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Navigating prostate cancer as a gay man: A journey of resilience, support, and empowerment

In December 2017, I sat hand-in-hand with my husband, waiting to hear if I had prostate cancer. In the exam room together, we joked about how it had all been a big mistake. After all, I was a very healthy, fit 43-year-old.

Chris Hartley Wearing a Galaxy Shirt Headshot

I don’t remember much after the doctor came in and spoke the words out loud for the first time. I was overcome with fear, anger, and confusion. As I sat there, trying to process the bombshell of my prostate cancer diagnosis, a rollercoaster of emotions hit me. I had never imagined that at this stage of my life I would be confronted with such a daunting challenge. 

Leaving the doctor’s office, my husband and I weighed the recommendations and made a clear decision to have my prostate removed. After preparing for the surgery, spending time with my family, and giving up control, I underwent a radical prostatectomy. The days following the procedure were physically and mentally challenging, struggling to move and battling with side effects. The lack of intimacy with my husband added to my feelings of depression and a sense of betrayal by my weakened body. Keeping it to myself for weeks, I eventually broke down and confided in my husband, sharing the truth about my emotions.

Chris Hartly at Summit

My road to recovery was littered with twists and turns. But thanks to the support of my friends and family, I was able to navigate that crazy road. About a year after my surgery, I found ZERO Prostate Cancer. My first interaction was at ZERO’s advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., where I found myself face-to-face with legislators who held the power to enact meaningful change in the realm of prostate cancer research, treatment, and support for the LGBTQIA community. But then I got involved with ZERO’s MENtor program, which offers peer-to-peer support for men facing prostate cancer. As a MENtor, I bring my own experiences and lessons learned, lending an empathetic ear and providing a safe space for sharing, empowering others to navigate the challenges, uncertainties, and emotions that come with a prostate cancer journey. It’s deeply rewarding to witness their strength and resilience, knowing that I’ve played a small part in their healing and growth. Being a MENtor allows me to make a meaningful impact, reminding those I mentor that they are never alone, and together, we can conquer prostate cancer.

Currently, I am facing my second prostate cancer recurrence, and it hasn’t been easy. However, my support system of family and friends plays a crucial role in my prostate cancer journey. They provide unwavering comfort, encouragement, and understanding during the toughest moments. They listen to my fears, offer reassurance, and lend a helping hand whenever I need it. Their presence makes me feel less alone, fostering a sense of belonging and solidarity. They accompany me to medical appointments, provide a shoulder to lean on, and advocate for my well-being every step of the way. Their unwavering support grants me strength, resilience, and hope, reminding me that I am not alone in this fight against prostate cancer.

Chris Hartely and his two boys

Having an age-appropriate conversation with my two boys about prostate cancer was both challenging and important. I approached the conversation with honesty and sensitivity, ensuring that I used language they could understand. I explained that prostate cancer is a disease that can affect men, and I emphasized that it’s more common in older men. I assured them that I was receiving proper medical care and treatment, and that the doctors were doing everything they could to help me. I encouraged them to ask questions and express their feelings, assuring them that it’s okay to feel scared or worried. By having this open dialogue, I aimed to alleviate their concerns while imparting the importance of empathy, support, and regular health check-ups. Ultimately, it was an opportunity to foster their understanding, resilience, and compassion in the face of a challenging situation.

As I receive treatment for my second recurrence, I think of all parts of myself; I’m a husband, a father, a survivor, and a gay man. Prostate cancer is a topic that hits close to home in the gay community, and as a gay man, I understand the unique challenges we may face in this realm. While prostate cancer is not exclusive to any specific group, it’s crucial to recognize that certain factors, such as limited access to healthcare, societal stigma, and unique healthcare needs, can impact how prostate cancer is experienced within our community. It’s important for us to have open conversations about prostate health, including regular screenings and discussions with healthcare providers. By raising awareness and addressing the specific needs of gay men in relation to prostate cancer, we can promote early detection, access to proper care, and support networks that embrace and uplift individuals throughout their prostate cancer journey. 

Chris Hartley and family

After attending a ZERO Prostate Cancer Summit, I was introduced to an amazing community of gay men who hosted a support group focused on gay men. This support group, for example, plays a crucial role in addressing the unique challenges and concerns faced by this community when it comes to prostate health. By creating a safe and inclusive space for gay men and their partners and husbands, this support group fosters open discussions, provides emotional support, and promotes awareness, ultimately empowering gay men to take control of their prostate health and navigate through potential barriers with confidence and solidarity. By tapping into ZERO’s LGBTQIA program resources, I accessed a wealth of support specifically designed for gay men affected by prostate cancer, gaining invaluable information, guidance, and a supportive network of individuals who truly understood and embraced my unique experience.

I cannot stress enough the importance of prostate cancer screening based on my personal experience. PSA testing is easy; it’s a simple blood test. Regularly undergoing PSA tests and physical examinations is crucial for early detection and better treatment outcomes. Stay proactive, make informed decisions, and prioritize your well-being by staying vigilant about prostate cancer screening. Early detection can be life-saving. 

For those of you facing a prostate cancer diagnosis, I want you to know that there are going to be hard times. But you can get through them. I’ve hit some very low lows and, with the support of family and friends, got through to the other side. I hope my story can inspire you to keep fighting.

Resources that are now available since Chris’ first diagnosis: ZERO’s LGBTQ resources