When do you become a cancer “survivor”? That was the question posed in an online forum where the contributors were discussing “survivorship” in the context of prostate cancer. There were differing opinions based, understandably, on the personal experiences of the men affected.
Personally, I’m not sure about the survivor bit. It’s not just that I don’t yet feel like one myself but it’s also that I wonder if I’ll ever be truly free of cancer, even if one day I am told it’s gone. It could be gone physically but would it also be gone from my head? I hope so, but I can’t yet see that being the case. Maybe you need to come to terms with cancer in order to get it out of your head? I haven’t yet done that.
I was determined that cancer wouldn’t end up being the be-all and end-all, that I wouldn’t let it take over, but I feel like it has. It has become all pervading, reaching out with its tentacles to entangle every aspect of my being. I know that sounds dramatic, but I bet I’m not the only one with cancer to feel that way. On occasions I’ve found myself severely affected by fatigue, by infections, by pain. There are hospital appointments, doctor’s appointments and all the rest. I’ve worked shifts my entire life yet I’ve never had to think so seriously and deeply about such run of the mill, everyday things as diet, exercise and sleep. My daily routine is totally different from this time a year ago. Added to that is an underlying fear that the cancer has spread or will spread, that every ache or twinge is a symptom. It’s irrational in lots of ways, but the fear is there.
I don’t know how other cancers affect sex and sexuality. I don’t even know if they do, but I suspect that the other male cancers must. I have found that the many effects of prostate cancer, and its treatments, go to the very core of being a man. Basically, I can no longer “get it up”. There’s some movement, a poor excuse for a “semi”, but certainly not enough for sex. The possibility of future radiotherapy holds the threat of what little movement remains also disappearing, This is all a big change from before and it has affected me more than I realised it would, in spite of reading up on it prior to surgery. It’s depressing. Any man not affected by erectile dysfunction is unlikely to have a true understanding of what it can mean. Sure, we’re all different, but we’re all sexual beings to one extent or another. We all need that physical release, don’t we?
What man wouldn’t be depressed about post cancer impotence? I miss the full erections. I miss the sex. I miss the wanking. I miss the sensation of “cumming”. Before my surgery I was told in a well-meaning way that I’d still be able to have soft, dry orgasms. I’ve yet to experience one that is anywhere near as satisfying as before. On a scale of 1 to 10, most pre-cancer orgasms were at least an 8 or more. The few I’ve had since surgery are about a 1, and a poor 1 at that. I really wasn’t prepared for this, and, on occasions feel very down. I try to overcome the despondency by just “getting on with it”, but just “getting on with it” is not a long term solution.
As good as they are in many things I’ve found the health services very lacking in the erectile dysfunction department. I’ve felt like I’m floundering. After asking, I’ve been referred to an E.D. Clinic. I think E.D. referrals should be an automatic part of the treatment plan for every man with prostate cancer. Where I live the local NHS has decreed that the help I could get elsewhere in the UK in the way of Vacuum Pumps and Medications should be either not available at all on the NHS or only available in small amounts. I have this vision of a room full of prudish, old maids, supplemented by a few disapproving nuns from the Order of The Sisters of Little Mercy (thanks to Steve Coogan in Philomena for that line), coming to the conclusion that a desire for sex in any man is bad enough but that desire coupled with a man aged over 50 is even worse and definitely not to be encouraged. If they knew I was gay, God only knows what they’d say. No fear of that, though, as they probably haven’t even considered such a thing. They have a one-size-fits-all approach (no pun intended) that takes little account of the differing needs of individual straight men, let alone those of gay men who have (or, rather, used to have) penetrative sex. So much for the Equality Act and the NHS’s duty to treat everyone fairly. Depriving everyone equally is not the same!
If I had to put the whole lot together, all the experiences associated with this cancer, all the possibilities, its potential, what it’s already done and how my life has changed I’d say I felt totally pissed off and dejected. Not all the time, but certainly a lot of the time. It’s life changing in every way. It gets right to the core of my being, for my reason for living up to when it hit. It’s changed all my plans, (our plans), for the future. I am now trying to adapt. My choice is to make the best of things and move on, not to give in and give up, but I could sure use some help, not least on the sex front. I can appreciate why depression sets in with some guys and I don’t blame them for it. I still prefer the option of surviving over the alternative, but surviving and living would be better.