had my post-five-year check-up. The numbers were superb – as “low” as they have ever been, and “low” is very good! I visited all three of my cancer docs to thank them for what they did for me, for the gift of my last five years, and all three used the “cured” word – which triggered both joy and, strangely, a bit of unease.

We also visited the mini-storm around PSA testing and biopsies, and all three told me that had I not had those procedures – with my Gleason 9 – I would have likely “dropped through the cracks” and be long-gone. So I remain a true believer in testing. We each make up our own mind, and I pray you chose right. Meanwhile, sometimes we win! And now I’m off in vain “pursuit” of my idol, the legendary Pat Hyndman…..phew!

Early-2012