By Andre Sobolewski

3 June 2021: I’ve just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I feel myself being transformed these past days. It’s hard to feel an inner illness when I feel perfectly healthy: I can only understand it intellectually:

Adenocarcinomas are cancers found in mucosas of glandular tissues: prostate, breast, lungs, pancreas primarily. At my age, it’s from the prostate. They grow rapidly and have a propensity to migrate to other tissues, like liver or spleen or bone marrow, where they would be transformed and spread. If that happens, I’m toast.

So that’s my mental picture of this illness.

Catching the cancer before it spreads

I spoke to the urologist who understands it well, and he said that we have three months to intervene. That means there’s already a risk – a tiny risk – that the cancerous cells have already migrated. That risk gradually increases over the next three months. So we have to move swiftly and deliberately. Already, I went to the hospital to get a bone scan, and I am going tomorrow to get some additional blood tests.

We have scheduled an additional series of diagnostic tests and will reconvene when all this information is available, at the end of June, to make a decision regarding treatment. If the cancer is confined to the prostate, then we should excise it and, hopefully, that’ll be the end of it. There may be consequences, but they are lesser than the spread of cancerous cells to other tissues.

Turning inwards towards myself

I’m shifting my priorities and direct my energies to my well-being. I don’t care if I offend someone because I did or didn’t apologize properly for something done three years ago. I will spare my energies from these wasteful concerns. Did a woman become attached to me more than I expected? Sorry, but I have other things to worry about. Does my son feel fragile from something in his life? I can’t be there for you: I will selfishly look after myself at the moment. I have never acted that way, but everything shifted with the diagnosis.

emotional response to cancer diagnosis

This post is made of up of two emails to my friend. This image was her response

Another shift. While showering this morning, I noticed how my neck and shoulders are stiff, like they always have. Does this account for my poor sleep? There’s a good chance it does. Aargh: I now need my sleep.

And if I need to pay a massage therapist to loosen up these muscles, then that’s what I’ll do. A week ago, this felt like an unacceptable indulgence. Not anymore. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I shouldn’t try to endure life, but actually make it easier on myself by resolving its many minor annoyances.

Getting to grips with the reality of cancer

It’s an odd juxtaposition, the struggle within me. For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to come to grips with the reality of cancer cells growing within me, but the reality is eluding me. All my friends are worried for my well-being, but I feel fit and strong.

Except I know that it’ll be too late by the time I actually feel unwell: by then, the cancer will have spread throughout my body and made itself unmovable. I have to proceed while I feel nothing, cut off the bad part while it feels normal. It’s not an enticing prospect.

I imagine that was the same dilemma that Angelina Jolie faced when she went through a double mastectomy after she learned that she carries a genetic marker for breast cancer. Here is this icon for perfect boobs, willingly cutting them off to save herself. It takes uncommon courage to do that. And in an odd way, it removes the pedestal that’s been cultivated for her and brings her to my level. We both struggle with unseen ailments, crippled by invisible foes.

… while celebrating my highest intellectual achievement

While all this is going on, I am preparing a conference presentation. It’s about research I conducted 20 years ago, work that I was contractually prevented from disclosing. It’s also my highest intellectual achievement: I discovered bacteria that can enable what a colleague called “a revolutionary new process [in gold processing]” … except the hype is unwarranted because I never fully succeeded.

However, it was very cool work and I want to reveal it, at last. Maybe someone will carry it forward and become very rich off of it. I don’t care: I’m done with that chase. However, it really feels like I’m (more or less) done and it’s up to the next generations to pick up from there. It’s another odd feeling, like ageing has snuck up on me.

My response to ageing

I know that I’m getting older – I can feel it every day with my sore back – but it does not change my positive attitude to life. I think that’s got to be the trick: if you stay positive, you stay youthful.

Once you start griping about everything, once you start being comfortable with your circumstances and fear change, then your relationship with the world changes for the worse. I’ll be happy to keep going this way, going full on, and then be done.

Get the full story

I’ve published a more extensive version of my prostate cancer diary, as told in emails and texts to friends, with some of their responses, in Medium. You’re invited to read my prostate cancer diary here.