MY CANCER ADVENTURE – Episode 11 – “Am I Cured?”

MY CANCER ADVENTURE
Episode 11
“Am I Cured?”

Confirmation biasthe tendency to find evidence that supports or confirms one’s beliefs, expectations, notions, points-of-view, etc. This bias can be positive or negative, constructive or destructive.

Self-fulfilling prophecya statement or mindset that modifies or alters behaviors and actions, to become true. Self-fulfilling prophecies can also be positive or negative, constructive of destructive.

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During the follow-up visit with my surgeon, I asked him, “When people ask if I’m cured, what should I say?”

He replied, “probably.”

The likelihood of being cancer-free after my surgery is very, very high, but it can’t be determined with absolute certainty … yet.

I will have a PSA test twice yearly for five years.

At the beginning of this adventure, I made a prophecy: “somehow this will make me a better person.” I could have just as easily predicted that my life would be miserable, and I suppose I could have created that outcome as well.

In the mean time, I am feeling quite good and except for a couple of ‘plumbing’ issues (which will resolve in time), functioning normally.

I am fortunate. This is my chosen “confirmation bias” – created and nurtured over 30 years of consciously choosing optimism over pessimism. Though I was not always successful, the long-term positive outlook eventually became my brain’s default setting.

Good thing.

I could see myself as an “unlucky” person to have had cancer … or a “lucky” person to have caught it early enough, before it spread beyond the prostate.

When you decide to see yourself as a fortunate, blessed, “lucky” person … you will find evidence everywhere! This may take some practice, but it’s definitely worth it – especially during challenging times. Easiest way? Once a day, write down five things that make you feel grateful.

This will probably be the last chapter in “My Cancer Adventure” series for a while. If there are any significant updates, I will keep you, my valued friends and readers, in the loop.

And speaking of valued friends and readers … I am so very grateful for your kind and generous support. Your prayers and positive thoughts mean the world to me. Most of all, my wife Lynne gets the lion’s share of the credit for the relative smoothness of this “adventure.” Our five-year wedding anniversary is next month – truly the very best five years of my life.

Much love,
Jerry

PS: I have created a new workshop and keynote speech for businesses, organizations and events – WAYS TO SUCCESSFULLY NAVIGATE ADVERSITY: What To Do When Things Don’t Exactly Go Your Way. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail – posgroup@aol.com

Thanks, and very best wishes to you and yours!

MY CANCER ADVENTURE – Episode Ten – “Back To Work”

MY CANCER ADVENTURE
Episode Ten
“Back To Work”

I am so very grateful and thrilled to have recovered enough to resume my speaking work. Still, I’m not allowed to lift more than 10 pounds for another couple of weeks (glad the ukulele ain’t heavy). And no solo long-distance travel for another couple of weeks.

I am reflecting on some of the key points that made my “cancer adventure” as easy and successful as possible. Unquestionably, the single most important factor was the support and partnership of my wife. We worked as a team, increasing efficiency, providing continual emotional support and comic relief!

Some of these points might be important to you, too …

1. Got the PSA test yearly – caught the cancer early.
2. Listened to my primary care physician and saw a urologist.
3. “Bit the bullet” and had the biopsy.
4. Got the diagnosis and began extensive research.
5. Told our network of friends and family that we needed to get the best, most professional second opinion.
6. Thanks to my sister’s friend’s cousin, we connected with a top oncologist and surgeon at Dana-Farber. The best!
7. Received lots of generous input from cancer survivors; prayers and emotional support from friends, colleagues, strangers …
8. Decided on treatment based on our research and the meetings at Dana-Farber.
9. Didn’t wait, scheduled the surgery.
10. Shared the experience by writing an ongoing blog.
11. Determined to be the best patient possible – cheerful, kind, appreciative.
12. Determined to be the best husband possible – cheerful, kind, appreciative.
13. Again – best hospital, best surgeon.
14. Great experience at the hospital – treat people the way you’d want to be treated.
15. Keep positive, hopeful attitude, keep complaints and crabbiness to a minimum. Maintain sense of humor.
16. Following orders – from doctor and Lynne.
17. Writing a daily gratitude journal.
18. Ice cream.

Much love.

MY CANCER ADVENTURE – Episode Nine – “Surgery/Recovery”

MY CANCER ADVENTURE
Episode Nine
“Surgery/Recovery”

“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”
— Martha Washington (1732 – 1802)

Lynne and I left Sheffield early on Wednesday, July 18 for my pre-op meeting and exam at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Due to rush hour traffic, and my bad parking decision, we were 30 minutes late. But when we checked in, instead of judgment for our tardiness, we were pleasantly greeted, as we experienced the first in an ongoing series of absolutely exemplary “customer service” experiences. Kindness and comfort were liberally offered by each and every person who served us.

This service standard, while not universally practiced — should be!

My intention was to be an excellent patient – not a passive pushover, but to behave as pleasantly, cheerfully and appreciative as possible under the circumstances. I strongly believed that this approach would impact EVERYTHING for the better … and I am quite sure that I was correct.

After the exam, Lynne and I drove to the Holiday Inn on Beacon Street, Brookline, hoping for early check-in. We were in luck.

Walking to Cooledge Corner, we had a lovely lunch followed by a movie at the Cooledge Corner Theater. We liked the movie (Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love ) but we LOVED the beautiful art-deco theater. Then, back to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours and another light meal at a nearby Japanese restaurant. I enjoyed the last day with my prostate gland and hopefully, my last day with cancer.

Up ridiculously early on Thursday, July 19, for a cab ride to the hospital, 5:30 check-in. My name was called, we signed some papers, and off we went to pre-op. As I was being prepped, we met with a series of nurses, anesthesiologists, and a representative of my surgeon, Dr. Jerome Richie. I can’t overstate how friendly and helpful each and everyone was. I was in a pretty good mood, partially due to the drugs … partially by choice. I actually had fun talking and joking with my caregivers. Lynne was right by my side, which was the primary reason for my feelings of peace and security.

When the time came, I said goodbye to Lynne, and was wheeled to the OR (which was really chilly … but I didn’t care, I was delightfully sedated). A little small talk with the OR personnel, and I was out.

The next thing I remember was being in recovery, Lynne was there … and my prostate wasn’t. I was feeling no pain. Eventually I was brought to my room – a beautiful, large PRIVATE room! A huge stroke of luck.

I’ll spare you the details of the next few days. Suffice it to say that the surgery was successful, one bundle of nerves was spared and my chances of being cancer-free are very, very favorable. And, I can’t say enough good things about the staff at Brigham and Women’s and Dr. Jerome Richie. We made excellent choices.

Now it is July 30, and I am recovering nicely. I’m walking, drinking lots of water and doing those Kegel exercises. I am feeling mostly OK – the “worst” is clearly over. I’m planning on giving my first post-surgery lecture on August 7.

A daily focus on gratitude and appreciation is extremely helpful, especially so when dealing with adversity and challenges. So, despite the numerous discomforts and inconveniences … we caught the cancer early enough, which is something to feel grateful about every day.

I am most thankful for the love and support from my many friends and colleagues. The biggest thanks is to my wife Lynne, for sharing the experience … doing all the work … and for loving me! I am fortunate!

Much love.

MY CANCER ADVENTURE – Episode Eight – “What’s Really Important To Me Now?”

MY CANCER ADVENTURE
Episode Eight
“What’s Really Important To Me Now?”

For more than 20 years, I’ve handed out little cards to workshop attendees with sayings and reminders to reinforce ideas worth remembering, and acting upon. A favorite one reads: WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME NOW?

Of course, that’s an excellent question to regularly ponder. Such a useful exercise, especially when facing adversity or challenges. Imagine if you asked yourself this question (and answered it) EVERY day! So simple, yet so powerful!

And so, with my prostate cancer surgery two days away, I answer …

It is really important to be an excellent patient, and all that goes with it.
(I want to make it as easy as possible for my caregivers.)

It is really important to feel and express gratitude – many, many reasons to do so.
(I’m keeping a gratitude journal – very helpful. More gratitude – less stress!)

It is really important to keep my sense of humor – the best medicine, I’ve heard.

It is really important to have as much fun as possible. Yes. Have some fun!
(Inspired by Randy Pausch – “The Last Lecture.”)

Also …

It is really important to accept the love and support of family and friends.
It is really important to have made the treatment decisions we’re comfortable with.
It is really important to maintain a positive, hopeful, optimistic outlook.
It is really important to have a good idea of what to expect.

It is really important to be prepared.

When I remind myself of these things, I greatly increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. And, I decrease the likelihood of self-pity and petty complaints.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, I have my wife who will be taking care of me. Recovery is going to be, at the very least, hugely inconvenient. I am quite sure that Lynne’s job will be harder than mine, so I’m extra grateful to her. And it is really important to me to recognize this, regularly express my love and gratitude … and strive to keep crankiness to a minimum!

Onward … into the unknown!

The next installment of this blog will be post-surgery. I’ll have some answers, and some groovy pharmaceuticals, I’m sure!

Thank you, and much love to you!

MY CANCER ADVENTURE – Episode Seven – “Countdown”

MY CANCER ADVENTURE
Episode Seven
“Countdown”

One week to go, and I’m feeling fine about it. Not scared. Not worried. Not nervous.

Lynne and I did our research and we are well prepared. We are confident in our choice of treatment (prostatectomy), the hospital (Brigham and Women’s) and the surgeon (Dr. Jerome Richie).

The support from friends and colleagues is heartwarming. That’s an understatement. More like overwhelming. And SO much input from cancer survivors and their families. I have heard MANY stories of favorable outcomes, so I might as well expect a favorable outcome, too! That is certainly my choice, and my attitude.

The odds are clearly in my favor to be cancer-free and for a reasonably speedy recovery. Sure, I know there will be some short-term inconvenience (ha!) and I’m not happy about missing work … but I am SO grateful that we caught it early.

Again, I say to my brothers … get the PSA test!

Practicing a continual “attitude of gratitude” is just so practical. It helps with balance and perspective, and makes EVERYTHING better. Everything. Whether you’re going through some adversity … or business as usual … practice the practical power of gratitude! Feel it and express it.

At this time, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to my prostate for many years of excellent service! That goes for all my other organs as well. Thanks! I do appreciate your contributions! And to my wife (especially) … family … friends … colleagues … clients … our dogs … a great big THANK YOU! I am living in a bubble of appreciation!

And speaking of our canines … Last week Ruby was diagnosed with a malignant tumor near her tail. A strange coincidence to be sure! She had surgery, and thankfully, is doing great! A fine example and role model of resilience.

Life is good. We are fortunate!

Much love.

MY CANCER ADVENTURE – Episode Six – Clarity/Decision

MY CANCER ADVENTURE
Episode Six
Clarity/Decision

“The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That’s the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead!”
— George S. Patton

I am delighted and relieved to have received the expert advice and clarity to help me make a very important decision.

Lynne and I went for our “second opinion” meeting with a top oncologist and surgeon at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The drive to Dana-Farber was easy. Mass Pike to Route 9 East, avoiding downtown Boston (which for me, is always a preference). Thank you, Garmin! Valet parking – very nice. As soon as we exited the car, we were met by a friendly volunteer “ambassador” who walked with us to the elevator, and accompanied us to check-in. This was “customer service” at it’s best, and just brilliant, especially considering the emotional and physical stresses of the patients and their loved ones. He even checked up on us after we checked in, asking if we had any questions or needed anything. Made us feel good. Great work, Dana-Farber!

After our meeting with oncologist Mary-Ellen Taplin, there was no more doubt – I would get the surgery. Adios señor prostate …

We then met with Dr. Jerome Richie, who elaborated on the options for surgery – open vs robotic – risks and benefits. Lynne and I liked him very much. Dr. Richie does not use the robot, and has performed approximately 3,500 of these procedures. That’s what we wanted. We’re looking at later in July.

On the way home, we had the pleasure of a fabulous meal at Margaritas in Framingham. We had a great time and celebrated the day!

I am grateful for all the prayers, positive thoughts and support from my friends and family. Most of all, for the love, hugs, experience and organizational skills provided by Lynne.

I am determined to get through this with as much grace, patience, courage and humor as I can … successfully meeting the challenges of moodiness, misplaced anger, annoying behaviors, and emotional hoo-hahs! Well, that’s my intention, anyway 🙂

Much love.

MY CANCER ADVENTURE – Episode Five – Choices

MY CANCER ADVENTURE
Episode Five

Choices: Enlightened and Otherwise

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor E. Frankl

The ability to choose ones’ attitude or perspective, I believe, is a learnable skill. A skill that especially comes in handy when facing adversity or challenges. The ability to choose depends on the awareness that we CAN choose … and REMEMBERING that we can choose … eventually resulting in a very practical habit!

Then, there are those choices like: surgery or radiation? Where to get treatment? When? Who to trust? These choices will affect my work, my marriage, my body, my life … so I want to, obviously, make the best ones possible. I am relying heavily of my meetings with the oncologist and surgeon at Dana-Farber in Boston later this month. Until then, despite all my research and generous input from others, I don’t have enough information about my cancer or the treatment options to make an enlightened choice. So for now, business as usual.

Easier choices are:

Optimistic and hopeful … or pessimistic and hopeless?

Grateful for all the good in my life … or cursing my rotten luck?

Worry and stress … or prepare, stay in the moment, skim duckweed from the pond?

Tell people about my cancer and get support … or keep to myself and stew in it?

I found out last week that I do have a family history of prostate cancer. This information was completely unexpected. I was never told. Would it have made a difference if I knew? Probably. At least, if I knew, I wouldn’t have tried to weasel out of getting the biopsy that, in retrospect, probably saved my life … or perhaps more accurately, greatly extended it. An excellent choice there – listening to my doctor’s advice!

By the way, regarding the current controversy advocating against PSA tests (screening for prostate cancer), I wholeheartedly disagree. On this Fathers’ Day, I say to all men of a certain age, “get the test.” Get the test and know your options. Disagree with my opinion? Two words: Frank Zappa.

I am grateful every day to my friends (and strangers) for their love and concern, and especially to my wife, Lynne, who is sharing the burden with grace, humor and attention to detail. Life is good!

Much love.

MY CANCER ADVENTURE Episode Four: The Waiting Game

MY CANCER ADVENTURE

Episode Four
The Waiting Game

We have our “second opinion” appointment scheduled at Dana-Farber for 6/28.
Interestingly, I have a history of dramatic life-changing events occurring
around this time of year, including the anniversary of my birth on 6/30.
Astrologers, take note.

Until then, there isn’t much else to do, other than research and reflection –
though, I am pretty much reaching my saturation point with the research. The
most probable outcome is surgery – the removal of my prostate, and the
non-pleasant “stuff” that goes with it. Nonetheless, the many prostate cancer
veterans who’ve spoken to me are reassuring. The consistent message I get is
“it will be OK.” I’m going with that.

Supportive friends and family are terrific! My wife, my partner in everything,
is the best! I repeat: when going though a challenging time, let your friends
and loved ones help you. Having a daily focus on gratitude is also very, very
practical.

I notice that I am experiencing a more “being in the moment” consciousness than
usual. For example, the ongoing chore of skimming duckweed from the surface of
our pond is an enjoyable meditation – it wasn’t always that way.

My intention is that this experience deepens me, increases my compassion.
Perhaps giving me a better and more realistic perspective on life, a newer sense
of “what’s really important to me now.”

Much love.

MY CANCER ADVENTURE – Episode Two – “Tell Them”

MY CANCER ADVENTURE

EPISODE TWO
Tell Them

I am lucky.

I was diagnosed last Friday. I began this blog yesterday. The outpouring of
support and advice has been so heartwarming, that much of the sting and initial
shock has been greatly softened.

A husband of a business friend who navigated prostate cancer was extremely
generous sharing his research and experience, as was a friend and neighbor who
also went through it. Later today, I’ll be speaking to an old high school buddy
who grew up to be a respected doctor. So, yeah, I’m getting some good input.

My insurance provider, Fallon, has a “Peace of Mind” program that would involve
my getting a second opinion from a specialist in Boston. I was also happy to
hear that Dana-Farber, Mass General and other top institutions are in their
network.

The obvious lesson is: when facing a challenging situation, don’t keep it a
secret. Tell your friends and allies.

This is “Grati-Tuesday” — the day of the week to especially focus on gratitude.
Feeling it. Expressing it. Perhaps doing a little gratitude journaling or
meditation (“Gratitude Break”).

I am grateful that I have no symptoms, early diagnosis, lots of support, some
terrific jobs booked for June, and most of all, a smart and loving wife.

Love to you all.

MY CANCER ADVENTURE (And I don’t mean astrologically) – Episode 1

MY CANCER ADVENTURE
(and I don’t mean astrologically)

EPISODE ONE –
An Unexpected Surprise

I am lucky.

My physician, after reviewing my routine blood work from my yearly physical,
ordered me an appointment with the local urologist. She noticed that my P.S.A.
levels were about doubled. Still not overly high, but twice my normal.

I assumed, false positive. This was just a couple of weeks before all the well
publicized hoopla about P.S.A. tests, by the way. So, I was surprised, and
perhaps even a bit bemused, that the urologist wanted to perform a biopsy on my
prostate. This meant sticking a probe where the sun don’t shine, and collecting
samples with little needles. That is my simplified, non-technical summary of
the procedure. No need for details, I say. You can do your own research if so
inclined. And my research turned up the usual conflicting data: it’s easy …
It’s difficult … It hurts … It is painless.

I was considering NOT having the biopsy, and decided that I’d get a second
opinion from my physician, thinking that she would probably just reorder the
P.S.A. test, it would come back normal, and that would be that. “No,” she said,
“get the biopsy.”

I was not looking forward to it, but I wasn’t dreading it either. Of course,
Lynne was loving, supportive and good humored, I am extremely fortunate to be
married to Lynne.

My plan was to have the biopsy, get a milk shake at Ben and Jerry’s, and
recuperate for a day. This was on a Wednesday, I would have the results on
Friday, then work that night, giving a talk at Canyon Ranch, “Ways to Create
Miracles in Your Life.”

So, the biopsy was a little weird, but not horrible. That’s my report on that.

Friday. Lynne and I like to combine errands when we go to Pittsfield – a
haircut, some shopping, lunch with a friend visiting from Las Vegas, and the
meeting with the urologist. I was 100% expecting the doctor to say, “you’re
fine, adios!”

I was 100% wrong.

I have cancer in my prostate, and it is moderately aggressive, and I need to
make a treatment decision, and not wait.

I say I’m lucky because I got the biopsy. Had I waited for my next physical,
April, 2013, the chance of the cancer spreading beyond the prostate seems quite likely. That would be decidedly worse. Much. Worse. I could be wrong about this, but that’s what I’m thinking at the moment.

So, I told my sister and some of my friends. I’m still not sure whether or not
I will tell my 86-year-old mom and 93-year-old dad. But, I do want my friends
to know, just as I would want to know if any of my friends were going through
this.

Lynne and I are deep in research mode now, as there are ridiculous amounts of
options for treatment – what, who, where, how, when. The “when” has to be
before September, the urologist told us, and we are proceeding as if, BUT … I
need more information to make the decision.

How do I feel? Mostly OK. Not scared. Overwhelmed at times. Basically
optimistic. Compassion for myself, my wife, and everyone else who deals with
these things. Grateful that I have spent most of my life nurturing a positive
outlook. Grateful for friends and loved ones. Grateful for life itself.
Mostly grateful for my wife. She’s smart – smarter than me 🙂

Life is filled with mysteries, possibilities, probabilities, miracles and
challenges. I fully expect that somehow, this experience will make me a “better
person.”

Love to you all.