Feeling Like Myself After Cancer

It has been nearly two years now since I learned I had prostate cancer, and 11 months since my last treatment.

By Dana Jennings (LIFE)

Published: Thu 14 Jan 2010, 9:36 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:20 AM

The surgical scar on my gut is fading, the radiation and hormones have leached from my body — and my soul — and my post-treatment depression is gradually lifting. I’m finally starting to feel like my old, precancer self, as if I’ve finally returned home from a long and harrowing journey through dark and dangerous lands with plenty of earthy tales to tell.

It’s a relief, because I haven’t felt like myself for a long time. First, there was the terrifying adrenaline whirlwind of diagnosis and decisions about treatment. And then there was the pain and debilitation of radical open surgery, then the worse pain of finding out that I had an unexpectedly aggressive Stage 3 cancer.

I staggered through the fog and fatigue brought on by radiation and hormone therapy, and ended up being brought low by the cold and heavy stones of depression. I ran out of gas. I couldn’t go no more. It was time to curl up and cocoon. But that’s past, and I’m focusing now on my postcancer life. My oncologist is still keeping an eye on me, of course, and my P.S.A. – prostate specific antigen – level is checked regularly, the way you’d check the oil in an old Ford pickup truck that runs a little loud and rough.

I go for days at a time now without thinking about the cancer. I don’t feel like Dana the Cancer Patient anymore, but just plain old Dana. Taking a break from this column last fall helped with that process.

I still have plenty to say about prostate cancer, its treatment and aftermath. But now I can look at those topics from the point of view of a man leading a post-cancer life.

I’m not out of the woods yet. But those woods are thinner, brighter. My head is clearer than it has been in ages. I walk five miles a day, and lately I’ve been binge-reading, wolfing down hard-boiled crime novels by writers like Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke and George P. Pelecanos. It is as if I’m trying to make up for lost time as I sometimes read a novel a day.

Physically, my weight has dropped to 205 pounds from a hormone-induced high of 228, and my energy level is up. As my body returns to me, I feel as if I’m shrugging into a comfortable old sweater that had been misplaced for a couple of years. (But erectile function, sigh, is still a work in progress. Then again, sex is only sex, if you know what I mean.) I’ve come through the fire of cancer and its treatment to this moment, have been flensed to something essential. I have no patience these days for jerks, for trivia — kindness and humility matter most to me. And what I want in this sweet life is simple: The holy company and love of my family and my friends.

I am grateful almost beyond articulation as I sit here and write this January morning, burnished by the wan winter sun, with Bijou, our creaky but game miniature poodle, snoozing and snoring next to me. I’m trying to live second to second, trying to truly believe that each moment in our lives can be a small prayer.

I want to pay attention, take nothing for granted, revel in the primal: Holding hands with my wife at a movie; Friday coffee at ‘Bucks with my buddy Herm, who’s a fine Texan raconteur; the dark and bitter taste of a strong stout on a stark and gusty night. I guess that what I’m really trying to say is this:

Here’s to a new year, a new decade and a new life.

© New York Times Magazine

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