From The Ashes
or Cancer Doesn't Read Resumés
by Robert Vaughn Young
The ashes that Phoenix5 rose from were on a linoleum kitchen floor on a cold February afternoon in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The ashes were me, or what was left of me. Two months of the emotional roller coaster since my terminal cancer diagnosis along with the degrading side-effects of my hormone treatment finally overtook me completely.
It was the only treatment available to me, given my diagnosis. The lab stopped counting my PSA at 1000. The bone scan showed it had metastasized into the pelvis, spine, ribs. I lost count. It was "aggressive and advanced," they said. Stage D or M1, I came to learn. There is no Stage E or M2. All they could promise me was pain treatment. Until then, I was put on hormone therapy and warned there would be sexual side effects, an understatement if there ever was one.
Potency disappeared and then the libido or even interest. It began to rip at my self-identity but each time I managed to recover and struggle back.
It finally caught up to me on that February afternoon. I could feel it sweeping towards me like a massive tidal wave. I knew what it was from earlier experiences but I didn't know the size of this one. I got up from the chair and went to wash some dishes to get my mind off of it but I was too late. The wave crested and then in slow motion swept over me. Everything I had pushed away for the last three months - from diagnosis through treatment - enveloped me as I washed a plate. I couldn't fight it any more. I leaned on the edge of the sink and cried and it came. My knees began to buckle and all I could do was slide to the floor and cry my guts out, holding back nothing. There was no reason to hold back. I was dying and the treatment that was supposed to give me time and relief was doing it at the cost of my masculinity. To die was one thing but not like this.
I had always been comfortable in my masculinity. I wasn't the "macho type" that watched football games with the guys, drove a pickup with gun racks or swilled beer over a pool table at the local dive.
But my 62 years had been filled with more than enough masculine drama. Being a writer with a strong investigative bent and a having a penchant for the challenging and dramatic story, I've chased down former Nazi SS officers, heroin drug dealers, clandestine CIA agents and have been chased, sometimes running for my life. Before that, I was in the San Francisco student demonstrations of the 1960s, got stoned, dropped acid, been thrown in jail, pursued a Ph.D., taught philosophy at a university, worked professionally in political campaigns and even lived in a cult. I had driven a taxi for a living and had raced yachts for fun. I had seen chunks of the Far East, most of Europe and 40 or so of the 50 states. I won some writing awards, some NRA marksmanship medals, survived a heart attack, two divorces, a stint in the Marine Corps and once walked the edge of alcoholism.
So life as a "man" wasn't new to me. But nothing prepared me for this.
Cancer doesn't read resumés. It has as much respect as an earthquake, tornado or a sansumi like the one that was pushing me out the bottom.
So there I was, alone on a cold linoleum floor crying my guts out like any frightened Joe or Jane, wishing I was dead so the nightmare would stop. There was nobody else and there would never be anybody else. That was the problem. There was nothing to live for and no one. The cancer had pushed me to where I had never been: I wanted to die but all I could do was cry.
Some know what I'm talking about, especially those that a disease and the treatment have ravaged. Crying alone is both the worst and the best, isn't it? You spill your guts into a void that only you occupy. It sucks it out of you like a black hole and no matter how you feed it with your grief, it wants more and there is no one to comfort you, reassure you, hold you or wipe your tears or the snot that is streaming onto the pillow or into your hands as you run out of breath and your head pounds and your lungs hurt until you can't cry any more. You can't find the energy to cry and so you fall asleep exhausted because you have purged enough pain and anger and grief from your system so that you can start to breathe again and maybe - just maybe - without the emotional toxins taking control you might find the energy to get up and try just one more time.
I've done both. But on this day, I didn't fall asleep. I lay there until I couldn't hear myself any more, which meant I had stopped and then I realized I was on the floor. I pushed myself up and then managed to stumble or crawl into the bathroom to wash my face. I couldn't look in the mirror. Never look in the mirror on those times. You don't want to know. Then I went out on the porch to look at a world that was ignorant of my trauma. I didn't know what ripped through me but I was starting to breathe again. The suffocating wave was gone.
I don't know why it came to me but the next day, I knew what I had to do. I had to create a Web site where men like me could have a chance to deal with this. No man should be made to go through this. Maybe I could use it to understand this beast that was trying to ravage me before it killed me.
I began to write about the experience and my new views. It helped me to talk about it, if only to my keyboard. Maybe I would put them on the site and maybe they would help some other guy. No one needs to do this alone.
That is the short version of how Phoenix5 was born. The longer version will be elsewhere on this site.
I don't relate this account because I think I am special. I tell it only for other men to say I've been there. There are men who have endured more pain, grief and humiliation than I can imagine and they haven't quit either. (Some of their stories are at this site.)
That is why Phoenix5 is here, to tell each man who has prostate cancer - from the newly diagnosed with every chance to the hopeless case - that you are not alone.
It is also to tell every companion of men with prostate cancer that you are not alone either. There are stories from women at this site too.
No matter what you feel or fear, someone has been there before you and they can help.
Robert Vaughn Young