As far as I can tell, I’m a pioneer: the first woman in my chapter of Man to Man (prostate cancer support group) to join by herself. It took me a lot longer than it should have, considering the fact that my husband had been diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer almost three years before I stood up in front of a group of almost all guys and told our story.
In those days, Dean was still resistant to the idea of a monthly meeting. Prostate cancer was behind him and he wanted it to stay well to the rear. But we had changed, and it was cancer that had done that to us, generating questions like, “How do we reinvent intimacy?” “Who am I now?” “Why [in my case] am I so lonely?” Pragmatic questions about new forms of treatment, and what to do if cancer were somehow to return I hoped, would be discussed in depth, with updates on the various treatment options into the bargain.
There were that night, and are to this day, other women, but none of them had come alone. The ones who come do so to support their husbands, thanks to the presence of a nurse and trained group facilitator (a breast cancer survivor herself)–the wife of the group’s consultant urologist. Eventually I pursuaded Dean to start coming–“You’ve got to be my date!” And so, he’s been there next to me on the second monday of every month except July and August for three years now. If it were up to him, he’d stay home, but he knows that cancer changed both of us and our marriage (if you want to know more about this, read my book, How We Survived Prostate Cancer: What we did and what we should have done. Dean’s voice is all through it. At first, when I began writing it, he kept his distance, but thanks to a handy tape recorder, he’s had lots to say.
In part I joined the meeting because, at the three year point I was actively writing this book, and Man to Man has a research dimension for me. But if there had been no book goading me to join, I’d be a lot sadder and more confused and certainly more ignorant. The big questions in paragraph 2 above come up in an oblique sense occasionally–everyone is scared of them, I sense. There’s plenty of practical information to be had, and then there are the blessings. (I would have hated to call them this once, because I was so angry at cancer and at life).
Blessing #1: We’ve made good friends in the group we hope to keep for life.
Blessing #2: Others come who just received a diagnosis. These are the smart ones who didn’t wait three years. We get to ease their confusion and terror and give them a wealth of perspectives on the various treatment options. There is something really healing about this process–that our suffering was not wasted.
So, to anyone out there–especially women–who are wondering what to do, I say join a support group even if you have to go alone. Even if your partner isn’t ready, and the group has that forbidding title “Man to Man.” Get in your car or on the subway or bus, whatever. Strength is in community.