When you are diagnosed with a fatal disease, you may ask: “How is that going to feel?” “What will that look like?” “Will it hurt?”
I am going to tell you about Prostate Cancer now, so if you don’t want to – or are not ready to hear the truth about this disease, then don’t read on…
My husband, Jim, had advanced metastatic prostate cancer when it was first discovered. That means that the prostate cells had emmigrated to his spine, hips, collarbones and ribs from his prostate gland located in his lower abdomen. His particular cells liked the taste of bones, I guess. Other men may have the cells migrate through the lymph system and that is not good either. Jim had a PSA of 372 when his cancer was discovered.
Be careful out there, people, that the doctor doesn’t keep telling you that you have prostatitis. Insist on a biopsy if you have more than a zero on your PSA. Screw the people who discount the PSA – Jim would still be here today if we had advocated for ourselves more strongly. It is easy to listen to good news from the doctor and walk away thinking you are OK. Do not be lulled into complacency – get an accurate diagnosis!
Jim’s prostate cells in his bones grew larger – they did not make the bones weak so that they collapsed (although, I guess this is one way the cells react), instead they bulged out and interfered with muscles, organs and nerves in the various locations of his body.
He went deaf in his one ear because a “met” (metastatic tumour) had grown into his ear canal. He felt aching pains in his upper chest, upper back and what felt like “growing pains” in his thighs. He had always had trouble with his lower back so this was an especially weak area and finally one of the mets grew into his spinal cord above his shoulder blades and he became paralyzed from the waist down for the last three months of his life.
Of course, mets can grow anywhere – in your eye sockets so you go blind, in your organs so that you lose function in many areas including digestion and circulation. Mets can grow slowly as Jim’s did or change overnight as we heard from others who had travelled the prostate route. This disease is very different for each man affected.
We were lucky in some respects. We were asked about lack of continence, swelling, sleep disorders, nausea, headache – so many things – and we realized that at least there were some symptoms we had not had to face.
I have been asked by men what it was like for us and I have been honest as to how we saw the problem and how we dealt with it. I think that we held onto the hope that there would be a cure just around the corner and we would somehow be able to extend Jim’s life long enough to benefit from the leading edge research. That made us take advantage of all that the Canadian system had to offer. We started with hormone therapy, then four rounds of chemo, then radiation. Each had it’s side affects but it was not until the last two years that there was a change in our quality of life. Each time we started a new therapy, Jim would feel better and we knew we were killing those little bastards. As the renegade cells became immune to each therapy, we would, once again be engulfed in pain, confusion, self-blame and sadness.
I am glad we did each therapy. I think it gave us about two years of normal existence. Some men refuse treatment thinking that the side affects will spoil what time they have left. Each man must make that decision for himself.
I will add this note to my description of the symptoms of Prostate Cancer….
Ending the Journey by Choice
Six months before Jim died, we put our 15 year old beautiful chocolate lab to sleep. We gathered around our old friend and stayed with her as she quietly closed her eyes and laid her head in my hands. She was among friends and not in pain. It was a peaceful passing for her and for us.
In contrast, Jim endured six months of huge pain and for the most part really wanted to continue – pain and all. He did as much as he could for himself and enjoyed the summer flowers, his house, my cooking and his much cherished movie collection. He was resolved to do what he could when he could.
I can’t help but think, though, on that last day when we knew there would be no more days, why we could not have made the choice to gather and allow him to simply fall asleep, as our sweet dog had been able to do, quietly without struggling for breath and without his family watching his body back away slowly over many hours from warm life to cold death.
Although, very controversial, we need to get our heads out of the sand and approach our deaths as a reality of life. Are we ready to make a decision that will spare our bodies the agony of a slow wasting away of our faculties and our families the torture of watching us struggle to survive in a place we can no longer occupy in a full and reasonable way? I am not talking about days or even weeks here – I am talking about that last 24-36 hours of unconscious semi-life. Impossible to even think about for the most part – I know!