Tag Archives: cancer survivor

Feeling guilty about surviving cancer

foggyridebybrucestambaugh

Life sometimes is a foggy ride. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I wasn’t surprised when I got the word. Three years after my successful prostate cancer surgery, I remained cancer free.

Of course, I was glad, ecstatic really. But after getting the all clear from my doctor, I never celebrate, and I don’t gloat. I know I am one of the fortunate ones. Far too many people diagnosed with cancer never hear those blessed words, “cancer free.”

I had excellent doctors who expertly monitored and guided me through my journey. When it was decided to do the robotic surgery, I hoped and prayed for the best results.

rainbowbybrucestambaugh

A sign of promise. © Craig Stambaugh 2014.

Fortunately, my prayers were answered. Those of too many others with cancer have not been, will not be. At times, I feel bad about that, guilty even, sometimes to the point of depression.

I never know when those feelings will arise. I’m not even sure what triggers them. I just know at times I feel really sad for others, and guilty because I made it while others did not.

I recognized that an important first step in fighting this negativity was to personally acknowledge my situation, and seek the appropriate medical and therapeutic help. It’s good to be honest, especially with yourself.

It was also reassuring to learn that my anxiety propensity is fed by a genetic disorder only recently diagnosed. Medicine and diet help balance my emotions. That doesn’t eliminate my remorse, however.

Whenever I share these survivor guilt feelings with others, reactions vary from understanding to bewilderment. Some question the idea entirely, and wonder how in the world I could feel the way I do.

There is no easy answer, just like there is no good cancer. Cancer is cancer. Guilt is guilt, whether it is justified or not. Like so many other survivors, I ask the obvious questions. Why was I saved? Why were others not?

I am not sharing for sympathy. I do so for understanding, not for me so much as for all the others who suffer similarly.

I am not alone in dealing with this survivor’s guilt syndrome. The condition ranges far beyond the circles of cancer victims. Firefighters, military personnel, first responders, victims of violence all hurt likewise.

hopebybrucestambaugh

A sign of hope. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

The good news for me, besides being cancer free, is that I try not to let my sporadic despair overwhelm me to the point of hopelessness. I always have hope, and always hope the best for others.

I tell my own story when asked. But I found a pair of other actions far more helpful. Simply being there, and listening to others are both critical to cancer victims, their families and friends, and to survivors, too.

I have found a sincere presence, and kind, active listening beneficial healing approaches to all touched by this horrible disease. Such support encouraged me during my ordeal, and I try to do the same for others in need when and where I can. There seem to be too many opportunities lately.

I greatly appreciated the encouragement given by my loving wife and family. I also belong to a very supportive small group with other cancer survivors and victims. We share openly and honestly with one another, without judgment or shame. We meet regularly to stay in touch with how each of us is doing on our cancer journey.

Still, when that dreaded guilt shows its ugly face, I know what to do. I visit and I listen. Purposeful focusing on the needs of others helps me heal, too.

liferenewingbybrucestambaugh

Life renewing. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Celebrating something good out of something bad

Blue men by Bruce Stambaugh

Kim Kellogg, Randy Murray and I meet monthly as a support group following our treatments for prostate cancer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We were rowdy without realizing it. What would you expect from three baby boomer couples?

About every month I meet with two other long-time friends for breakfast. Besides our age bracket, we all have something very special in common. All three of us are prostate cancer survivors.

Randy is a pastor. Kim co-owns his own business with his wife. Through a crisscrossing, intertwined past, we have known each other for most of our adult lives. It was the cancer, however, that brought us even closer together.

Blue light by Bruce StambaughWe jokingly call ourselves the Blue Men’s group. Blue is the official color for prostate cancer, juxtaposed to pink for breast cancer in women. There’s no joking about either.

We meet at a local restaurant to share. Finding others who have gone through the cancer experience is critical to full recovery, especially emotionally. We are our own support group.

We were all diagnosed within a year of one another. Like so many other cancer patients, we had the same disease in the same location. However, we all had our differences, and each chose, to use the term loosely, a different route for treatment.

Randy had radiation treatments and has stayed cancer-free. Because his cancer had escaped his prostate, Kim’s options were not as simple. He had chemotherapy, radiation and Lupron shots. He has just recently been given better news regarding his long-term recovery, and has good reason for a much more optimistic outlook than he did only a few months ago.

Based on my situation and diagnosis, I chose robotic prostate surgery. I was in the hospital one day and out the next. My PSA tests continue to be immeasurable, just like my compatriots.

We meet to share our progress, and to encourage one another. All three of us are in long-term marriages, and cancer, no matter which kind, affects the spouses, too.

We have been meeting for two years now. Because our spouses are such an integral part of our recovery, we annually do a nice dinner out with the wives. We did so recently, and this time we had even more than our trio of good reports to celebrate.

Happy couple by Bruce Stambaugh

Mr. and Mrs. Stambaugh.

On this particular occasion, we were exulting with Randy’s wife, Amy. Like too many other women, Amy has breast cancer. She just recently completed a lengthy series of challenging radiation treatments. Amy said she was really rejoicing because she now had more hair than I do. That wouldn’t take much.

Her journey isn’t over. But it was a joy to sit around a table and laugh and share instead of worry and dread the unknown. By communing together, we lifted each other’s spirits in a way that none of us could have alone.

My wife and Kim’s needed support, too. As faithful wives, they have had to endure the consequences of both treatment and recovery. They also cared greatly for Amy, with whom they could easily identify.

There is nothing good about cancer. There is no good cancer. There is only cancer.

This night, in this restaurant, gathered with comrades in loving arms and warm hearts, we were as one. Around that dinner table an unspoken common spirit of celebrative unity reigned. Gratitude overcame dread. Communal relief replaced disquieting uncertainty. Laughter was our dessert.

Finally, something good had transformed out of something really bad. We only hoped the restaurant staff and other patrons understood our irrepressible joy.

Amish sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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One year later, all is well

Biking by Bruce Stambaugh

A year after prostate cancer surgery, I am enjoying regular activities like biking with my family.


By Bruce Stambaugh

A year following my prostate cancer surgery, all is well. It’s hasn’t been a totally uneventful recovery. It certainly could have been worse.

I am extremely glad to be able to say “cancer free.” And yet, I do so with humility, appreciation and the realization that too many people never get to utter those precious words.

Men tend to be pretty squeamish even just thinking about prostate issues, much less talking or writing about them. That’s mainly due to the two unspeakable potential side effects, incontinency and impotency. Because of those two potential consequences, some men unfortunately never return to their doctor once they have been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Father and sons by Bruce Stambaugh

My older brother, Craig, my late father, Richard, and I all had prostate cancer.

I wasn’t surprised at all when I received the word that I likely had prostate cancer. My older brother had had robotic prostate cancer surgery 18 months before my own diagnosis. Our father had died of the consequences of prostate cancer after a 17-year battle.

It was this family history and the marked vigilance of my good doctors via annual, then semi-annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing that kept the possibility of having prostate cancer at the forefront of my medical exams. I am forever grateful for that watchfulness.

In the months before and after the surgery to remove my cancerous prostate, I received invaluable advice from friends and strangers alike regarding their personal experiences. I also read and researched as much as I could.

Veggie pizza by Bruce Stambaugh

A healthy diet is essential to good health, especially if you have or had cancer. This homemade veggie pizza is both colorful and healthy to eat.

Months after my surgery, a government sponsored panel recommended that regular PSA tests be discontinued as a way to monitor for prostate cancer. That conclusion was based on what was determined to be an overuse of the test and subsequently a high rate of prostate biopsies.

Without either the PSA tests or the conclusive biopsy, I could only guess today whether I had prostate cancer or not. I exhibited no symptoms. When my PSA steadily rose over the course of nearly two years to beyond the danger threshold, I was given a relatively new medical test, called PCA3, that was 90 percent accurate whether it returned negative or positive.

I remember exactly when and where I was when I received the call that my test was positive. It’s the kind of news that one never forgets, like where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 or December 7, 1941. This was my personal 9/11.

Yet here I am today, alive and well and steadily overcoming the after effects of the surgery. Last November, I had a non-prostate related second surgery that dramatically impeded my recovery. True, left untreated the prostate cancer would not have killed me by now, perhaps never.

Grandchildren by Bruce Stambaugh

This picture was taken just three months after my da Vinci surgery. My wife and I were already traveling with and enjoying the grandchildren.

The biopsy determined that my cancer was the same moderately aggressive type that my brother and father both had. I leaned heavily on my older brother for advice, especially once I decided to move ahead with the robotic surgery, called da Vinci. It’s a surgery that is less invasive, less painful, causes less blood loss, has a quicker recovery than regular radical surgery, and focuses on nerve sparing to lessen the manly issues of being impotent and incontinent. Implanted radioactive seeding or direct radiation were my other options, both with similar long-term side effects that I deemed undesirable.

Through marvelous treatment and care by my doctors, and proper diet and exercise, I have survived. At this point in time, I am ahead of the curve on the two “big” side effects. They are only occasional and manageable inconveniencies. With the cancer out of my body, I don’t ever have to worry about prostate cancer again. No medical test can measure that satisfaction.

I cherish the words “cancer free.” I only wish every cancer victim could say them. Until then, I’ll keep telling my story to whoever will listen. If doing so helps save just one life, it all will have been well worth it no matter what the experts say.

Dewy web by Bruce Stambaugh

Being cancer free, I try to cherish whatever each day brings, even the dew on a spider’s web.


© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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