by Kathie Houchens
Used with permission from Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network/Chapter News. For more issues of the Chapter News go to www.ustoo.org.
Prostate cancer broke into my ordered world bringing disbelief, panic and a sense that my life had frozen in that moment when Dave revealed his diagnosis to me. He, the calm and measured scientist, had been charting the course of his potential disease discovery for over a year before the telling biopsy brought the devastating news.
Not wanting to worry me, he waited to disclose the situation until he was sure. I had just turned 60 and he was 64. Our last child had married two years earlier and we were enjoying the first of what we expected would be many fruitful years ahead as a couple. Our last living parent had just died at 91, so my expectation was that our next thirty years would include winding down our work schedules, taking time to travel, enjoying the grandchildren and sharing more of our lives together than we had had time to do while raising our three children. This news seemed to change all that. I felt helpless, adrift on a sea of unknowing. My biggest fear was widowhood, being alone, losing my best friend forever.
That was August of 2001. How could I have imagined then that prostate cancer would add a positive dimension to our relationship and to our lives? Would I have believed that eight years later I am at peace with our situation?
In August 2001 Dave had already researched the treatment options and was fairly sure that his choice would be the radical prostatectomy ("open retro-pubic" was the option at that time.) In September his surgery was performed by a trusted colleague with results that gave us great hope for cure. I now believe that speaking of "long term control" is a more helpful mindset.
Once diagnosed with cancer, while not letting the big C control life, recognizing its potential for recurrence can open channels to life-giving information and wisdom. We both continue to read books, attend conferences, search websites, support research and educational organizations and attend support groups. This helps, not only with our personal challenges, but also in companioning others.
The oncologist-recommended regimen has included a sequence of vitamins and supplements as well as pharmaceuticals. When we saw the PSA doubling time increase, a Combidex MRI scan identified possible lymph node involvement. Timed to take advantage of the effects of his second round of ADT (Triple blockade androgen deprivation therapy), Dave spent two and a half months in Florida for IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) to target and to eradicate remaining tumor cells. This meant we lived apart while I continued at my job in Ohio.
Thanks to cell phones and e-mail we stayed connected. Operating in our separate spheres, Dave was able to create a supportive community among the patients sharing the clinic waiting room each morning. I was present to lend an understanding ear and my accumulated information to a friend in Columbus whose husband had just been diagnosed.
In the eight years we have traveled a road we would not have chosen, we are thankful for new awareness, creative opportunities and rich friendships, thanks to prostate cancer. I have learned the lingo including the importance of Gleason scores, the intricacies of PSA numbers, the amazing array of treatment options, the rudimentary pharmacology of supplements and some of the science involved in making nutritional and diet choices. We have both taken exercise more seriously, knowing that our aim is total physical wholeness and well-being. While we hope these lifestyle changes keep prostate cancer at bay, we also find we sleep better, have more stamina and a sense of peace.
M. Scott Peck, MD in his primer on personal growth and spirituality, The Road Less Traveled, begins by saying, "Life is difficult." A hard truth, we do all face bumps in the road. Accepting that, I can prepare myself to live with graceful resilience. Our 46 year marriage continues to teach me patience, flexibility and the ability to let go.
Some things are what they are. Facing them without giving in to despair, embracing them without being controlled by them, I share with Dave a fuller life of faith that God uses every circumstance to bless us and those around us when that is our prayer.
Lessons I am learning:
- Today is a gift: I treasure it and savor it. To live in the moment, not fearing what may come tomorrow or next week, but participating fully in the possibilities of this day.
- I claim the power to heal by learning about nutrition: by preparing meals and snacks that promote health. The book by Dr. Charles "Snuffy" Myers, Eating Your Way to Better Health, educated us on what to avoid and what to include in a prostate-healthy diet. I learned about the role many foods and food components have on the growth of prostate cancer cells. The recipes by Rose Myers and her sister Sara give me an arsenal of tempting dishes with which to combat the disease on the home front. Feeling empowered to "do something" gives me a participatory role in Dave’s ongoing wellness.
- The diagnosis that felt like a death sentence eight years ago has been a gift: an open door to many wonderful experiences. What began as an emotional earthquake that shook the foundations of our dreams for the future has become an open door to discovery of deep spiritual resources within each of us that, combined, have enriched our lives, increased our mutual trust and appreciation, brought us closer together.
- Wives and partners of prostate cancer survivors are victims, too: This is a couples' disease that affects the most intimate and emotion-filled moments of a relationship. Coping not only with the physical challenges posed by treatment side-effects, but also embracing the emotional needs that may be less obvious and difficult to admit or express, calls for sensitivity, education and understanding. When support groups open to wives and partners are available, I recommend participating.
- Communication is the key! We have learned to share our deepest fears and doubts out loud with each other. We are in this together!
- Express your feelings! Often my panic is diffused, my depression lifted, by putting my feelings into words, getting them outside myself. Other avenues for me are music, poetry and art. Through non-verbal expression I release anxiety.
- Meditation helps! A contemplative attitude, whether prayer, yoga, walking a labyrinth or strolling in a park are ways to put life back into perspective.
Kathie Houchens, wife of Dave Houchens, shares her exeriences as partner and fellow traveler on the Journey with Prostate Cancer. Dave is an Us TOO Board Member and serves as Treasurer. Kathie and Dave live in Columbus, Ohio.