Prostate cancer is a killer. One in three men will get it. A high percentage will die because of it and many, even most, older men will die with it. And yet my very experienced surgeon who was spending most of his time operating on prostate cancer cases told me that he / they did not really, honestly know why some men developed the disease and some didn’t.
I know the why!
Immediately prior to the diagnosis I had just planned my work schedule for the month ahead and it involved being in Germany for five days, Greece for five days, Kent for two days, possibly Spain for four days, London for four days and various meetings elsewhere – leaving only about six days at home. It was an insane schedule and it needed to stop.
In stopping, I suddenly realised that an amazing space had opened up – something I hadn’t experienced before – and I could work on healing myself through whatever way I truly chose to live. In other words, my livingness and my new choices would determine the outcome.
The process of discovering the cancer started with seeing a consultant about the PSA levels that had been recorded at my regular medical check-ups, which I had chosen to have following a heart attack three years earlier.
Although a bit of a dinosaur, I had become open to finding out more about my health, which as a man was not something that I had been previously inclined to consider – so this, in itself, was the start of a true change and proved fundamental in setting me on the best course to detect and treat early the cancer that presented.
PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen and basically, in a rather crude way, indicates the likelihood of a man having cancer cells in his prostate. It may not be perfect but it can help to detect cancer early. Although my PSA level was not overly high, there had been a change, which lead the consultant to order an MRI scan. This turned out to be abnormal and so a biopsy was arranged.
The consultant’s intuition and experience proved to be correct and very gently he explained that there were a lot of cancer cells in the left part of my prostate, fewer on the right side, and something needed to happen. He had a beautiful way of presenting the ‘slow reveal’ and it all felt very re-assuring. Naturally, the more you ask the more will be revealed and it was a fine assessment on his part as to where to draw the line, as clearly some information is not worth sharing, until such time as it becomes evident that it needs to be. Slowly I was being informed – I was learning.
I am no doctor, nor indeed am I very knowledgeable about the workings of the body. I had studiously ignored everything medical until then. I now learnt that cancer cells in the prostate grow at different speeds. A very close friend had slow growing cells and a PSA all over the place – so no immediate action was required. In contrast, I had a PSA that was quite stable but a relatively fast growing cancer – so immediate action was needed. They say more men die with prostate cancer than of it, but not if it is growing fast.
My choice was surgery or radiotherapy, which included a course of oestrogen to kick-start the treatment. There are other procedures, but this is not a medical dissertation. I opted for the surgery and it all happened very quickly. In addition to the first consultant I was fortunate to have two other excellent surgeons who would perform the operation. I was told that it would be a Laparoscopic Radical Prostatectomy (LRP), which meant keyhole surgery. As it turned out, it was a 3D procedure that he was using for only the sixth or seventh time. We chose a venue and a date, and the deed was done.
After surgery, it was for me to stop not only physically but also to deeply let go and allow others to do what I would previously, naturally and expectedly, have leapt up to do for them or with them or on their behalf. I had always been the provider for family, friends, colleagues and employees, doing lots for everyone else without stopping, rather than simply being the tender man I am and feeling that was enough.
I absolutely know that THIS IS WHY I got the cancer in the first place – too much doing for others and not feeling it was enough being just me.
Here was the moment when I could discover what true healing is and what it is like to have such an intimate part of me examined by all and sundry – because that’s all part of it, that’s the preparation, the getting completely naked and open and surrendered. I couldn’t heal unless I dropped the mask.
I realised that I was having detailed conversations with my consultant surgeon about matters that I never would have talked about before – or indeed would not have been open to if I hadn’t spent time with Serge Benhayon, a philosopher, healer and international presenter, learning who we truly are as men and how sensitive we are, and being inspired by the way that the Benhayon family live. It was Serge and his family that helped me make my choices as I moved through the various stages.
I found myself discussing erections with the surgeon and my wife and he reassured me that even if I lost some nerves there is a solution. And when I woke up to find that I had a catheter coming out of my penis, I did wonder what on earth was actually happening to me.
My healing is in the surrender, letting go and being willing to open up to whatever is ahead of me without holding on to the images and pictures of the past that I had so studiously worked on. Without doing this I couldn’t let go, I couldn’t surrender and I couldn’t be truly tender and trust what is and with whom that is. How else could I be a reflection to others?
Don’t get me wrong but if the healing were easy I would learn nothing.
I had had a heart attack a few years before; I got a stent, I healed easily, I changed my way of living, and then gradually I began to revert. I thought that I had changed and indeed I had, but I had not changed from the role that I had been brought up to live and which had carried me upwards as a man but was destined to abandon me and drop me down with injury and illness – I was destined to learn what is true and what is not true in the way we live and what we aspire to.
I now know that I had overplayed the father role, taking on too much and blaming myself for incidents and situations that were really a result of other people’s choices and therefore their responsibility, not mine.
Two and a half years on, my surgery is by all accounts, successful; the surgeons eviscerated the prostate and removed all the cancer. But my healing was bumpy in contrast to when I’d had my heart attack. My blood pressure dropped and my blood count was low, so it took time to get out of bed and get moving and the nurses worried about me getting blood clots in my veins (DVT). I had a large haematoma which needed a drain, and two smaller ones that oozed; my bladder had to be stretched to join up with the urethra and just when I was expecting the catheter to go, I was told that the bladder was leaking and needed more healing before the catheter could be taken out – far better an extra week or two with this catheter, I was told, than a re-insertion. Eventually after six and a half weeks it was removed and then started the process of re-learning ‘how to have a pee’ – which launched me on another journey, building a relationship with my pelvic floor.
When the consultant apologised for the ‘complications’ but was confident that he would get me back to normal in three months I thanked him and said that I didn’t wish to go back to normal – that I had a ‘new’ normal. And he looked at me and he concurred.
I find that I’m coming to terms with me and my body and the scene is set for me to start the space that my life has become because I have felt the healing every inch of the way. I’m still learning to surrender and need to trust in this but when I was lying in my hospital bed I had the sense that I was being looked after and being protected, such that nothing or no-one could or would get in the way of my healing and future living.
It’s now down to the choices that I make in terms of the way that I live, what I commit to in terms of work and what I eat for the good of my body. I can choose to harm or heal in the biggest possible way – it’s all down to my learning and my appreciation of me.
Getting prostate cancer is a big shock to the system, as all will know who’ve been through similar traumas, and I was in a whirl when it happened. And here I feel even more for my wife – it’s one thing going through it myself; it’s quite another for the partner you love and live with. We discussed this at length with another couple, one of whom had breast cancer, and our experiences were similar. As the ones with the cancer we had something to do next, a sequence of planned events, a knowing of the next steps; whereas our partners felt that all they had was uncertainty.
What neither of us had quite accepted was the fact that like many prostate cancer men I could no longer have an erection following the operation. I expect like many others I’ve associated old age with erectile dysfunction and wondering how long I would last, secretly admiring sixty and seventy somethings for their obvious virility in being able to father children. However, as part of the surgery some of the nerves that stimulate an erection were removed because there was evidence that the cancer had spread outside the prostate. And knowing that the alternative was death or passing over I am quite sanguine.
It is interesting to reflect on how this affects people. There’s still a sensitivity and even though it is possible to get injections that can cause an erection, even if they are not consistent in their effect, there’s definitely something missing. I’d like to say that all this doesn’t bother me, but if I’m honest it has given me a feeling of anxiousness and unease. And I can also easily see how many men would become acutely affected by this and have feelings of guilt, inadequacy, frustration and so on.
But there’s a lot more than the obvious physical manifestation - I feel lighter and more able to handle situations. I’m more aware of what is happening around me and I can stand on one leg – my balance is improved. I no longer have lower back pain and I’m fitter than before. I can run. I went tobogganing with my granddaughter when it unexpectedly snowed in March. My fun is back. I can live my life.
In part, what comes up for me is how I might have lived differently and how it might have changed the outcome if my choices had been different. I see so clearly that the way that young men now live and work and push themselves is a nursery for prostate cancer in later years. I didn’t previously make any effort towards caring for myself and that reflection is now all around me. Cancer was what scared me most when I was growing up and yet somehow I worked hard to allow it to, or in truth to make sure it would, come in to my life.
Irrespective of how it has all turned out the realisation that I had cancer and the unfolding of what was happening to my body would have really freaked me out if it hadn’t been for everything that I had heard from Serge, his family and all those who have stood by me – they have all been with me and gently cajoled me to express more and to deeply rest, as have my wife and my sons and so many of our family near and far, and all those who as men have shown what it is like to be sensitive, tender and open.
I know that this is a teaching and a learning. I know that I’ve been given a space and it is now up to me what I can be in this. This is a choice that I now have every hour and every day and every week and every year. And thirty months afterwards I am still free of the prostate cancer cells. My PSA levels have been less than 0.1%, which is a good result in medical terms – I have lived my choices and chosen my living and I continue to have amazing support.
I have had, and am continuing to have, the opportunity to be a reflection to others to demonstrate a purpose and a living commitment. It’s a surrender to an openness, intimacy and stillness. It’s a surrender to healing and the willingness to heal. I am no longer hide-bound by convention; I’m opening up – I have space.
Michael N., UK