It has been quite a few days since my last writing. My wife was in Canada caring for her sick father and I could not bring myself to burden her with my latest news.
The results from my biopsies were returned and I have prostate cancer. This diagnosis was not entirely unexpected since my Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) readings from blood tests were high and the examination of the prostate gland at the time of the biopsy indicated that all was not well.
Still, it was a shock. A greater shock since I thought that after bladder cancer I had had my fair share of the disease. If one person out of every three in this country gets cancer, why do I get it twice?
In the first week after being told the news I am periodically, and for varying amounts of time during the day or night, gripped by many uncustomary emotions. There is initial shock and disbelief, immediately followed by fear and panic. Has it spread anywhere else? How will my wife and children survive if I become invalid or die?
I become filled with deep regret for wasted hours of my life. Although I became a monk early on in my life, when I examine my many years of spiritual service I cannot find one achievement of note. Nothing at all by which to be remembered. One day I find I am bleeding and weeping at the same time. I am in a mess.
When mental denial of my condition comes I get some temporary relief from the anxiety. Then I am asked how I am by well-meaning friends and I crumple once again. This is not me.
Medical statistics give me some comfort: 95% of the fears of cancer patients are unrealised. 98% of prostate cancer is curable. That’s good then.
My doctor discusses treatment with me. I can have hormones to shrink the size of the gland followed by radioactive implants to burn it. Or I can have surgery to remove it. The by-products of either are the probability of incontinence and the certainty of impotence. And if it has already gone to the bones, which prostate cancer tends to do, then I must immediately have chemotherapy.
I am simultaneously reassured by the prospect of a complete cure and full recovery, yet dismayed at the thought of the removal of an organ – no matter that it is only the size of a large walnut.
Later, I sit quietly by myself and smile at the poetic irony of my situation. I was a happy monk from the age of 17 until 26; so absorbed in the discovery of my inner spiritual nature that I cared for nothing else. Then I became married and discovered another side of life. I learned from Vaishnava teachings that certain basic physical pleasures of a married man should be regulated, diminished and then abandoned after a certain age and I sincerely tried to do that, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Although I have always theoretically known about the later stages of life when once again the cultivation of the spirit takes precedence, I often wondered whether my personal determination would alone quell my passions and produce the necessary detachment. Now I find that the decision has been made for me. I have absolutely no choice in the matter. At the age of 50, completely on schedule, that aspect of life will become a memory only.
There is still much desperate prayer and feelings of panic as I walk a long hospital corridor one grey, rainy Monday morning. I go to have a bone scan to see if the cancer has spread to my bones or lymph glands. I am injected with a compound and then have a two-hour wait until the scan. I am tense and try to relax during the wait, thinking of anything but bones.
The head-to-toe scan takes a full half hour, and because I’ve had a troubled night, I fall asleep a few times with the humming plate camera above me. Afterwards, I glimpse the picture on a screen. I never knew I looked like that. Two days later and I sigh with relief when told that the cancer is localised. I have only one more scan – Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI – to determine whether the cancer has affected the tissue surrounding the prostate.
My wife returns from Canada and early the following morning I inform her of everything that has taken place.