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An Open Letter to the Newly Diagnosed Prostate Cancer Survivor

Bill Barbour, 64, of New York, is an avid cyclist who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in May, 2011. Always active, Bill didn’t let treatment for prostate cancer slow down his life, or his participation in his favorite activity, cycling. Bill chose to have proton therapy for prostate cancer at Penn in February, 2012, and today he is cancer free. Bill recently completed riding for the Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center cycling team in the Philadelphia LIVESTRONG challenge.

Dear New Prostate Cancer Patient:

I know that you must be in shock now and that your immediate reaction is to have your cancer removed just as soon as possible. That was my reaction back in May, 2011.

You may be aware that prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death among men, which creates an even greater sense of urgency for you and your family members.

I am here to tell you to breathe.

I would have undergone treatment - any treatment - the very next day after my diagnosis, if it was possible. I live in New York and I thought about getting the same treatment that the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, underwent. Maybe I could try the same treatment as former manager of the NY Yankees, Joe Torre? Both of them are well now.

My doctor calmly told me that while indeed my diagnosis was a serious matter, it wasn’t the immediate emergency that I created in my mind. He explained some of the treatment strategies to me and asked me to return in a few months for a check up. I was still in shock, but the good news was that we had detected it early and I had no symptoms.

Having time to collect my thoughts was the best thing that could have happened, and I would advise you to do the same. Regardless if you have days, weeks or months to make a decision about your treatment, it’s so important to breathe. Collect your thoughts. Allow yourself time to deal with this new diagnosis.

During the summer of 2011, I immersed myself in my favorite activity, which is cycling. I realized that I was already a “survivor” in that I was now living with cancer. I forgot about the cancer on most days.

Bill Barbour
LIVESTRONG Challenge, 2012

When I did think about prostate cancer, I felt a great comfort in thinking of myself as a survivor. I began thinking in terms of my “survivorship” and what I wanted my life to be like after my prostate cancer treatment. I immediately thought of our cherished family bike outings. I also wanted to continue my cycling in as normal a manner as possible.

I sorted through the many treatment methods available and concluded that most of them could give me a good chance at becoming cancer free. But which method was for me? I found that each method varies in the changes made to one’s body. This was the most important insight that I needed to choose a treatment that matched my own vision of survivorship. For me, that was proton therapy for prostate cancer at Penn Medicine.

I conferred with a number of former prostate cancer patients who willingly and candidly shared their treatment experiences with me. As I made my treatment decision, I realized that it would have been a huge mistake for me to copy either Rudy Giuliani’s or Joe Torre’s treatment choice as I originally considered doing months before.

I am writing this for you as it is now my turn to help. I want you to know you can shape your own treatment decision by laying claim to your survivorship now. Learn all you can about your treatment options before you make any decisions. That knowledge will help you immensely in following the signposts to living your life after prostate cancer.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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