By Martin Wells
Not everybody gets to have their cancer cut out and then stay in remission. Here’s the beginning of my story of ongoing cancer after prostatectomy. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer 14 years ago, and it is still with me now. I had a radical prostatectomy that didn’t catch all the cancer.
Looking back, I see that I prepared myself internally for this journey. Before being diagnosed, I was already on a personal growth journey. I had learned to explore what the things inside me were that were keeping me stuck.
I had also unlearned that typical male thing of doing it all by myself. Rather, I looked out for people who could help me – and were willing to put up with my shit. So cancer wasn’t the first whack to my naivety!
Diagnosis at age 53
My first thought on diagnosis: “Wow! What is this going to allow me to push through, which I wouldn’t have pushed through before?” I was so excited – for about 15 seconds.
Then, on the 16th second, “Oh my god I am going to die” – the reality sunk in.
On my initial diagnosis I ‘needed’ to go on a scary ride at a theme park. When I got to the end of the ride I said to my mate (who accompanied me – Ian on the right of the picture) “who the hell was that screaming their tits off?” He said “it was YOU Martin!”
I was brought up thinking I was a victim of circumstances. This was a perfect time to go into victimhood. But fortunately I already had that introduction to owning my stuff and not thinking I was a victim to it. I found myself not so much critical as curious.
Initial treatment: surgery before the robotic machines were available
“Mr Wells, you have prostate cancer and we recommend a retropubic prostatectomy….”
Not for the fainthearted: my surgical scar, February 2008. Gingerbread men an optional extra
As I learned very quickly, that meant they were going to cut me open from my belly to my penis and take my prostate out. At that time, robotic-assisted laparascopic “keyhole” surgery hadn’t yet become established in my part of the country.
“… and we are not actually sure whether this will remove the whole extent of the cancer.” At this point, never having had the slightest symptom of prostate cancer, the thought started going through my mind “am I going through all this stuff for nothing?”
Yet, in the end, I went ahead and had the open surgery. It gave me a chance to accept help – from a traditional, but in my case awkward, source.
My relationship with my Mom has generally pressed a lot of buttons for her and for me. But she offered to help and I accepted. She ended up being the most wonderful caregiver for me for the six weeks after surgery.
You have to realise that this kind of open surgery is WAY more invasive than the modern robotic-assisted laparoscopic surgery. I needed a lot of help. There was just so much love – she gave it to me and I was able to receive it.
Creating a Heart Circle of support
As the wound healed, during my recovery, six of us prostate cancer survivors created a weekly Heart Circle. We would meet in a circle, right here in my house, and follow these rules:
- How do I feel?
- What do I want?
- No story
- Nobody fixing – each other or ourselves
I remember getting in touch with my feelings – and sometimes I would sob so deeply and resonantly, it came not from my throat but two hundred yards deep down inside. And the other folk in the heart circle would just be with me in this space. They didn’t want to know why and they didn’t try to fix me. It felt so therapeutic.
Looking back, those heart circles were as good for me as any medicine. Particularly as it turned out that medical interventions haven’t been able to cure me, just hold the cancer somewhat at bay.
Cancer after prostatectomy: when surgery is not enough