A woman’s intuition and the “male mastectomy”

One of the first people I told about me having prostate cancer was a female friend with whom I teach youth Sunday school (I have taught youth Sunday school at my church for about 20 years). She had had breast cancer, and I felt almost guilty that I had not told her. Once she knew, she would ask each Sunday when was I going to do something about the cancer. After about two months of this questioning each Sunday, she exasperatedly said to me in the parking lot outside the church, “John, go get your prostate cancer treated; you’ll have sex again!” I thought it was an odd remark at the time, but I suppose she thought my delay in making a decision was a “male thing.” In retrospect there may have been some truth and intuition in her observation, a “woman thing.” This remark then began a new era of issues for me surrounding the misconceptions of others in their understanding of what happens to you when you’ve been treated for prostate cancer. It is a reverse misconception, so to speak, not about the male’s understanding of prostate cancer, but others’ misconceptions about someone who has been treated. I began to wonder, are she and others thinking that I will be impotent and incontinent; is this how others will view me in the future? As hard as the decision is, this added element, particularly in a relatively young man, adds to the stress of dealing with the purely medical issues of prostate cancer. This disease and associated treatment options are unusual in that concerns regarding potency and incontinence issues are often moved to the forefront and cure is placed on the back burner. In many ways the treatment of prostate cancer is a “male mastectomy.” In a female there is the emotional trauma of having breast cancer and treatments that can disfigure the body; in the male there is no disfiguration that you can see, but treatment of the prostate affects the quality of how you void and achieve erections. There is also the constant awareness that the cancer may not have been cured and “come back.” This does somewhat eat at your maleness, and knowledge of these risks complicates the decision.

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