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David: Prostate Cancer Survivor

Dedicated to tomorrow's lessons

It was during a routine screening that I was diagnosed with stage II prostate cancer. I was in my late 60s and felt fine, despite my diagnosis. Not having been sick since I was 9 years old, I was in denial at first and thought that if everyone just left me alone I could have at least another ten good years.

It took one conversation with a friend who had fought cancer for the reality to hit; this is happening, I had cancer. Being able to talk to someone who knew the issues that I was struggling with changed my mindset and allowed me to see that my cancer did not just affect me, but that my entire family was scared.

After coming to terms with my diagnosis, I began talking with several different doctors about treatment options. We discussed an IMRT approach of radiation therapy, hormonal blockers, and Brachytherapy, or radiation seed implants. Eventually, due to my age, Dr. Richard Peschel at Yale Cancer Center recommended I receive radiation therapy. Everyone around me had confidence that my treatment would work, which made it easier for me to accept as well. There’s a lot of information out there; you have to learn to decide what is worth listening to and what isn’t. Six months after diagnosis, my treatment was over. During my treatment, Dr. Peschel and Dr. John Colberg, my surgical urologist, could tell when something was bothering me. They dealt with whatever it was before it became a bigger issue. They didn’t scare me, but still remained honest.

I was hesitant about every decision made during my treatment, so when I was told by several people to join a support group, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Finally, to make my wife happy, I attended a support group through Yale Cancer Center. This ended up being one of the smartest decisions I made during my treatment. Being able to talk openly with people who knew exactly what I was going through helped allay many of my fears and concerns. They gave me the courage to keep fighting. Because of them I am a survivor in every sense of the word.

As a trained toxicologist with a doctorate from Harvard, I knew what was going on in terms of the technical aspects of my treatment, but I still found myself worrying about other things, unlikely things, like becoming an invalid and not being able to drive myself in for treatments. It was by embracing meditation, something I never thought I would do, that I was able to let my mind go and refocus it to a better place. It’s not putting yourself into denial; you still face the issues, but in a much more calm and less stressful way.

I was told by other survivors not to stop working under any circumstance. However, being a dedicated teacher at Fairfield University, I didn’t want to have to leave my students halfway through the semester if something were to happen. I soon realized that many people, not just the immediate family, are affected by one person’s battle with cancer. Faculty and students showed so much kindness and concern for me. It gave me great strength knowing that they were behind me and thus I was able to continue teaching. If I felt fatigued, a student would offer to take over the discussion for me. This touched me deeply and made it possible for me to continue doing what I love. When people say they want to help, they really do. You owe it to yourself, and to them, to let them help you.

Having cancer is a traumatizing experience for everyone involved and my family had to be given permission to stop worrying; we all sat down one day and decided to continue living our lives. It’s important for me to make an impact now, and deal with issues that are important to the world. I keep very busy. My prognosis keeps getting better and better, and I continue to get stronger and stronger. No one knows if what they are doing is right. You cannot look back as a victim with regrets, but look forward as a survivor with hope.