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by Jon Albrecht   |   October 18, 2019

“The C Word” Facing the Reality of Cancer

I have survived the diagnosis of cancer!

I have survived recurrence of cancer. I have survived the many side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. I have survived the emotional roller coaster of being diagnosed with cancer. I have survived cancer with a positive outlook, understanding that I must appreciate where I am today and living life and loving life.

My story of being diagnosed with cancer started ten years ago, at the age of 51. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. What a shock! I was in the prime of my career as a Sr. VP Operational Manager. Yes, without question, there were plenty of reasons to have stress; the world was in the middle of the biggest recession and credit crisis since the Great Depression. No doubt I was feeling the stress of downsizing my staff, budgets etc., but in the summer of 2009, however, I was feeling more than the usual stress, so I decided to see my Doctor. (Sometimes I wonder if it was stress that caused my diagnosis.) A quick check up showed all my vitals were fine, but as a precaution, I was given an anti-anxiety prescription, which over the next three months had no real effect. So, I headed back to my doctor and the result of my blood work showed that my PSA had risen significantly over the last couple of years. It was time to see a urologist.

Jump forward a few weeks and to my appointment with my new urologist. I remember that he was so encouraging as he stated, “You’re a young man. You will be just fine, but because your PSA has risen significantly over the last couple of years, let’s do a biopsy just to be sure. The rest is history. The biopsy came back showing that I had cancer. I remember so vividly the day that I received my biopsy report. It was a Saturday morning and just a couple of days from my 52nd birthday. The call from my urologist came in around 10:00 am and without any small talk he told me I had cancer. I blurted out without thinking “CANCER?!” in total disbelief. To make matters worse, sitting in the room with me was my teenage daughter. I have never felt so bad, not just for one reason, but now for two. A moment I will surely never forget. I carried the guilt for years of letting my daughter find out that I had cancer in such a terrible way.

A few days later, my wife and I went to the urologist for the lab results. We were hit with a double whammy. Not only did I have prostate cancer, we were told that I have a very aggressive form of cancer with no known cure. Talk about not knowing if we were coming or going. All I heard after that was blah, blah, blah. I don’t remember how long I (we) walked around in a daze while trying to cope with all the emotions that were overwhelming me (us).

On top of that, we were told that because of the aggressive strain, we didn’t have months to decide on treatments. I ended up having what they call tri-model therapy: ADT, brachytherapy, and external beam therapy.

Today, and for the last ten years, I continue to battle cancer, its recurrence, metastatic cancer, long-term cancer treatment side effects, cancer drugs, and chronic pain. The last three years have really been interesting! I have had seven surgeries, three just in 2018, along with a second round of 25 radiation treatments. I have had two back surgeries, two hip replacements and three dental surgeries. Four or five years ago my body showed no signs of these problems. So, the debate will rage on of natural aging vs. cancer side effects. Physicians will be the first to tell you that there are no clear answers; I’m not convinced.

A few years ago, despite my chronic pain and continued fight with cancer, I knew that I wanted to give back in some way. I spent the past few years as a volunteer Peer Navigator at UC Davis Cancer Center helping men recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. As Peer Navigators our goal is peer-to-peer education and helping men navigate their new prostate cancer journeys. Why? Because when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know where to turn, who to ask for help, let alone understand anything about prostate cancer. I found that the medical professional community can only help so much as they are focused on treatment, with little time to spend on the emotional and physical journey we go through. (I will say that today I am seeing more total care than in the past). We are not alone on an island, and so it became my goal to help others.

My passion to help others continued to grow despite my own issues. In addition to volunteering as a Peer Navigator, I also started volunteering at UC Davis’ Cancer Center Resource Center, providing patients and caregivers information regarding their cancer, support groups, and much more. It became a mission of mine, that when the cancer patient walked away, they would have a smile on their face despite the treatments they were going through or how poorly they felt. My passion in giving back took another huge leap forward as I chatted with these cancer patients who had so many types of cancer. (Yes, most of the time I felt very lucky to be me). I began to realize more and more that although many of our cancers and treatments were different, whether we are male or female, most of us were dealing with the same emotional difficulties from the initial diagnosis to our treatment and thereafter.

I sat through more than one cancer presentation by clinical and medical professionals and it dawned on me that there was something still missing. The survivor’s perspective! So, I decided to put something together. In my professional career, I spent many an evening giving presentations to investors and real estate professionals, so why not for cancer patients and their families? It took me a couple of years to finalize my presentation: “The C Word” Facing the Reality of Cancer. It is a presentation from a survivor’s perspective and the emotional process that many of us go through from diagnosis to deciding our treatment plan.

Like most everyone that goes through cancer, my life has been changed dramatically and in so many ways. I won’t kid myself. I know that I will continue to live with the ups and downs, both physically and mentally. One thing that I have learned is that we are entitled to our emotions! Also let’s not forget the financial side of things either. I realize that maintaining a positive attitude helps tremendously in our battle with cancer. I also learned the hard way, but I truly believe the first step is to understand that you and your caregiver are not on an island alone. Just know that there are so many wonderful resources and support systems available.

Cancer has changed my life and it has changed the lives of my family, but having cancer has also given all of us an opportunity to hit the reset button of life and provided us a chance to see things from a different set of lenses. Mine is to help others through peer-to-peer, or through speaking opportunities, so that they know they are not on that island by themselves.

As a survivor, no matter how long you are on this earth, live your life well, love your life as it is, and most of all, cherish your family and friends. Finally, it’s important to embrace your spiritual well being because we are survivors!