New writing prompt:
You are 80 years old. Life has been good up until now. You have just been diagnosed with inoperable stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer. How do you feel? What do you do?
You have 90 minutes. Good luck!
Ok, first of all. Fuck you! You’ve obviously been reading my UCLA Health chart! So fail me in this class! I don’t fucking care. What good is college credit if I’m fucking going to die? I want my tuition money back! The fucking Neptune Society ain’t cheap. This is such bullshit. Writing essays is bullshit. You think the folks in Auschwitz would be writing a fucking essay on their way to the gas chamber?
OK, OK, I’m hoping my Zoloft will be starting to kick in. I need to remember what my wonderful UCLA physicians and therapists have been telling me. My cancer is being controlled by medications and my bad attitude is being and can be readjusted.
So let’s get this thing done. Sorry for swearing at you. And yes please, I do want an ‘A’ in this class! I have been a certifiable overachiever since birth. Getting a ‘B’ or ‘C’ on something like this, something this personal, would just absolutely kill me! And I may need a bit longer than 90 minutes. Is that OK? I’m a disabled guy with a Blue handicapped placard. I’m a perfectionist who maybe has ‘OCD.’ Plus I am low vision due to ‘AMD.’ So can I maybe get a little bit of extra time for this? Thanks a bunch!!
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t happen to believe in any deities or religion, and the only ‘tools’ or ‘assets’ I have available for dealing with this kind of distressful situation are my family, my friends, my health care providers, my daily activities, my living situation, and my somewhat occasional devotion to Zen Buddhism.
My wife was raised and grew up in rural Iowa where her dad was a dairy farmer. Iowa is famous for its fierce thunderstorms that suddenly come out of nowhere and which may contain dangerous tornadoes capable of wiping out an entire town in just a few minutes. I recall that my father-in-law would make sure that all his cows had found safe shelter before these crazy storms would sweep by. Somehow cows have a sixth sense and know how to protect themselves during these storms. Meanwhile we human occupants would all head to the tornado shelter next to the house.
In some ways, my prostate cancer involves dealing with some of these very same concepts.
Yep, I see that a storm is definitely heading my way! The sun is full and the sky is black. I remember these well from my Iowa days. But this one seems even much blacker and scarier than anything I remember from Iowa. It sits there staring at me from a distance, silently, menacingly approaching. Will its force be sufficient to threaten my very existence? Meanwhile, and unlike an Iowa dairy farm, there are no analogous ‘tornado shelters’ available for prostate cancer. Absent a tornado shelter or a basement people in rural Iowa do the next best thing, stand under a doorway and pray, or in my case, hope for the best!
That’s kind of where I find myself right now, standing in a doorway, fearful, hoping for the best, wondering how to protect myself and my loved ones from the oncoming ‘storm?’ The key point here is realizing that I have somehow acquired all these ‘assets’ (see above list), some acquired recently, some built over time, living my rather ‘simple’ life with my beautiful, courageous and loving spouse for the past 56 years. These ‘assets’ are my primary source of hope and strength during my illness, as they include things that need to be continually maintained both during it and afterwards for my spouse, should I not survive through it.
So the first thing I need to do is to protect her from all the stuff that is ailing me! Or as much as I can anyway! So trying to keep myself from being too negative or in too much despair will certainly help both of us cope better. That much I have already proven. Many times over!
Obviously it is very important to maintain our/my ‘living situation’ as stably and comfortably as possible, yet allowing for flexibility and the possibility that my health may take a turn for the worse into hospitalization, hospice care and the like. So I have tried to include my wife a great deal more in ongoing decisions about finances, etc. in a way that she is comfortable with, so that she can ‘hit the ground running’ in case my health situation worsens. During my working years when our children were small, my wife would handle all our books. I still remember her and our antique roll-top desk with all its little cubbies jammed to the gills with bills, receipts and cancelled checks that she always somehow knew where to find. Although I’ve long since taken this stuff over and computerized everything, she has remained on board and involved this entire time, so I have no doubt that she can easily handle whatever may become necessary going forward.
As for my daily activities, I know, and have recently had this reinforced through my UCLA therapists, that these must include ‘self care.’ This means mental, emotional and physical care of just myself. I have taken steps to make sure all of these areas are covered and in place as best I can. Constant attention and reinforcement are key to these!
I am starting up my physical therapy again Monday with a new provider, a woman, who I am hopeful can help me keep my body in some state of OK’ness. With prostate cancer, expectations can be very low and still enable me to achieve something useful. So please don’t look for me in the Special Olympics or the Senior Olympics anytime soon! That just ain’t gonna happen!
And don’t forget my friends! I actually have quite a few of them, mostly thanks to my spouse who tends to be very outgoing and much more of a ‘people person’ than I am. I’m a bit of a geek, who tends to get absorbed in computers, science and more abstract, less personal kinds of stuff. She and I are ‘opposites’ in this way, which has, over time, proved to be an important and beneficial aspect of our marriage bond. Notwithstanding that they hadn’t yet been invented when she and I got married back in 1966, my wife and I would never in a million years have found each other on a dating site!
Then next of course are my awesome UCLA Health care providers! Fate has somehow blessed me with the smartest, most caring team of health professionals that a prostate cancer (P.C.) patient like me could hope to find anywhere! They’re from UCLA Health – Hematology Oncology, the SIMMS MANN Center, and UCLA Health Adult Psychiatry. Where would I be without them? I simply can’t imagine. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to!
And lastly, my Zen Buddhism principles seem to be intertwined in all the items I have mentioned above. Zen for me, maybe since I’ve been into this for so much of my life, amounts to doing and thinking in an almost automatic, natural way. Simply sitting back in my chair and enjoying what I have just put forth here is pleasurable and brings me peace and contentment, even though it most assuredly is not yet perfect, not yet even finished, really. Like life itself.
4 thoughts on “Zen and Prostate Cancer
an essay by Steve Hansen”
Steve, you may not have survived a tornado standing in a doorway, I think that is for earthquakes, but your principles of Zen will help you get through this latest curveball! Love you,
Yah yah, I remember all that, living in our silly trailer at Aossey’s Trailer Park in Cedar Rapids. During a tornado warning we would get in the car and drive downtown to a concrete parking structure.
I tell people we dodge bullets until the one with our name on it comes for us. Bullet, tornado, earthquake, hurricane, any of the above. And cancer is such a frequent bullet….. For so many of us.
But, we don’t ever really know, do we? Not until we’re there…. All we can do is our best and live as fully as we can until that time.
I’m glad you’re on the earth today, Steve. And I hope the same for tomorrow…. And many tomorrows to come.
Thank you Jo! And welcome to my blog! I have a fantastic team of family, friends and health care providers who all seem bent on keeping me alive and functioning for as long as possible. How I managed to merit all this love and attention is a bit of a mystery to me. All I can do is try to pay it back, in kind, as best I can. And keep living, for them and myself, as best I can!