Anyone who knows me understands that I am not afraid of digging for research in order to make informed decisions; I don’t make those decisions without questioning all of the alternatives; and I have a dogged sense of purpose when my loved ones are at risk. In 1996, when my husband, Bill, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the fighter in me took over. Bill, who was 21 years older than me, learned of his cancer when he was 69 years old. Together we fought an aggressive and valiant fight against his cancer, working as a team to understand his disease and treatment options, and face difficult choices. He knew he was the ultimate decision maker, but he deferred to me for information, analysis and common sense. We made a good team.
In the end, lung cancer killed Bill, but it was our two-year battle with prostate cancer that brought us closer together, taught us to trust one another and gave us opportunities to appreciate our lives together. We instinctively knew when to question his doctors (which, of course, did not always go over well), push for more information and explore other options when we needed to. I am proud of the fact that throughout his illness and death, Bill never spent one night in the hospital.
Because of Bill’s diagnosed heart ailments, his course of treatment consisted of seeding, external beam radiation and hormones. For me, probably the most difficult part of his treatment was the hormone therapy, which made him short-tempered, irritable and not at all interested in sexual activity. In fact, living with Bill during that time was frustrating because, try as I might, he did not pick up on sexual innuendos or even blatant cues. Simply put, sex was not on his radar screen. The result – obviously the one you want in a situation like this – was one of improved communication between us. We were forced to speak directly and honestly, and, at the end of the day, our relationship was better for it.
In the past 10 years since Bill’s death I have devoted much of my time to educating both men and women about prostate cancer and its effects on couples. I started out journaling on the Web and doing what I could to access and disseminate important information about the disease. Serving on the Virginia Cancer Plan Action Committee Survivorship Subcommittee, and the boards of the National Alliance of State Prostate Cancer Coalitions and the Virginia prostate Cancer Coalition, I help communicate about death issues and try to fill the knowledge gap with both statistical information and experiential anecdotes to help others come to grips with the life changes that come with prostate cancer. Women Against Prostate Cancer provides a unique opportunity to share prostate cancer-related sexual and intimacy issues with other women in an open and honest forum.
Participating in these groups empowers me and provides a legacy for Bill. He would be proud.
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