Saturday, February 23, 2008

When the Bomb Goes Off

One year ago today, I got the call from my urologist telling me that my prostate biopsy was positive for cancer. Looking back, I'm amazed at how completely my life was turned upside down and permanently changed. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men, and yet I knew almost nothing about it at the time. In those first days that seemed like weeks, I faced a future of treatment decisions, the agony of waiting for test results, and the pain of figuring out what to do with my life now that cancer is in the picture. That's what this blog will revolve around: my experience in living through this disease. I’ll also include general information about getting diagnosed and choosing between the different treatments available, but mostly it’s a personal look at how it feels to have the ol' prostate bomb explode on you way too early in life.

There are some web sites, email groups, and a few blogs with prostate cancer support and information. Over 220,000 men in the United States alone are diagnosed every year, but there is a surprising lack of public awareness about the disease. Most men are in their mid-50s, 60s, or 70s when diagnosed. I was 47 when it happened to me. One in six men can plan on being diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives. Fortunately, only a relatively small number die from it – fewer than 30,000 men a year in the United States. Treatments are generally quite effective, especially when the disease is caught early, and they give men enough time to live with a decent quality of life and die of other causes.

In this blog I’ll write about the experience of being diagnosed and all the ups and downs I went through and am still going through. I hope this story will be useful to other men, especially to those with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. The majority of men with this cancer get treated and can more or less walk away with little or no risk. If you go 5 years with "undetectable" test results, most doctors will tell you you're home free. I am not expecting to hear that any time soon: my aggressive form of the cancer (Gleason score 9*) puts me in a much less favorable category, and my odds for staying "undetectable" are lower.

So what can you do? Get educated, find the best medical team available, and start learning to live with uncertainty. Prostate cancer is usually slow-growing, and if diagnosed early, you have time to make treatment decisions without rushing in to anything. You’ll get through it. Life will be different, but in time you’ll learn to accept and embrace the changes. And possibly the most important thing is to learn to speak the language of hope as you go through the experience. Hope is everything as you deal with cancer. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

*Gleason score: the rating system, from 2-10, of how aggressive prostate cancer cells are. Gleason 8, 9, and 10 are considered very aggressive, with 6 and 7 considered moderate. Here's one article explaining the intricacies of this score.

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