Two months have now passed since getting the good news that my radical prostatectomy was a success. It has been a time of recovery where I, frankly, grew weary of talking about cancer, preferring instead to focus quietly on the gradual improvement in my post-operative condition. It was a slow process during which I thought not about cancer but of approaching Christmas and a new year. Believe it or not, cancer gets pretty boring after a while, even when it’s up-close-and-personal.
It may be easy for me to say that because my brush with prostate cancer has been mercifully brief and moderate compared with most patients’ experience. I can say that now, without fear of tempting fate. I just had my first quarterly test and I’m still in the clear. The test is basically a PSA test, where it should be zero or very close to it. Mine is less than 0.08, which means it’s too low for the lab to detect. That is exactly what I wanted to hear!
Between giving a blood sample for the test and getting the result, I had mixed feelings. One the one hand, I felt generally well (all things considered) and was optimistic of getting a good result. On the other hand, I couldn’t help thinking about the period between my biopsy and D-Day, when I also felt optimistic but still got the worst test result ever. Complacency is a mind-killer to my mind and my late mother felt great after a year of remission, just before her cancer made a lethal return. So the week between giving my blood sample and getting the result was a tricky one. In my heart, I felt I was in the clear but there was – and, I suppose, always will be – a little, stoic voice inside my head warning me not to take anything for granted.
Contrary to what you might expect, I have not spent long hours late at night Googling cancer, alternative treatments or ‘living with cancer’. I’m actually happy enough to take what my doctors and nurses tell me at face value, if tempered by my own experience and common sense. The experience has been broadly in line with what I was told to expect. The only exception is a great one – that I don’t have an issue with urinary incontinence. Apart from that, I’ve been pretty much a textbook case and I can’t say I have any complaints.
The only complaint I might have is somebody starting a rumour in my home town of Carrick-on-Suir that I had died. The same thing happened when my mother was still alive but severely ill, in St. Brigid’s Hospital in Carrick. There are some people in this world who are so desperate to be the first with bad news that they cannot wait for the sick to die. So they just make up a story and the lie grows legs and spreads, often to the distress of the sick and their families.
Sadly, this is not unusual in my home town and I’m only the latest to join the ranks of Carrick-on-Suir’s walking dead. Thankfully, one of my best mates there had the presence of mind, on hearing ‘the news’ to ring me directly to verify if it was true or not. Eoin is the archetypical ‘bloke’, meaning he doesn’t pick up the phone unless it’s a matter of life or death (or, more importantly, work!). In this case that was literally the case, when I saw his number come up on the phone and the first thing he said was “Tom, thank god you answered!”. I was glad that Eoin had the good sense to do this because it gave me a chance to phone my sister, Maria, and tell her to be ready for people offering their condolences. Sure enough, that started within a couple of hours, on the school run.
In a way it’s kind of funny and it would have been even better if it could have gone as far as a funeral, where I’d be in disguise in the background, noting who was there and who wasn’t! On the other hand, it’s really not funny at all and I am still quite pissed off about it. Not at those who only repeated what they heard, there’s nothing wrong with that and it’s how community works. But in each of my mother’s and my cases, one particular individual was the first to say “Rita Molloy is dead” or “Tom Molloy is dead”, knowing full well they didn’t know it for a fact. That is the fucker I would like to meet!
Notwithstanding all that, when I visited Carrick around Christmas, I had a good old laugh about it with my mates. The inevitable jokes about ‘The Resurrection’ and ‘Dead Man Walking’ gave rise to much hilarity in the pub. That was a great night actually, one of countless many in my home town and, I expect, not the last.
Truth be told, I was starting to get a bit too accustomed to the sick-leave lifestyle, getting dressed for lunch and spending way too much time surfing the web. As my recuperation period extended into December, with Christmas and my return to work approaching, thoughts turned to life-after-sick-leave. I had finished up on my previous project just before going into hospital so I wondered what my employer would have in store for me in January.
Most men who survive prostate cancer return to work on a part-time basis initially, keeping the workload relatively light. However, most prostate cancer patients are approaching or past retirement age so it’s no big deal for them. At 44 I am but a cherub with another 24 years of whoring myself out to clients and servicing a negative equity mortgage while being given a jolly good ass-fucking by the Irish government at the behest of its masters in the IMF and Europe. And I thought being diagnosed with cancer was bad!
Anyway, being a project manager, part-time working is not really a viable option for me. I had hoped that the next project would be a nice cushy number for me to ease back into the land of the living with. Yeah, right!
One thing that has changed since being diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer – I don’t sweat the small stuff any more. I think this makes me better at my job. Like so many techies who go into more management roles, I found it hard to let go of the technical minutiae, resulting in micro-management and stress.
No more! Time is so much more than mere money. There is no honour in working insane hours and neglecting your family as a result. If you find yourself doing that, you’re doing something wrong! Hard work is a good and noble thing. But if you work hard for its own sake and little return, you need to reappraise your priorities.
Your family and close friends are the most important people you will ever meet. Look after them – they are the ones you will depend on in your hour of greatest need.