Cancer, and the Power of Positive Thinking

Trigger warning: This article contains the use of the F-word. Not so copiously as to be considered an ingredient, more of a condiment. Because why the fuck not?

Here we go:

Catching up yesterday with Phil, an old friend of mine, he said ‘I remain convinced that a positive mental attitude helps defeat the bastard stuff…’

I think he’s right, and it made me wonder exactly why.  I don’t believe I can cure myself of cancer with the power of positive thinking and nothing more. A positive mindset is not that. As the old joke about the man praying to his god for a lottery win ends, with his god saying ‘Meet me half-way, buy a ticket.’, it’s about giving yourself the best chance, and doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done, More importantly, it is still doing it when it is a physical and mental struggle to do so.

I have a three-week chemo cycle. I’ve just started cycle six of ten, so fourteen weeks out of thirty to go.  Well, thirty-one weeks, because this cycle was delayed for a week for reasons of being beaten up by chemo and secondary infections. I hated that week, I hated that delay. So far that week has been one of the mentally hardest weeks of this whole process, of my entire life and I wish I understood exactly why. Nevertheless, like all things, this too has passed. It has moved through me now and is gone.

What happens after my 30 weeks of chemo? I don’t know. Right now I don’t want to know. Some days these thirty weeks seem endless. One thing at a time. Roll on September.

Right now, two days after the chemo day at hospital, a ten and a half hour session, I’m at the peak of my drug regime. It eases off after a week, but right now it is like this.

Drug 1 – Twice a day, exactly twelve hours apart. No food or drink for two hours before or one hour after. (This is for the stage 3 drug trial I’m on.)

Drug 2 – Once a day, an hour before food.

Drug 3 – Twice a day, with food.

Drug 4 – Three times a day. No alcohol. (WTF? I hear you fellow hardened boozers writers say. Yes, people, this is indeed a very hard regime. Fortunately I only take this drug for five days out of fifteen.)

Drug 5 – At bed time.

Drug 6 – Anti-fungal ointment, finger and toe nails, twice a day. because I’ve lost half my fingernails and a few toenails thanks to drug side-effects. Gosh, this can hurt, because the skin under your nails is packed with nerves and the slightest knock is excruciating.

We’ve never seen nails this bad, my doctor said, then fetched three more doctors so they could all have a look. And take pictures.

Drug 7 – Skin ointment, twice a day, to stop the joints on my fingers hardening and splitting and getting infected.

Forty years in IT, I have a spreadsheet.

And not forgetting:

  • the once-a-week pill.
  • the anti-nausea drug I need to take 12, 3, and 1 hour before chemo. (Chemo starts at 3pm, that 3am dose is not my favourite)
  • The four days of injections I give myself from next Monday to boost my neutrophil count – a type of white blood cell – to minimise immune system compromisation.

And then there’s the exercise.

There’s no such thing as cancer. There’s breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and all the others. Each has its own horrors, its specific treatments, and its demands for self-care. For prostate cancer one of the most important self-care regimes is exercise.

Standard prostate cancer treatment is hormone suppression, specifically testosterone. Apart from keeping us men manly, testosterone does useful things for everyone like maintain muscle mass, bone density, and energy levels. Suppress testosterone and all these things fall away relentlessly. Right now I’m nursing a non-healing/slow-healing spontaneous rib fracture.

The answer is exercise, lots of exercise. Weight training, swimming, walking, general cardio. As much as possible, as often as possible. For me this means most weeks I aim for three or four sessions, though I’m trying to swim more because I love it and so for me that exercise is easy. Being a member of the Thrive clinic also helps. This a unique exercise clinic designed for people with prostate cancer. Started and run by physio Emily Curtis, and cancer patient Chris Cottrell, it has helped me enormously.

The thing is, with muscle mass and bone density constantly eroding away, you have to work hard just to stay still. This will never end.

But fatigue is the thing. Some days I can’t get off the couch, some days my legs are made of lead and going up stairs needs a serious haul on the banisters. ‘Come on, you lazy fucker,’ I may be heard to mutter at times like these. Exercise counters the fatigue, but then there’s the fatigue making it so hard to: “Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight. Life is your right.” (Marley)

Half the time I’m amazed I manage to get anything else done in a day. As someone else said, cancer is a full-time job, lazy people need not apply. Neither, in all honesty, should their partners.

Some days I feel I’m not very good at any of this. Some days, some weeks, I fail and I sit there in my failure and think about what to do. This is the point at which Phil’s positive mind set comes in. Get up, stand up, try again, start again. Or not. Some people don’t, they simply can’t. Maybe one day I’ll be one of them. My choice.

So far my choice is that I’m doing my best to be a Weeble[1].

Because when the going gets tough, the tough say, ‘Fucks sake, here we go again.’

Thanks, Phil.

[1] Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.


Cancer, and the Power of Positive Thinking — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this Dave – it may not be the same as traditionally physical exercise like swimming but it sure must have taken some mental energy so thank you. I’m so sorry it is so tough. The positive attitude has to be the right one – just keep telling yourself to keep on keeping on. But please don’t beat yourself up on the ‘lazy’ days – sometimes you may just need to rest and regroup. Roll on September and an end to fingernail hell!

  2. Fuck cancer. I’m sorry you’re going through this, but I’m trusting it will have a positive effect at the end. Because that’s the only ending I can conceive of.

    I had chemo to kill off MS, and that was just for a month. (I look great bald.) One thing I learned post-chemo is that my toenails stopped growing unless I took the supplement Biotin ( I recommend two pills a day.

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