Fear the Disease, Not the Treatment
Don’t skip to the end, it’s a happy one. There. Done with keeping people from reading another depressing article of self reflection on contracting and “battling” cancer. Now I can tell half the population of the world TO fear getting Prostate Cancer so you will get serious about having a PSA test annually when you are over 40. I will also say to NOT fear getting treatment if it is similar to what I have gone through this summer.
Why Did I Wait So Long?
Why did I wait so long to get treated? Ask any man. Then add having no affordable health insurance as a self-employed Photographer. Every man dreads the check-up when the doc tells you to pick up the soap. For me the grim-faced news came back in 2011 after I had just moved to Colorado. I was trying to re-locate my life on a shoestring and no real prospects for gainful employment, so I had given up my trusty Silver $400/mth. BCBS policy that I had dragged along in one form another since I was 20-something.
Living without health insurance gets riskier every year the older one gets. The chance of getting something like cancer is too fearful to comprehend, so one ignores it. Until they can’t.
What Did I Do?
In Jan. 2016 I was eligible for the new Affordable Health Care Act insurance so I bought an affordable policy and proceeded to have my first check up in several years. A routine PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test revealed a score high enough to concern my D.O.. A subsequent biopsy put me in a pretty high-risk category with a Gleason score of 8 and a 12 core positive biopsy (Medical talk).
Various scans showed no spread into my body beyond the troublesome gland. I was told surgery was not a good option for me by the urologist. He said I should seek out an oncologist. Then I was sent home to contemplate my fate.
Even though I had a pretty good insurance policy, the co-pays for the scans, tests, biopsy and urologist were adding up quick. I had not even been tested and I was already broke! I had been reading about how Cannabis had been shown to cure cancer so I did more research. Living in Colorado helps!
Does Cannabis Kill Cancer?
I decided to be a guinea pig for science and see for myself if I could cure cancer by taking large doses of CBD and THC oils. In 2016 CBD and THC were still whispered topics. Bonafide medical testing of the compounds were/are non-non-existent since the compounds were/are illegal to obtain to test with.
So, I made my own by volunteering at a hemp co-op where I could barter my labor time for oil.
Does cannabis cure cancer? No. Well, to be fair, it didn’t cure my cancer. There are a lot of stories where it has; this story is not about that rabbit hole. Sorry ~ if you want that story, you can quit reading here.
What Does Kill Cancer?
Another reason I held off on treatment was my income fell below the bracket where I could buy a policy. I was put on Colorado’s version of Medicaid. I have been a proud, self-supporting person my entire life, always paying my own way and asking little of others. It is a humbling blow to the psyche to have a life-threatening disease with way to pay for it. I just assumed that any treatment Medicaid would pay for would be basic at best and nonexistent at worse. I held off any treatment until I was so weak and sick from two years of self-medicating with cannabis oils and radical diet change and supplements, etc. that I had to go see a doctor about a chest cold that was killing me.
A quick chat with the doc about what I had been doing and another PSA test later was the inciting moment (as they say in the movies) for me to ask about what I could get for nothing on Medicaid. The answer was everything a normal person would get! Hmmmm. I felt pretty foolish. But, also very relieved that maybe my life was not over yet.
I figured I had been paying $400 a month for 40+ years without so much as an overnight hospital stay, so “they” owed me. This is a good argument for socialized medicine. Pay for the “insurance” that when you get old and sick you wont die from lack of money to be treated. As well as the stress and social stigma that goes with being on a barely basic income. That, too is another story.
I was scheduled for some tests including a full body bone scan and pelvic CT scan to look for any stray cancer outside the prostate. In my case, it appears to be isolated in the bad gland, but odds are that it is also microscopically seeped into my system where the scans can’t see. The protocols for me turned out to be 42 days of radiotherapy and up to two years of hormone replacement therapy to starve the cancer of its testosterone supply. (Odd I thought that the malest of hormones caused cancer of the pee-pee. (Karma must somehow be involved, but I have always taking good care of my Johnson and never pointed it in dangerous places.)
Everyone Hates Hospitals
Reason (rationalle) #442 of Why I waited so long is everyone hates hospitals unless you make a living there. Even then, I sometimes questions the motives some people enter the medical field. I have managed to avoid hospitals by avoiding any major accident or disease for 61.9 years. Wasting all those payments that only gave me the peace of mind that I could get treated if I did fall ill.
I had built up in my mind the hospitals of the '70s where I watched my mom whither and die of breast/lymph node cancer. I was NOT subjecting myself to that.
What I was to find at UC Health in Fort Collins has changed my mind about how medicine can be practiced. I found polite, on-time, professional, courteous, and friendly administrators, therapists, nurses and doctors. All willing to take the time necessary to help people, whose whole lives and minds are wrapped up in this disease, cope with their treatment. They should wear berets and sashes with merit badges and glittery medals on them and sell cookies at the grocery store on weekends.
There are two ways to heal something wrong inside the body. Cut it out or zap it with radiation and/or chemicals. When it comes to the future of my willy, my legs cross involuntarily at the thought of a robotic arm slicing and dicing away down there.
It just seems to be a simple decision to take the least invasive, painful and side effect free method (if at all possible) to cure the disease. Even then, the fear of the unknown is as about as high as the fear of the disease itself until the sessions actually start.
Will it hurt? Will I get a sunburn where the sun don’t shine? Will I lose hair? Will I ever be able to get it up again? Will this really work? Will my bladder be too full or empty? Do I have gas?
How many days again???
Fear the Disease, Not the Treatment
I am here to tell you that radiation therapy is NOT the ordeal I was dreading. I didn’t need to ask any of those questions. In fact, it was almost enjoyable to get up every morning, be welcomed with a smile to a modern, clean facility with close parking and a private entrance for patients. Then spend no more than 10 minutes laying on a freshly sheeted table surrounded by a warmed blanket while a machine revolves around me a few times with gentle music calming me. Images of aspen trees cover the overhead light fixtures and emit a low, warm glow to the room. If they had a hot tub it would be a spa experience.
Of course there are always cons to the pros. In my case the only negatives to my specific type of treatment (limited to the prostate) were difficulty in urinating due to the prostate becoming even more inflamed (and angry) being shot with photons and strangling my urethra. And, trying to figure out exactly how much water to drink before my sessions to make sure my bladder was at or near 100%. Try it for yourself. For 42 days! Oh, and add to that I had to make sure I gave a crap every day to make sure my rectum was gas and poopy free. This was to make sure the little ole prostate was where it should be; comfortably nestled between bladder and rectum. What a place to spend a life!
Have no fear, LupRob’s here! If you are on hormone replacement therapy you are now rolling on the floor laughing. Otherwise, it’s crickets. What drugs like Lupron do is remove a man’s mojo by making the body quit producing testosterone. Many women would like to spike their spouses food with this at every meal, but that’s another story too.
What Lupron does is create a form of male menopause. That’s right guys, you too can get back at your mom any older lady friends by becoming a hot b*tch too. Hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, man titties, are the worst symptoms. But my skin is soft and I have a penchant for softer colors and Lulu Lemons. That is definitely another story!
For my last day of treatment I thought it would be fun to make a statement about my transformation from sickly cancer patient to a robust, healthy man.. dressed up like a Wonder? Woman?
I wanted to show my appreciation to all of the various staff and fellow patients I had befriended over my morning visits. I especially wanted to show my appreciation for Doctor Joshua Petit for transforming my attitudes about doctors and hospitals. From our first meeting to my last weekly consult he has been informative, patient with my questions and thorough with his answers. I was confident from day one that I would not be just another patient number in an assembly line of patients a large university hospital can be. During my day treatments I never had to wait more than 5 minutes from my appointment time to be treated. That is vitally important to a man sitting in the waiting room with his eyeballs floating from just having drank 32 ounces of water in the past 45 minutes.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Cancer patients have a lot on their mind. There is a lot of information to absorb and remember when meeting with an oncologist responsible for your life. I am a commercial photographer and visual media producer by profession, so I use my tools in my personal life as well.
The first weekly meeting with Dr. Petit after my first 5 sessions was when he explains what in the world is actually going on behind the curtain of the spinning photon emitter. I asked his permission to film it with my phone so I could go back later and review it. I was so impressed with his presentation it gave me an idea to make a video I could share with some other men I had met on a prostate support Facebook group, as well as my friends who may be facing the same thing. I wanted to allay some of their fears about radiation and hormones. I wanted to be honest about the side effects. I wish I had had something like it to watch.
The Happy Ending
I promised you a happy ending. Though cancer is a life-long disease, to a cancer patient, I need goalposts to maintain hope. I have achieved my first goal in over three years, to zap back my prostate cancer so it does not affect my day-to-day life.
This time last year and the year before that I spent my days on the couch and my nights in bed, too sick and tired to move. I live alone with roommates, which means they are here but I have to fend for myself. Just imagine having a really bad case of the flu for two years. That is what it was like for me trying to self-medicate with THC/CBD oils and diet/supplements alone. I was believing it was the cancer making me so fatigued all the time, but I now know it was mostly the oils, though my PSA was at a dangerous level so my body was weakened trying to repel it.
It was not until this past spring when I fell ill with a chest cold virus that I saw the light and stopped cannabis then sought out radio and hormone therapies.It was as if someone had turned my switch internally from dim bulb to bright this summer.
• I regained my energy and began riding my bike 5-10 miles a day.
• I put on 25 lbs. of much needed body mass. My friends had been scared to tell men how gaunt and sickly I had become.
• My mental attitude went from near hopeless to grateful for life (for the first time, really, in my life).
• I am able to concentrate and work again so I can get off Medicaid.
I, like most other people who have grappled with life-threatening situations be it accident or illness, discovered that it takes facing death to really find the value of life. It is a lesson that can't be taught, unfortunately. What can be taught is knowledge of what prostate cancer is and isn’t. I discovered there are treatments that are non-invasive and painless. They are proven to work as long as the patient contributes their end of the bargain to pursue a more active lifestyle and modify eating habits that took decades to become bad habits.
I discovered a whole new club of friends via Facebook and in the waiting room -- people who were going through exactly what I was going through and had the same questions, fears and hopes as I. This is a journey you do not want to take alone. Even us guys need support and knowledge. To this end I have applied my God given talent as a visual storyteller to make a video of my experience and write about it to share with others just beginning the trek.
Mostly I discovered that my fear of cancer is over, for now. Goalposts, remember? So is my fear of hospitals (like UC Health) and modern miracles of technology and the brains who invented them. Fear the disease, not the treatment. Get checked out early and often. Do not let it spread. Nip it in the proverbial bud and get on with life.