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.
Masculinity and Men
February 11, 2000
This idea of the web site has proven to be the best thing that has happened to me in the last two years, when my life began to slide away from me. Nothing arrested and reversed my deterioration.
Driving thousands of empty miles.
There were times when I would bounce off the bottom and seem to improve but then another blow would send me to a new depth. I would climb back out and try something else.
I went into rage.
I broke down and cried.
I hoped and even deluded myself.
But there was always another crash after the "fix" proved to be temporary.
This one may be less than 10 days old but it is different. The others were like painkillers. The pain stopped and that was the relief. But there was still no future. I didn't know where I would live or work or what I would do with my life, so I relied on and stumbled through the only one I knew.
And then it culminated in my complete collapse and what I can only call a rebirth. Everything came together but most importantly, I could feel a return of my identity as a man. That is what makes this recovery different from every other one. This is more than relief from the pain, which is nothing but negative gain. This has given me something that I lost.
In the process, I realized how I had identified myself with my sexuality, which meant women. Without a woman, without my sexuality, I had no identity and without an identity, I had no future. (I also realized how deeply this went, back to my youth when I was raised by women.)
As all of this came to me, what I had been struggling with for the last couple of years began to heal. (Those years is a long story.) The pain, frustration, anger and disappointment that I had been fighting for years began to lift. The life that I had been stumbling through as the only one I knew began to fall away and in its place was an entirely new one with new, creative goals. Rather than the prostate cancer being the end of my life, it was suddenly and magically a start.
I was even freed of the fear of another relationship, the "dead end" that had driven me out the bottom. It is no longer the measure of my life. I don't know if or how another relationship might happen but it is no longer a consuming threat or fear.
Over the last few days, I've had a chance to discuss it with a couple of male friends. While I use writing to explore or analyze an idea, the litmus test is my being able to verbally discuss or explain it and I was able to do it. In the process, it became clearer, more defined and more valuable.
Who would have thought that the very end-stage malignancy that had pushed me out the bottom could be the source of such regeneration and inspiration?
If there isn't a moral in this, there is some sort of story.
That's why I need the Web site. I need to be able to tell men being crushed by the emotional effects of prostate cancer that they can recover. Maybe this is what inspires people with debilitating conditions who learn to overcome the emotional effects to help others. It is as if one has discovered a wonderful secret that in its very nature, the greatest joy is to share it.
At the same time, I'm not kidding myself about my physical condition. But what I have discovered and want to do has nothing to do with the amount of time I have left. Whatever it is - months or years - I am going to spend it in the thrill (I haven't used that word in 50 years) of bringing together all of my experience and skills into a joyous undertaking. I can't think of doing anything that would be more exciting.
In mythology, there are stories of a knight or a warrior who must face and conquer a beast that no one else has been able to vanquish. Drawing on Joseph Campbell, modern writers have interpreted this, as the basic struggle men must undergo as men or to become men. It is the paradigm of the Hero.
That is what I feel I have done.
The "beast" was more than the cancer. It is as if the cancer was the "cave" that I had to enter to fight the beast, which turned out to be my own fears. It was how I had to be reborn as a man. Campbell would have enjoyed this one.
There is still the cancer. I don't know what path it will take but it has lost its grip on me. It may control portions of my body, but it no longer controls or determines my sense of myself and that is more important.
If that shift in me helps to fight the cancer, wonderful. I know that "attitude" is named as the most effective weapon. Advice on fighting cancer always includes attitude. I read them. I read how they produce the right bodily chemistry to combat any illness. But I didn't know how to find mine.
Besides, I am not getting this attitude to improve my own chances. I am getting this because I am going to do something more exciting than anything else I have done in years, maybe my whole life. I am sure it will help my chances to be this excited about my new life, not to mention discarding the old one. In fact, I firmly believe that if there is any chance for me to beat this (and the statistical odds against that are massive), it is by doing exactly this: integrating my condition and my talents to help other men who must face the same problems, so they know their own personal beast can be conquered.
I can think of no better way to close out my life.
It would be a nice way to be remembered.