How to support yourself – or someone else – through a profound time (told through my experience)
Table of Contents
The first five months of 2022 have been one of the toughest stretches of my whole life.
A recurrence of prostate cancer brought me down a long, grueling path of hormone and radiation therapy.
This journey has brought with it so many issues that are common to a major health & life issue like this; a huge roller coaster of emotions, tons of lessons for me to learn, and seeing how it affects others around me – specifically my family and close friends.
Since I’ve openly shared about my journey, so many people have reached out about their own stories and challenges as they, or someone dear to them, have gone through the same.
Here I’m going to detail the emotional journey that I’ve personally run through the last few months with the intention to give others a glimpse into what it looks like from someone going through it.
It will also focus on how to support someone going through the same.
(I find so many people out there want to help and show they care, so I’m going to let you know exactly what other people have done that have really added to and supported my experience.)
If you do find yourself in a case where you have a big health issue to deal with, this might give you some insight as to what to expect, a few things to keep in mind, and what to avoid.
Just do keep in mind this is simply my experience and what I’ve learned & drawn from it. Of course, everyone’s journey and process is different.
I’m also composing this because it’s therapeutic. As I write, form the thoughts and words, and reflect, I get a better understanding of myself.
So, if you’re interested, please read on. And if this is on a social media platform, at the bottom, please;
- Ask any questions you may have
- If you’ve gone through something similar, either yourself or you as a caregiver, share your experience (This way readers can get more than just my perspective.)
First, here’s my medical situation. Once we get through these details, I can share all the good juicy stuff about the mental and emotional ups and downs.
I’ve put some specifics in which you don’t need to worry about, though people who have been through prostate cancer will understand and give them more context.
For those that don’t know me, I’m a 51-year-old male Yank (American) living in England. For the last few years I’ve been mostly vegan, active, and hardly ever drink anymore.
Four years ago, in November 2017, during a routine physical my blood test showed a warning that might be prostate cancer.
If you didn’t know what the prostate is (and I sure didn’t at the time), it’s an acorn-sized gland smack in the middle of the abdomen that handles part of the male reproductive system (women don’t have a prostate).
Prostate cancer is the “tortoise” of cancers, as it is extremely slow-moving and shows up mainly in much older guys. If you don’t have an aggressive kind, you mostly just keep an eye on it as it’s not worth treating unless it gets worse, which sometimes doesn’t happen for years or even decades.
The prostate makes a chemical called the Prostate Specific Antigen, or PSA. When the prostate is sick, like cancer or other issues, it creates a lot of PSA, so you can often tell if the prostate is having problems by looking at the PSA levels. Mine PSA at the time was 6.52.
This was slightly over the “don’t worry about it” mark of 4.0. However, I was extremely young to have prostate cancer, especially since there’s no family history of it.
In March 2018 I had a biopsy (where they stick needles into the prostate and analyze the results), it showed that I had a Gleason 4+3 tumour. That “4+3” is over the line of “you should get this taken care of pretty soon.”
They suggested prostate surgery which, without going into a whole lot of details, is very invasive, as it sits right in the middle of all my organs within my pelvis (yup, lots of important things in there!). It could have many side effects including urinary issues, sexual issues, bowel issues, and more.
Over the next 2 years I tried a variety of holistic treatments (too many to list here!) nothing seemed to move the needle and my PSA kept rising, suggesting that the cancer was growing. When my PSA hit 11, I decided to have the surgery to have my prostate removed.
The surgery, in March 2019 was overall successful, and my main functions (urinary, sexual, bowel, etc.) mainly returned – though just after surgery the surgeon did tell me that while he did his best to get all of cancer out when he took out the organ, he thought there was a good chance that there were some residual cancer cells that he couldn’t get, so we would keep an eye on things.
After that I got my PSA tested regularly, as I should not have any PSA as I didn’t have a prostate anymore.
Well, the PSA started to show again over the next few years, from 0.0 to 0.28. (And if all this PSA stuff is confusing to you that’s OK – just know that it was showing some problem in there!)
I went ahead and had a PSMA PET scan, and it showed a small number of cancer cells accumulating on my lymph nodes.
That’s not good, though it still wasn’t a life-threatening situation – though it would, over time, grow and spread.
We (my wife Anna and I) decided to get all this taken care of once and for all; after all I’m an otherwise fit and healthy 51-year-old, and I plan to live to AT LEAST 100, at which time I figure the technology will be there to turn me into a cyborg. (Anna, however, isn’t so keen when I mention that part of the plan…)
Here’s what the plan was, which I just went through at the beginning of this year.
- Four months of hormone therapy (to shrink any cells in there already). This means I took something called Zoladex that blocked all the testosterone in my body. The effects were that I could not gain muscle (only lose it), I would be very fatigued, and I would basically experience what a woman does when she goes through menopause – hot flashes, mood swings, and more.
At least the “male menopause” gave my wife a few good chuckles…
- 33 Sessions of Radiotherapy. For 33 weekdays in a row (around a month and a half) I went to a hospital, got on a very large, expensive bed, and they zapped me with radiation to kill the cancer cells for around 3 minutes. Then I went home and, after the first two weeks, usually slept and rested until the next day.
Feelings & Emotions
I’ll give an overview of my overall state and then dig deep into some of the main feelings and emotions I went through.
Since January 2022, when I started the treatment, life has gotten progressively harder. I went from feeling very healthy to gradually feeling worse and worse as the hormones and radiation took effect.
Over the past few weeks of radiation, my life had been waking up from a sweat-filled sleep, getting a few hours to eat and do any little chores, going to radiation around mid-day, then coming home and either napping or laying on the couch until I fell asleep for the night.
I’ve lost all of my muscles from lack of use and gained 35 pounds of fat. My head felt foggy and I would lose words – I would go to say a sentence and just get stuck halfway through.
The side effects have been slowly melting away and I get a little bit of myself back every day.
It’s not just physical effects, It was like I had been stripped of everything that made up my identity.
I’m known as a successful entrepreneur, I speak all over the world, and I coach high-achieving business leaders. I haven’t had any of that excitement and sense of accomplishment for months.
I used to be a tall, athletic, strong person. Now I feel fat, weak, and tired.
I’m normally pretty sharp and I found I would stumble through sentences.
All this leaves me feeling naked and vulnerable.
I felt really insecure and I’m building my confidence, along with my body and mind, back up.
Though that insecurity really played tricks with my head.
I would have a conversation with someone and wonder “did I handle that OK? Did I say something stupid?”
On one level I know I didn’t, though part of me seems to want to find things that are wrong.
I kept doing my meditations every day, with yoga almost every day, and continuous mindset work, bringing in positive thoughts about my healing and treatment. Even with all that it was difficult.
It was not always horrible. I knew it was going to end. Many days were better than other days. I made up my mind not to complain (and for the most part I think I did a good job.)
If you know someone going through something like this, keep that in mind. While they may seem fine on the outside, there’s a good chance they are hanging onto things by a thread, like I was. It’s like we don’t want pity, so we put on a strong face, though internally there’s chaos.
Be extra patient and kind to them because I can almost guarantee there’s a whole lot that they are carrying that you can’t see.
Here are some of the major emotions I went through.
The big, ugly, disgusting feeling that haunted me the most is guilt.
I HATE IT that I had to put Anna (my wife) through all this worry and disruption.
I’ve talked about that with her and she has told me time and time again not to worry about that…though I don’t think it’s possible for me to totally let it all go.
I’m used to being the strong one. And to have her see me like this, and with my cancer making a dent in our life plans, in our intimate relationship, and to have her to pick up the slack, is just hard for me to deal with.
It’s so hard to just receive.
Anna has been so truly *AMAZING* and I’ll talk more about her and the caregiving role further on down.
Isaac, my stepson on the other hand, seems to be handling it well. He’s at the age (11yrs old) that if it doesn’t really affect him, he’s not too concerned. Though he has been compassionate the whole way through.
We’ve done our best to explain things to him. I hope that he understood and he didn’t worry much through the process.
And, telling my mother, who herself had been through a difficult case of cancer and chemotherapy, that I had cancer, was a heart-wrenching call to make.
I know my sister was worried, and her whole family, as well as aunts and uncles, friends, cousins, and more, I just felt like a burden and didn’t want anyone to worry.
It’s so strange as I know all of them wished me the best. Yet it’s so hard to reconcile internally.
I talked above about my identity as a strong person. It seems that I want to keep that up, and not allow any weakness or vulnerability to show. Even though they want to know what’s going on, and are rooting for me.
Just one more life lesson for me to figure out…
Anger, Frustration & Fear
Anger can, and did, come easily.
Why did this happen to me? I live healthy. I stay active. I’m a positive person.
It’s not fair.
I try to figure out why this happened. Did I do something wrong? Am I getting punished?
I also try to push through the fatigue and, for example, do some exercise or some extra work. Then I get so exhausted I have to lie down or sleep the rest of the day.
This has never been me; I’ve always had willpower that can bully through any tiredness.
And that makes me feel old and weak. Which gives way to anger and frustration.
Then the fear kicks in.
What if some of these side effects don’t go away?
What if I chose the wrong treatment?
WHAT IF THIS DOESN’T WORK AND THE CANCER IS STILL THERE?
Can I mentally handle more treatment? If I need more, what about Anna and my family? I can’t do that to them…
Is it going to come back in one year, five years, or one month? Am I going to have to live in fear for the rest of my life?
Those are the hard questions that my mind can ponder at the darkest times, and can get me into a downward spiral if I’m not careful.
I had been cooped up in the house for five whole months without working or doing much of anything meaningful (except healing and resting, which Anna kept reminding me is my primary job at the time!)
I did my best to take a walk every day. Though I can tell you I got (for maybe once in my life) burned out on TV and video games.
I have been following the NBA (USA Basketball league) which has been nice and familiar to give me something to get into.
I’ve read a few books and listened to some audiobooks and podcasts (Smartless is amazing!). I’ve only been reading/listening to light things and fiction as it’s hard for me to concentrate with the brain fog and fatigue.
Even here it’s so easy to judge myself.
I should be reading more non-fiction, and learning something while I have this time…
It takes real intention just to let things go (more on this in Lessons below.)
Gratitude & Excitement
There are so many ways to frame what I’m going through; It could have been so much worse. We caught it in time. It’s not life-threatening. I have great medical care.
Getting diagnosed with the big C (twice) and letting go of every single responsibility while you’re at home for 3 months sure gives you time to reflect on where you are at in your life, and where you want to go.
And let me tell you this: I’m excited to get on with my life.
I’m so grateful to my family and friends. So many people have reached out, I’ve reconnected with some, and it’s given old friends a reason to say Hi.
I’m grateful to my body and mind for getting through this the way it is.
I know I’m going to get better. I know it’s working. I just have to pull back and accept it’s going to take some time.
I’ve got such a clear vision of what my life, my family, and my work looks like.
I can’t wait to jump into it.
Caregivers & Partners
In some ways, I feel this is tougher on Anna than it is on me.
I know my role; hers changes day to day, sometimes hour to hour or minute to minute.
When friends see her they ask how I’m doing. She’s probably answered that 10,000 times over the past few months and has to give an explanation each time. Rarely (if ever) do they ask how she’s doing.
(We DO appreciate people asking and checking in SO MUCH! Please keep asking, as it’s so appreciated. I simply want to let others know what we both go through…)
This is, in a way, both my journey and both of our journeys. She has to step back, watch me go through this, and just support me when I need it (and want it.)
As someone who cares so much about me, and wants to help, I’m sure it’s difficult.
Just like I’ve had ups and downs, she’s had a few, and at times so has our relationship. Luckily we are both strong in our emotional and spiritual practices and when something has flared up, like one (or both!) of us have had enough, it would only last a few hours. Then we would be good again.
It happened much more at the end of treatment. All these weeks and months just dragged on. I could only take short trips out. We had to say No to invites and travelling. “I’m just tired of you being sick” or “I’m just so tired of being sick” was something heard more than once.
Caregivers often shoulder so much of the unseen burden. THEY need care and compassion, sometimes MORE than the patient. Or at least to be recognized. Even if they are paid, or are a nurse or professionals, they’re human. Most likely they are handling a ton of things that no one knows about. They need compassion and understanding – and a break – as well.
The only two commitments I made to myself were:
- Every day I would ask Anna “how are you”? And really listen when she responded.
- As much as I could manage I would keep up with house chores – dishes, garbage, cooking (so it wouldn’t fall to her.)
I think I did a pretty good job and that made her time during this a tiny bit easier.
And, if I haven’t said it enough, THANK YOU, MY LOVE. I’m sorry I put you through this (even though you’ll tell me I have nothing to be sorry for), and I so appreciate everything you’ve done and went through with me on this trip.
It HAS made us stronger together.
As with most any difficult time, there are lessons abound.
Here are a few that I can articulate right here. I’m sure there is more that I’ll realize when everything is more in my rear view mirror.
Letting go of things
While I knew that I would have a few months of this treatment, what I was planning for changed as the reality hit me.
At first, when I first heard about the therapy, I figured hey I’m strong. I can work pretty much as normal through the whole treatment.
As it got closer to the start, I figured I would work right up to the treatment and then the day after start working again.
Then, slowly, after experiencing it, I realized that I needed to take every single thing off my plate (except one project that I could do whenever I had the energy), and have no timetable for when I would be back working again.
Everything that I’ve built up over the last few years in England, all the clients, the relationships, the marketing and sales, my masterminds & courses & coaching I run – had to be put on hold, without a return date, and would lose momentum. It took me a few weeks to get my head around it.
Although once I did and had a totally clean calendar and to-do list, it was amazing.
I felt so free.
And I could truly focus on healing and relaxing.
That runs into the next point…
When people would ask to have a catch-up meeting or just a phone call it was a simple “no.”
For some reason, this felt so freeing as well.
I had full permission to say no to anyone and anything. And I did.
There’s a freedom to having no responsibilities and the ability to say “No” (with a good reason) to anyone looking for my time.
And it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes friends would want to talk or zoom and I told them – in a nice way – no, not right now.
The fact was I was tired and I needed all the energy I had just to get through the basic necessities.
For maybe the first time in my life I wouldn’t answer email, direct messages and text messages right away.
And I was OK with that.
Because my focus was on healing.
It taught me a lot about setting boundaries, protecting my time & energy, and putting myself first, so I can come back and truly be of service when I’m back to being healthy and strong again.
Life threw us curve balls.
A few weeks after my radiation was set to end I booked a “thank you I love you” spa getaway for Anna and I. A week later I was scheduled to go to a yoga retreat as I thought it would be a great way for me to start the road to recovery.
It was something we could get excited about. It marked a turn from going through therapy to recovery and a reconnection for her and I.
Then, a few days before Anna and I were supposed to go to the spa resort, I got COVID.
It was devastating.
After all, I just had spent the last 3 and a half months toughing it out, and this was supposed to be my reward…and it got taken away from me.
That’s not fair. I earned it and I should have it.
Anna ended up taking a friend to the spa, though it wasn’t the same. (and a few days later she got COVID as well.)
And I dropped out of the yoga retreat.
When I found out that I had COVID and then realized that meant I couldn’t do the trips, I got depressed.
It was the one thing I was looking forward to. And that was hard when it got pulled out from under me.
The GOOD news is that they found someone else to replace me on the yoga retreat. I reschedule the yoga retreat in Morocco.
So don’t shed too many tears for me 🙂
Why is it sooooo hard for me to ask for help?
I love doing things for myself yet going through this process helped me reach out and ask.
Anna, and even Isaac, were just amazing. They did so many big – and little – things.
Whether it was simply letting me rest, doing more of the chores and running around, making me a special meal or giving a loving massage, their help and support made things so much easier.
And just KNOWING they were there to help me was huge.
It was my job to simply ask.
Ask specifically for what I want – without guilt, without being embarrassed. Which took me a while, and yes, sometimes the guilt did creep back in.
The thing is they WANT to help. What I can do is make it easy on them, and me, by asking in a positive way, being clear, and not taking advantage of it.
What is tough on them is when I try to tough it out myself and ask them at the last minute, or because I’m embarrassed, I’m not clear, or I seem like I’m annoyed with them (when really I’m just annoyed with myself that I have to ask for help.)
As I mentioned earlier, my recovery has taken longer than I originally (and optimistically) expected, and even though I tried to suck it up and power through, in this case, that didn’t work.
It caused a lot of anxiety and distress in me.
I got in a bad mood, I was irritable, just because my recovery wasn’t going as fast as I wanted it to.
I was so ready to get back to work and normal life, why was it taking so long?
Finally, after some soul searching, I realized that I couldn’t force it to happen. I had to stop trying to control it and follow my time schedule. I had to surrender to the fact that it will happen when it’s ready to happen. Not a minute earlier.
Once I let go of trying to control it, my inner life (and therefore my outer life) was so much easier. I just took a big weight off of my life.
It’s a real fine line balancing letting go while still keeping a positive mindset and also doing things to support it happening (doing yoga, watching my diet, walking).
The whole process of going through an illness is getting your head around and losing control.
Did I do something wrong? Could I have avoided this if I did something different?
I can’t control the hot flushes. I can’t control when my hormones will balance out again. I can’t even control if this treatment has worked and if I’ll get cancer or not again.
There are things I can do to affect those things, and I’ll do them, though the truth is a lot is out of my control.
And the more I remind myself of that – and to focus on what I can control, and also to have gratitude for what I have done and do have – the easier things are on me on the inside.
One emotion that I generally didn’t feel, though many people I talked to felt, was a shame.
I find many people get sick and they don’t tell anyone. One guy was telling me he had a heart attack a few weeks after he ran a marathon, and as a 45-year-old guy, he really felt a lot of shame.
The fact that he was young and active meant that he felt it shouldn’t happen to him, yet it did, and that brought up the shame.
I’ve been very open about what I had been diagnosed with and my journey from the beginning, so I can’t speak much to this personally, though if you know someone going through something, be very aware that they may feel this.
Keep what you know about their situation private. It’s not your job to tell others; it’s your job to support them.
The Spiritual Level
You may notice that I’m careful to use the term “healed from cancer” or my “healing journey.”
I believe that our words have power.
I also believe in seeing love and grace in everything.
That’s why I don’t use the terms “beat” cancer or “fight” cancer or even “fu*k cancer.” There are times I want to and I have to consciously refrain from doing so. (And sometimes those words do slip out!)
The reason is that on some level my body chose to produce these cancer cells.
It could be a manifestation of an emotional issue, it could be something spiritual, it could be genetic, it could be that I ate a bunch of asbestos when I was young, or some combination of things. I don’t know, you don’t know, and we probably never will.
And really it doesn’t matter.
What matters is how I hold it in my consciousness. And I don’t want to hold it as a “fight.”
What I do want is my body to heal.
Healing is helpful. Healing is natural. Healing is what the body is programmed to do.
In this case, my body needed some extra help from modern medicine. And I took that help.
Now my body is healing from those treatments.
This whole process may have been a spiritual gift.
Maybe it’s a gift for me to learn more about gratitude, resilience, or something else.
Maybe it’s a gift for me to heal and share my experience and help others.
Maybe I’ll never truly know the gifts given to me by this process.
And that’s OK.
Because all I really need to do is trust and do my best and the rest will unfold just the way it’s supposed to.
Practical Advice for people who are faced with major health issues
If you are going through a major life issue, first, that is tough, I’m sorry.
However, if you’re in that fog of “what the heck do I do now” then hopefully the next few points will give you some help.
Again, remember that I’m not a health care professional. This is only based on my experience mixed with what I’ve seen & heard about others, mixed with a healthy dose of common sense.
Only use this as more information to make your own decisions.
Take Control and Responsibility
First and foremost keep in mind that YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF, AND RESPONSIBLE FOR, YOUR OWN HEALTH AND HEALING.
The doctors and specialists are just there to give their opinions.
This is the most important point for you in what you’re reading here:
You need to take full responsibility for your health.
It’s not anyone else’s responsibility. It’s yours. And you can’t delegate it.
You have to listen, ask questions, take notes, do your own research, and then ask more questions.
If you don’t like a doctor, that’s a problem. If they aren’t explaining things to you that’s a problem. If you don’t understand something that’s a problem.
And if you don’t get a second opinion from someone who’s neutral from who gave the first opinion, I believe that’s a huge problem as well.
Even if your doctor is extremely confident, or you hear there’s only one way forward, challenge that. Maybe not with them though with others.
And stand up for yourself – if you don’t understand something, ask. Push for that scan that they said probably isn’t necessary. Lobby to get yourself referred to a specialist.
The fact is that doctors have to make a ton of judgement calls with every patient. There’s a good chance that you, coming in educated and taking an active part in your treatment, can have a big effect in your quality of care and ultimate healing.
Trust your instincts.
For me, if I wasn’t clear on which way to go for a decision or course of action, I kept searching, researching, and asking questions until the right decision (and doctor/person to work with) became crystal clear.
I really encourage you to do the same.
If you’re caught in indecision like you don’t know what path of treatment to choose, or something seems off, take a few days to think about it (if possible.) Spend some time doing other things. Have your subconscious mull it over. Write out the different options with pros and cons. Talk it over with someone.
That said, it’s great to have a friend or family member that can attend doctor’s calls or meetings with you both to support you and to have you talk through what they said.
Anna was at most all of mine and at times she heard different things than I did. And she sees things from a different viewpoint.
While it was me making the decisions, they are so important that I wanted someone I could trust who I could compare notes, talk about different courses of action, and run options by.
Then, when you do choose a path of treatment, commit to it.
My belief is there often are no “right” answers. You have to do the best with the info you have, make a decision, and then commit.
Also, make sure you do what the doctor suggests. Take your medicine when you should. Get out and exercise, and spend time in nature, even if it’s walking around your block or sitting in a park.
I went to one prostate cancer specialist and asked him about supplements. He dismissed them and in a gruff voice “the single best thing you can do to help your healing is go hike a mountain!”
It’s almost a given that whatever treatment plan you choose other people, friends and family and maybe even other health care professionals, will think you would have been better off choosing something else.
Don’t listen to them.
They don’t have all the background and information you did, and THEY ARE NOT YOU.
Make your choice and have confidence that it’s the best one for you.
The first thing I did after getting the diagnosis is what most everyone else I’ve ever talked to does – they google the hell out of it.
While there is value in educating yourself (see Finding a Doctor / Specialist below), what you’ll find is there are so many treatments, rabbit holes, tangents, and opinions, that you’ll get overwhelmed because quickly you’ll find that there is no easy decision and that leads to getting depressed.
It did for me, and it did for most other people I talked to.
Let yourself do some research. Set limits on it though. Look around and read for 30 to 60 minutes, then process that and come back the next day.
Keep in mind that when you read about people’s experiences in groups and forums it’s normally the people who DON’T have good experience share theirs.
Look for trends in what people say. Talk to people who have been through the same thing. Make SURE that people who share what they went through have a similar situation as yours – similar age, background, diagnosis, etc.
For example, I’m extremely young (51 yrs old) to have prostate cancer, and I’m relatively active and otherwise very healthy. Most other people who were sharing in public forums were in their 60s, 70s and 80s, some with diabetes and a host of other health issues. What they had to manage is quite different from what I had to manage.
And I can almost guarantee you that you can find the exact OPPOSITE points of view on almost anything.
It’s commonly known that testosterone feeds prostate cancer cells. I found one guy who swears he CURES prostate cancer through using testosterone – and he could prove it.
To be honest, I don’t know if he’s right or not, though it just goes to show you that it can drive you nuts looking at every different type of treatment.
Mindset & Emotions
It would have been easy to hide inside watching TV, playing video games, and eating unhealthy food until my treatment was over. Though that would have taken me down a dark path that would have been difficult to dig my way out of.
Instead, I did my best to do 10 minutes of yoga plus my meditation every morning as well as got outside for a walk during the day.
I didn’t try to overdo the “positive” things and trust me, I did my share of Netflixing and gaming. There are just not that many things you can do when you’re totally worn out.
When it came to my mindset, I had two seemingly opposite approaches; one is to keep a positive mindset.
The other is to be OK with feeling down, defeated and depressed.
To a point that is.
I had a few “mantras” – small sentences – that I would repeat when I caught my mind going off on a negative tangent.
I would remind myself I’m going to get through this. I’m mentally strong and will gain the physical strength back. Outside of the cancer, I’m in very good health. I’m lucky to have the loving family support as well as a career I can put on hold.
Then I had my down days.
There were times when I just felt horrible.
After weeks and weeks of tiredness and the onslaught of side effects, it was just too much. I was grumpy and at times downright angry. I would try to shield my friends and family from it though when you live with people they see it.
Luckily my wife is so amazing she knew and just let me be.
Going through something like this is going to bring up emotions like that.
YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE YOUR DOWN DAYS. AND THAT’S OK.
I believe it’s important to truly feel your feelings. Feeling them – and LETTING ourselves feel them, knowing that it’s OK to feel them – makes the time we experience them much faster.
It took me a while in my life to be OK with being sad or angry, and even now, sometimes I will judge it.
“Mike, you shouldn’t be angry at this. What’s wrong with you? Stop it!”
Then I would judge myself as bad and wrong. Which just made my low moods stay around longer.
When I gave myself permission to fully be there with no judgement, I was much better off.
After a few hours, or a day or two, if the feeling hadn’t left on its own (and often it did,) THEN I would give myself a pep talk, which almost always seemed to work.
I did a lot of reading and researching mindset while healing from something like this…and it’s crucial not to get stuck in a down mood.
Have some daily practices that make sure you don’t – meditation, yoga, positive visualization, getting outside, at least walking, talking to friends.
Journaling – writing down what you are feeling – is a great way to process feelings as well. Just write down everything that comes to your mind then burn them or throw them away. (Don’t ever go back and read your processing like this. Just get rid of it.)
And be careful what you believe. Hope is a powerful thing. Even if the doctors give you a diagnosis that doesn’t sound positive, there are always people who heal when the odds are against them.
Instead of me going on about that, please do one thing…read the book “Radical Remission”. A lady wrote it who studied all those crazy cases about people who had life-threatening diseases, the ones that doctors said would certainly die within a few months, and yet they survived.
Will that happen to you? Will you miraculously heal?
I don’t know. And neither do you.
Though it happened to these people. And knowing it happened to them means it certainly could happen to you.
Finding a doctor / specialist (& alternative treatments)
It BLOWS MY MIND how difficult it was to get an unbiased look at my diagnosis and a true assessment of my options.
Here’s an example: I have an extremely common form of cancer with over 1.2 million recorded new cases every year worldwide.
I went to one specialist at the beginning, someone with a stellar reputation, who said the treatment he specializes in would absolutely be right for me.
We later learned that the treatment he was prescribing would most likely cause me major issues down the road.
It sure looked like he gave me the wrong advice so he could do another one of his treatments.
Also, if you know my wife and I, we are into healthy living and healing naturally when possible.
Prostate cancer is the “tortoise” of cancers. It moves very slowly and it’s only an issue when it spreads from the prostate – which it will, eventually and if you live long enough, as it may take decades.
When you get prostate cancer you choose how aggressive you want it to be. A former neighbour has a small amount and he’s been living healthy and monitoring it for more than eight years.
However, I had a LOT of cancer in my little acorn-sized prostate. A common treatment is surgery to remove it which can be difficult as it sits right in the middle of just about everything in my abdomen.
I told myself I’m going to do anything I can to heal…just never have surgery as it’s the most invasive.
So I went on a mission to heal naturally.
I tried every type of alternative healing I could. I radically changed my diet and upped my mindset. I experimented with a variety of supplements. I tried ayurvedic, massage, reiki, Antony Williams, CBD oil, and even THC (which was a little more fun 😉 ) – and those are just the ones I can remember right now. Because I could test my PSA levels every few weeks, I could tell what was working and not working.
Nothing moved the needle. It kept getting progressively worse.
Actually, one thing did make my PSA go down, the Optimal Health Institute in San Diego, though it would have been very difficult to sustain their protocol for a longer time. I ate nothing but raw vegetables with no oil or even salt. We would have wheatgrass a few times a day and daily colonics.
I’m really tall with a very fast metabolism, so by the end of that week, I could barely move I was so tired and my brain was in a fog.
However, that’s the only place that helped my PSA go down. And there were so many people who stayed there or ate the way they taught us that cured their own cancer. And if I had cancer that medicine couldn’t cure, I would go there for longer and see how I could adapt it for myself.
(There’s one other place besides OHI, and that’s The Hippocrates Health Institute. If I ever get a terminal diagnosis of cancer or most anything else, I will invest in going and staying at one of these two institutions, as I do know firsthand they perform miracles.)
I did realize that in this case, for me, alternative treatments, by themselves, weren’t going to do it for me, I needed good ol’ western medicine.
I reached out to a few doctors and still couldn’t find someone to give me a good, confident way forward.
I finally was talking to a holistic doctor and asked the magic question “If you were me, what would you do?”
Now, this is a question you need to really remember, and here’s why.
Most doctors are hesitant to give you a recommended course of action. They are more apt to give you the options and let you know how they see the pros and cons. (And as you’ve heard before, they are most likely to prescribe what they work with. After all, the old saying goes: If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will start treating all your problems like a nail…)
Why is this?
There are probably liability issues with them suggesting an outright direction. Also, how would it be if they suggested, for example, for you to take a more holistic route, then your cancer spreads and you die?
When you ask them what they would do you your situation, it takes all that pressure off of them.
This lady, who is on the cutting edge of healing cancer naturally, said “If I were you I would go get that tumour out of my body. I can help, but what I do is help stop the spread of cancer, and sometimes we can shrink it a little bit. But you have a lot of cancer in your prostate. So If I were you, I would get that addressed immediately.”
She said that with such conviction that I was immediately relieved that someone gave me a direct answer with the logic behind it.
Then I went to someone who did one type of therapy to zap tumours, and after 40 minutes of him telling me about his kind of treatment, I got the sense there was more to the conversation that he wasn’t telling me.
So I asked him the same question: What would you do if you were me?
He told me directly: He would have surgery to remove the prostate right away.
He explained that the cancer was at the sides of my prostate, and was in danger of spreading.
His treatment or any others that weren’t downright removing the prostate would only make it really difficult in 10 or 20 years if it comes back (and after treatments like that it almost always comes back…)
Then he referred me to a surgeon who he said, if he ever had to have it done, would be the only person he would go to.
Bingo. I got another direct answer, more crucial info, and a recommendation on who to do it.
The thing is it was surgery to remove the prostate – the one thing I swore I wasn’t going to do.
That’s how life works though, isn’t it? What we resist…persists…
Yes I know it’s a long story to give you the question “so what would you do if you were me”?
As for what happened to me, as you may have pieced together from the above, they couldn’t get all cancer when they did the surgery, that’s why I had to go back for round 2.
I do think sometimes if I acted earlier the original surgery might have gotten it all – or I wouldn’t even need surgery. So timing is an issue, as cancer does spread.
I also want to be clear that I do believe in holistic and alternative healing and cures. I just think you have to monitor if they are going to work or not and make sure you don’t go down that route and ignore the conventional / western path. Often they can be done in combination, or give the more natural ways a try before resorting to the common ways.
I’ve healed a lot of things in my life holistically, though in this one case I elected for surgery.
Finally, find someone who you like and agree with their approach. When I went for my second round, I found a specialist who only introduces harsher type treatments – in this case, hormones and radiation – when the natural and holistic treatments weren’t effective.
In fact, he even wrote a book about post-cancer treatment.
And a big shout-out to Yes to Life, a UK integrative cancer care charity:
The People Supporting You
There is a lot you can do for the people supporting you and acting as a caregiver.
First, ALWAYS appreciate them. Say thank you – often, with conviction. Every so often, tell them how much they are helping out. Make sure you don’t take them for granted.
Tell these people what you want. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t be shy, don’t be vague or hint at things. People in that role want to know what you want; don’t make them guess or shy away from telling them.
Of course, do it with respect and from a calm place. The same with giving feedback.
Then make sure you are taking care of them. Caretakers can get caught in this cycle of caring for others and forget about themselves.
Ask yourself how have they been acting? Have they seemed withdrawn, or moody? Do they look tired?
Then do your best to have them take some time off. They need to rest and recharge too.
This goes for unpaid (friends, family, volunteers) as well as people that are paid to help out. They are humans too, and you’ll get much better care by making sure that they are mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy as well.
How to support a friend / relative going through a major health (or life!) issue
If someone that you know – whether it’s someone in your immediate family or a friend from the neighbourhood – here’s a short primer on how you can support them.
And remember, this is only my thoughts, so it’s by no means comprehensive or based on a large study. It simply comes from my experience, though I’m confident that it can give you some direction and ideas to use.
The first thing that comes to mind is that I got so tired of talking about my cancer in small talk or casual conversation.
What WAS helpful was when I could have deep conversations with people who could compassionately listen.
If you are catching up with someone who you aren’t very close with and they are going through a major health issue (and remember all this is VERY broad advice and situation-dependent), a good idea is to share something about yourself first.
Every time I met someone who was a casual friend, they always asked “how ARE you anyway?” And there was no short answer to this. What I didn’t want to do is go into a long explanation as to how I was. So I had “stock answers” depending on the situation in order to move the conversation going.
(Things like “Hey it’s a little tough now though I’ll be through it soon.” or “Stronger every day!” or “yea I’m in the middle of it though things are going to plan”)
I KNEW these people cared, though it was hard to give a true answer right at the start of the conversation.
When I was right in the depths of treatment and talked to people, I wanted to know how THEY were. Anything about me would be a downer no matter how you cut it. When I could hear a funny story about you, then I could get my mind off of me. NO I WOULD NOT GET JEALOUS – if you’re my friend, I LOVE TO HEAR YOUR WINS AND GOOD THINGS! It energizes me. And I can smile and laugh with you.
So tell a fun, silly, or stupid story about yourself. Make them laugh. It’s about the best gift you could give.
Then, if the conversation seems to turn, you could ask “how ‘bout you – you doin’ all right?” Then I could just give a short “yea” or I could go into more if I feel like it.
If I do start to share…just listen. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY ANYTHING.
I had three of four people say “I’m just here to listen” and I would open up.
A few minutes later, they were giving advice (which I didn’t want nor need), telling me everything will be OK (which of course I know – or maybe it WON’T be alright, you have no idea!) or something like “Stay Positive!”. I’m not trying to pass my driver’s test, I have cancer, and you know what – sometimes I run out of positive. That’s just the way it is.
PLEASE just listen and be quiet. Even if they share, they cry, and there is major pauses where no one says anything, just let them share and process. Because so often they have no one to process with or to.
It’s really the greatest gift you can give them.
There is one response that I can think of that works; “wow that sounds hard” or “man that sucks” or something similar.
Because you know what it does suck sometimes. And I’m tired of acting like I’m strong and it doesn’t bother me. Having a headache every single day for month sucks. Losing all your muscle and gaining a bunch of weight – with nothing you can do about it – sucks. Sometimes you go through difficult times in your life. And it’s nice when someone lets you know that’s OK.
Also, resist the urge to make the conversation about you.
Don’t try to connect what they’re going through with what you or someone you know went through.
There’s a 99% chance that my cancer and my treatment aren’t the same as what your dad or uncle went through even though they had prostate cancer as well.
And even if it’s the same, just give them the chance to talk it through. Even if you think you know the exact thing to say to help them heal, still just listen. Let them talk. I can’t emphasize how much they will need that.
And PLEASE don’t tell them about the supplement, surgery, or wholistic treatment that your grandmom had because she had “some type of cancer, I think…” As I talked about in Dr Google, above, and with all the options that we’ve already researched, more options just add to our overwhelm and then we mentally shut down to you in order to protect our sanity.
Here’s what you CAN do for this person (besides talk and listen to them.)
-Really listen and ask a detailed question about their health issue.
If you do want to talk about what I’m going through, and I share something, ask about it. Why are they going that treatment route instead of the other one? How long will the side effects last? Tell me more about xxx…
It can really help when someone takes an active interest. Just be ready to get a big download of information!
-Ask a question NOT about their health issue.
I had a lady that I knew through some business projects who knew I was going to be out of action for a while. She sent a note telling me she was thinking of me, and she said “you must have a lot of extra time – what are you watching to pass the time?”
This really meant a lot to me. First, the fact that she reached out and remembered at all, and the fact that she could think I wonder what his life is like right now? What can I ask him that’s fun and light?
It was a short note though one I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and really made me smile.
(p.s. I was watching Ozark 🙂 )
-Drop a note and take out all the expectation
A buddy of mine sent a voice note just checking in, and at the end, he said hey I know you’re going through a lot. Don’t even worry about answering this or getting back to me. We’ll catch up when it’s right.
Again, this is great empathy and compassion. I was going through so much, and even answering a text or Facebook message took more energy than I had.
Though hearing from friends like that was so nice. So many people checked in, and when things were hard and dark, they really brightened my day…especially when I could just receive and not have to worry about giving.
-Buy them something that makes life easier
One of my wife’s relatives lost his wife and he was left to run his business and take care of his two small boys. We heard that he was getting behind in taking care of the house, so a few of us chipped in to have someone come in to clean and cook a few times a week.
He said it was a game-changer.
If you want to send a gift that really helps, find out what that person likes to eat or do, or in the previous case can make their life so much easier.
Maybe give them a credit for Uber Eats so they can have some good food delivered. Or if they are into video games, a credit for their gaming platform of choice.
I’ve heard that if people are in a real crisis, sending over (or dropping off) food that they can eat over the next few days really helps.
-Lastly, just be there for the person. In whatever way makes sense.
I heard a short anecdote a few weeks ago (I wish I remember where from – please comment if you can help me attribute this!) where a guy lost a member of the family. A good friend heard about it and told them that they drove over to their house and were parked outside. The guy in the car told his friend that he respected his process, though he loved him so much and wanted to support him, that he’s just going to be there sleeping in his car, to call or come get him if he needed him.
The guy who lost a family member said just knowing that he had his buddy out there in the car was huge. He did want to be alone – though he also knew that someone was right there for him.
So many of these things that I talk about are about you letting go of your ego and really being there for this person in your life. It can be hard to support someone. There’s no game plan for when someone gets sick or loses someone. It’s difficult and awkward and your ego will want to make it about you.
Though I can tell you it’s a beautiful act of service to truly, truly be there for them in your most authentic self.
Part of me is really frustrated that I had to go through this and put people close to me through this.
Though another part of me knows that it’s also part of my story. One of the many chapters that make up me and my life.
Overall I’m proud of how I went through this. And while I’ve shared a lot here, there is more around the spiritual and life lessons that I’ve learned – and I also believe there are more lessons that will be revealed to me over time.
I also share all this so maybe, just maybe, it can help other people’s journey – whether it’s your healing journey or someone else’s.
I did start this a few months ago, and now as I edit and finish it in early/mid-June 2022, I’m on an airplane headed back from a week in Greece with my family and then a yoga retreat in Morocco.
Most of the side effects are gone and I feel ready to get back to life again.
It would be a real gift to me if you do the following;
-If you have questions, please ask them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them. I’m pretty open, so ask away, no holds barred!
-If you have an experience that you’ve been through, either on your own healing journey or supporting someone else, please do share below.
-If you know someone who could use this information, please do pass it along
-And if you found it interesting, please do Like and Share so more people see it.
To your health, and with Love,