Along the way, a patient can have some bizarre thoughts.
Tagore was a Bengali poet. For 12 years I have carried one of his poems in my wallet. Now, more than ever, it seems to apply to my journey: “Thou hast made me known to friends, I knew not. Thou hast given me seats in homes, not my own. Thou has brought the distant near and made a brother of a Stranger.”
Last night I had the privilege of addressing members of the Bellflower/Long Beach Elks Lodge 888. The topic, of course, was prostate cancer. It’s part of my commitment this year to reach out to our Los Angeles-based neighbors and share the facts about this disease and let them know what PCF is doing to improve the lives of patients and families. It’s a matter of think globally, act locally.
I always begin my presentations with the fact that in incidence and mortality, prostate cancer is to men what breast cancer is to women. I then go on to discuss specifics of diagnosing and treating the disease as well as the challenge of supporting research and awareness for a cancer that is often not discussed widely. (Yes, I continue to beat the Make Prostate Cancer Something to Talk About drum.) Thanks to the successes of the breast cancer movement, this opening always provides important context and makes audiences want to hear more. But, it’s when I tell folks that I am a Stage 4 patient that the presentation turns into a dialogue. A little bit of cancer goes along way in terms of making the issue real for others. Hands go up, questions are asked, fellow patients make themselves known publicly and no aspect of the disease is off limits. There is engagement.
With conventional thinking, one could think being so open about one’s cancer might make others uncomfortable. I remember that was true with some relatives, friends and colleagues when I first announced my news. It’s only natural. But, for strangers in a group, they don’t need to produce an immediate response. And, since they’ve just met me, they can can empathize, even relate directly–but, they are not threatened by the prospect of potentially losing a life-long-friend or family member. I can’t fully explain it, but the energy in the room definitely changes.
That’s a positive aspect of being a patient. In the course of last night’s meeting I heard several commitments not to delay an annual physical exam any longer. There was nearly unanimous agreement that the information was going to be shared with brothers, sons or fathers. Some took informational materials for their colleagues at work. There was also open and supportive discussion with prostate cancer survivors and those who are currently in treatment. Without my cancer, last night’s event would have been very different.
As I drove out of the Elks’ parking lot last night and headed home, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of calm knowing that my 20 minte presentation might actually help a few men and their loved ones. I know it helped me. Driving though the streets of Bellflower, I heard myself thinking, Thank God for my cancer…
When I realized what I had just mentally muttered to myself, I shuddered. Did I just think that? Can I actually be grateful for this reality? Sitting at the next stop light I had time to sort through this seemingly bizarre act of thanksgiving. I came to realize that don’t have to be grateful for the cancer. What I am really grateful for is the voice it has given me. With it I can find purpose in this journey.
I intend to use it whenever and wherever I can.