Marital Status?

April 22, 2010

Recently, at the suggestion of a security-minded friend, I changed some of the info available about me on Facebook. For example, I had listed myself as “married,” and she pointed out that that info wasn’t necessary. I deleted “married,” and the next day facebook announced to the world that I had “changed my marital status.” I freaked. My marriage is precious to me, and the last thing the author of a book on surviving prostate cancer and staying married wants is for the world to think that my marital status has changed.
On a recent interview Dean and I did for The People’s Pharmacy ( show # 765), Dr. Mark McClure noted that prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment can either drive a couple in different directions or bring them closer together.
Ultimately, we were brought together, but it was dicey for awhile; that’s why I wrote How We Survived Prostate Cancer, because I didn’t just want to physically survive it, I wanted to survive it with our marriage intact.
The issues that surround prostate cancer are famously touchy, not the least of which is erectile function and continence. Other things lay in wait for the innocent couple, such as depression, loss of identity, loss of libido–it’s a terrifying list.
My marital status is still “married;” we can say that, because we have redefined what marriage is for us. We have given each other the room to grow and change and, yes, survive. I suppose I am still touchy about the notion that I have “changed my marital status.” More precisely, I/we have changed the nature of what we call marriage. I wonder who else out there might feel this way?

April 17, 2010

My book, How We Survived Prostate Cancer:  What we did and what we should have done, has been out a little over a year.  The book has a life of its own; it has already helped quite a few people sort out the tricky issues surrounding treatment and its aftermath–especially as a couple.  When I was writing it, more than once I–we–said, “If only one person finds this book helpful, it has been worth all the effort…”  We’ve had the reward of hearing from many strangers and not a few friends for whom the book has made a difference.

Therefor, celebrate with Dean and me the second year of this book’s life.  The Graedons, a couple who host  one of my favorite radio shows, The People’s Pharmacy, originating out of UNC in North Carolina, interviewed both of us via satellite in January.

The interview goes live today, saturday April 17 on WUNC (available via the web at It will be broadcast at 3 PM, with a podcast available from on monday (show #765). The moment it is available on the PP website, there will be a link to

The show will also appear on radio stations throughout the country (see affiliate list on

An interview with Dr. Ablin, one of the discoverers of PSA, who wrote a controversial Op Ed in the New York Times about the subject, and whose editorial I blogged about in this very column, will also be posted on, if you’d like to follow the controversy.

Join with us in celebrating what this book’s mission is:  to share the news about the effects of PCa and treatment, for individuals and for couples. Let us know what you think.  More importantly, please pass the news on to anyone you think may find it useful.

It is fitting that this program airs in April; this month we are celebrating Dean’s 7th anniversary free of prostate cancer.

Thanks for listening–
Vicki & Dean

Depression and Prostate Cancer

April 7, 2010

In NYC where I live, there’s a sign on the side of a building–on West 72nd Street, to be exact– which claims that “Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not character…”  It is, in my opinion, obvious that depression is NEVER  a flaw in character–what an absurd notion.  But what about the reverse; is it always a flaw in chemistry?  IS IT A FLAW AT ALL?  If it is one, then we must rush to correct it; but perhaps the depressed person–for example, the prostate cancer survivor or his partner–is simply mourning for what is lost, coping with a new and scary landscape, searching for a new identity.  

There has been much recent flap lately in PCa circles about how to cope with the depression that often follows treatment.  Whatever treatment it was:  prostatectomy, seeds, beam radiation, cryo, chemo, hormones, proton beam, even HIFU, it is likely to have changed forever  the way a man lives and experiences himself as a sexual being.  Then there’s the flip-side depression:  the partner’s.  What do you do when you’re the one left back on shore, the one whose body hasn’t forever been altered?  The one, perhaps, whose libido is still active?

Some people are turning to antidepressants, and some doctors are advocating this kind of treatment.  On the man’s side, the fact that many such drugs hardly enhance erectile function should certainly be discussed.  Beyond this, however, what is there in our culture that spurs us on to medicate everything?  

Perhaps the way to cope is to go running or listen to music or redefine yourself as you are now.  Join a community of others who have suffered the same way.  Reach for the person on the other side of the room–or the bed; and don’t be afraid of who you are now. Depression may just be the bridge to the next part of your life.  That’s what I’d say to anyone, post prostate cancer, who reaches first for a bottle of pills.

If He Were a Tree

April 1, 2010

Who Are We Now?

The fifteen-year-old pussywillow in our side yard keeled over last month, a victim of heavy snow. It lay prone for several weeks, having crushed the park bench that sat beneath it, until my neighbor with a chainsaw managed to render it into firewood. I helped collect and break the branches–called “whips,”–blooming with furry “catkins” despite the tree’s demise. I saved as many branches as I could and gave a number away, knowing they root easily in water. This forty foot tree, in fact, came from a rooted branch I’d bought at a long ago farmer’s market. This week my own cuttings at last took root, and I’ll plant them soon; I’ve heard recently from a number of friends “It’s got roots, even leaves!” All this and the tree itself is hardly dead. Two or three “whips” from the twelve-inch severed trunk have already sprouted.

Who knows what shape it will take in its new incarnation? Incarnation is a funny word to use in a botanical context, with its implications for flesh (carne is Latin for meat), so perhaps resurrection, is better, this taking on of a new form.

I wish it were as easy for humans to undergo radical physical change, but we’re more complicated than trees, having, among other things, memory and consciousness. Oh yes we rise beyond health emergencies and treatments–or dismemberments–of various kinds. My husband, for example (he’s always my first example when it comes to health) has survived so many alterations: juvenile macular degeneration, the loss of a third of his colon to emergency appendectomy, necrosis of bone in his knee, the death and rebirth of six inches of nerve tissue in his arm and, of course, prostate cancer, treatments which pretty much levelled his libido and destroyed erectile function. He lost urinary function for a while–that’s fairly typical, but it returned with the help of acupuncture and drugs, and has remained intact ever since. Our intimate life together changed in ways we’re still trying to sort out. I wrote a book to try to heal it. Sometimes I think of that book as a love letter, and sometimes it’s a letter to the world and to all of the confused partners of men who have suffered these kinds of treatments and are wondering, who are we now?

If Dean were a tree he wouldn’t remember the branches taken away, or what it felt like to stand with those branches forty feet in the air. Something unconscious and innocent–call it the impulse towards life, is healing the intact roots in my side yard right now. And eight years after cancer, aware as we are of who we once were, we lie down together, starting each time all over again, and taking nothing for granted.