This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.
February 5, 2000
It happened on Wednesday, February 2. I don't know what prompted it. Maybe I was doing some private writing but it suddenly came to me.
Impotency aside, what woman would want to establish a meaningful relationship with a man dying of cancer? Who would want to invest feelings and emotions into a man that might suddenly worsen or even die, possibly within months, since cancer is so unpredictable?
The realization tore me apart.
Impotency was nothing. Kelli had convinced me that an impotent man could have social life and relationships.
But terminal cancer swept that aside.
I was shocked that it had completely escaped me as something a woman would need to know before she even considered investing in a meaningful relationship. And what woman (I kept coming back to that question) would want to be involved with a dying man?
I was at home alone, sitting in the front room when it hit me. My stomach went out the bottom and I had to get up to fight the black hole I could feel myself about to slide into. I had to get my mind off of it.
I went into the kitchen to clean up some dishes but the grief enveloped me before I could barely start. I put my hands on the edge of the sink and braced myself, trying to hold it back. But suddenly it seemed as if all of the anguish, fear and pain for the last two months swept over and through me as my life crashed out the bottom as I broke down and cried. Every fear and horror story I had read came crashing in on me.
Cancer. Prostate cancer. Metastasized to the bones.
End stage. Terminal. Death.
Castration. Impotency. Loss of manhood.
Loss of self.
Crippling pain. Morphine. Taken till I die.
Still holding the edge of the sink, I sank slowly to the floor, unable to stand as my body shuddered and gasped in uncontrolled grief. Whatever the cancer had not taken, the treatment would. My last hope to give any meaning or value to what time I had left was gone.
I gritted my teeth as the tears and mucus drained from me, trying to keep from screaming. Don't scream, I told myself from somewhere. The neighbors will hear and someone will knock or call the police. I can't be found like this. Don't scream.
Dying slowly, painfully, alone.
Very alone. All alone.
On the floor, I buried my face in clenched fists and fought it.
Damn you, I silently screamed at the cancer inside my body.
Damn you. Damn you.
It became a mantra as I repeated it over and over.
Damn you. Damn you.
Damn you for what you did.
Damn you for what you will do.
Damn you for it all.
Damn you for everything.
I gasped for air and halted the mantra, trying to catch my breath and realizing I was on the floor, my back against the doors under the sink, my knees curled up to my chest. Then I lifted my head and took a deep breath.
Damn, you, I silently said one last time. Damn you to hell.
I opened my swollen, puffy eyes and stared blankly across the kitchen, trying to compose myself. I was breathing heavily, gulping, gasping, trying to catch my breath. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the doors. I was coming back. The shuddering stopped. I wiped at my slimy face and mouth then opened my eyes again.
Get up, I told myself. Get up.
I reached up for the edge of the sink and struggled up, finally assuming the last position I had, leaning on my arms. I inhaled deeply as my breathing returned to normal. Then I looked up and out the kitchen window at the snow-covered, monochromatic yard next door, getting some orientation.
Big bare tree
Then I turned and found the paper towels and cleaned my face and blew my nose. I was better.
It was passing.
I ran my hand through my hair, took a deep breath and then stumbled into the bathroom to wash my face. I didn't look in the mirror. Don't look into mirror at times like these. You don't want to see yourself.
Then I went onto the porch for a cigarette. The world was still there. Houses. Cars. Trees. Snow. Street. Sidewalk. I lit the cigarette, inhaled deeply and thought what had happened. That was a rough one, I thought. Too rough. In fact, that one was the worst. I paced the front porch slowly as I smoked the cigarette, reflecting on what had happened. These waves of grief had hit before but never so fast and hard. But I was coming back. But back to what?
I looked around me. Well, at least to the neighborhood, I thought to myself with a bit of a grin, having no idea why that was amusing, since I didn't know anyone.
I took a last drag on the cigarette before going back inside to the chair where I had been sitting. I was exhausted. I leaned back and closed my eyes. This is a bitch, I thought. A complete bitch. How do other men deal with this. I took a few deep breaths and then somewhere I slipped off into a quiet, dreamless sleep.
I awoke tired but rested. Cancer does that. And the panic was gone. These bouts were having a pattern. They seem to be more like the ingestion of bad food. There is stomach pain and nausea but when the vomiting is done, one feels better. These episodes had a similar feel. The agony and grief would hit me but once I let it take over and pass through me, I came out feeling better. I wondered if it was like what I had heard about epileptic fits, that once past, the person has greater clarity. I wondered if it was even true.
I went out on the front porch for a cigarette wondering, what do other men like me do? I'm certainly not the first unattached male with terminal prostate cancer. How does one learn what they did to make it? They might be harder to find than Kelli's women who want to cuddle.
I looked at the street and the occasional car passing. It was still sub-freezing and cold. The smoke from my cigarette blended with the steam of my breath when I exhaled.
How would one find out how other men survived this?
It came to me the next day.
Specialize. That was what Berky had said. Specialize.
It was a remark to me in some email from Berky a few days before. His cancer was not unlike mine and we had met via the PHML [Prostate Help Mailing] list. I had become so frustrated with all of the numbers, figures, scores and readings about PCa that some regulars had posted to the list that I had thrown a rant out asking them how the hell they understood it all. Amongst the replies I got, Berky told me to just specialize. Find one area of prostate cancer that interests me the most - from diet to PSA readings - and specialize in that. Disregard the other material for the time being and just keep it narrow to what interested me the most and then it would widen naturally.
Within seconds of reading his email, I knew what my "specialty" was. I didn't have a name for it so the best I could call it was the "psychology of cancer." What were these emotions produced in me and how do other men deal with them?
I had been struggling with psychological issues much more than learning PSA numbers and Gleason scores. It was my nature. My interest in the mind was why I had majored in philosophy and then entered a Ph.D. program with an emphasis on philosophy of mind. It was what prompted me to drop out after three and half years of graduate work and enter a therapy cult. Now it was why I spent so much time trying to understand my emotional struggle more than the physical. It was just my nature.
So when Berky said to find a specialty, I already had. It merely took someone to tell me it was okay to do it.
Acting on his suggestion and my realization, I prowled the Internet to see what there was on the subject. I learned it had a name: psychooncology. There was even a professional society dedicated to the subject. But this wasn't what I wanted. This was for the academicians. I wasn't interested in papers and scholars and more clinical terms and figures and statistics. I wanted to know what men like me said and felt and I knew how to find out. I knew how I could pursue my interest, find out what other men did and integrate my skills, education, background and condition at one time.
I would create a web site for men like me.
There had to be many others out there who were struggling with these very issues. Yes, there were men who had dealt with them but let's find them! Let's learn from each other!
I knew some HTML. I had even built a site a couple of years ago. And I liked to write.
It was the most exciting thing to happen to me in months.
And then yesterday the idea of the Web site resolved the problem I was having with my masculinity. I need to write it up.