Receiving the news I needed a biopsy was the first time in my life that I had to deal with the possibility I had a life-threatening disease. For a doctor, telling someone they need a biopsy is a regular occurrence. For the patient receiving that news, it’s both traumatic and life changing.
When you receive the news you need a biopsy, it’s highly unlikely the medical system will acknowledge or address the emotional needs of the person receiving this news. I was totally unprepared to cope with the possibility I had prostate cancer. I left the doctor’s office in a daze. I couldn’t believe it was possible to have a potentially life-threatening disease, without any symptoms or warning.
On my first night, my imagination turned against me. I spent a good deal of my sleepless hours reliving how everyone I knew who was diagnosed with cancer had died. I had a host of people to remember, both personally and professionally. As a medical social worker, I witnessed people die from cancer in a hospital setting. Most of these deaths occurred before the hospice movement. In pre-hospice days, most doctors would not provide adequate pain control. In those days, the primary medical objective was to avoid creating drug dependency, rather than eliminate pain.
I suspect that’s the reason every cancer death I could recall involved people who suffered a great deal before they died. I replayed their suffering multiple times. After wallowing in those gruesome images, I inserted myself into the story. I imagined it wouldn’t be long before I’d be one of those people in chronic pain, dying from prostate cancer.
Unfortunately, most of the people I knew who’d been diagnosed with cancer had died within a year of receiving their diagnosis. From my perspective, a diagnosis of prostate cancer was the equivalent of a death sentence. So I began to imagine everything I’d miss out on. Three of the most painful losses I experienced that night were:
*Not living long enough to walk my daughter down the aisle
*Not living long enough to be a grandparent
*Not living long enough to enjoy retirement with my wife
I was convinced I’d die before any of these events occurred. By the time morning arrived, I was convinced my survival depended on my receiving a rapid diagnosis and treatment. I believed the only way to delay dying from prostate cancer depended on my ability to find a urologist who could get me in for a biopsy in less than 30 days. Even if it meant I’d need to travel to another city. I would have flown to the moon, if necessary, to cut down on my waiting time. Convinced my life depended on receiving a diagnosis and treatment as quickly as possible, I began the task of finding a urologist who would perform my biopsy in less than 30 days.
I’d entered into a race against time to diagnose and treat a silent enemy capable of killing me.