About a year into my Hormone Suppression Therapy—designed to slow the growth/spread of my Metastatic Prostate Cancer—I noticed a old scar on my hand that looked red and raised. The wound had occurred more than three years earlier, caused by grease from the grill splattering up on the top of my right hand. It left three small scars, in the general shape you’d expect from drops of hot oil.
I thought it might be an infection, but topical medication wasn’t having an effect.
Later, a small red circle showed up on the top of my foot. Like my hand, the area was red and raised, very prominent and noticeable. It was in the exact location where I'd been stung by a wasp several years earlier. (Not to be gross, but I included a couple of pictures below)
What could cause these old wounds to suddenly become prominent?
And then, the paranoia sets in.
I think anytime something unusual happens in the body of a cancer patient, we experience a small amount of panic.
And the questions:
Is this connected to my cancer?
Is the cancer spreading?
So, I consulted my Oncologist, who suggested I visit my dermatologist to have them checked.
Another doctor. Another doctor visit.
That's probably one of the most common activities in my schedule—visiting doctors.
My doctor examined me, and told me the medical name was Granuloma Annulare.
My first thought (again, cancer-centric): Well, that doesn't sound good, since it rhymes with melanoma, and I know what that is!
But he calmed my fears, assuring me it was harmless. Even without treatment, he said it would probably go away…in a year or two. (Two years?) It was more than likely caused by an elevation in my blood sugar.
Interesting, because an imbalance in blood chemistry is one of the side effects of my cancer treatments.
Which means, I have a side effect that's caused by another side effect.
But it did bring up a philosophical realization. Cancer is our body, turning on itself...destructively. And I think it triggers a similar phenomenon in the non-physical aspects of our life: emotional, spiritual, psychological, relational, etc. Cancer upsets our well-being. All of it. The disease has a way of highlighting old wounds and aggravating old scars, forcing them to the surface so we can (must?) deal with them. It persistently challenges weak places in our sense of identity—stirring up buried issues of inadequacy, chipping away at the facade of a deeply ingrained negative self-image, scratching away our perceptions of beauty, infecting flaws in relationships, revealing unhealed hurts.
I know that’s definitely been true for me. Painfully true!
- I look at myself sometimes in the mirror and I'm barely recognizable. My body has undergone significant changes, including the embarrassing loss of some bodily functions, excessive weight gain...and BREASTS! If we are what we see in the mirror, then this disease will wreak havoc on our self-esteem.
- The limitations brought on by pain and fatigue have me almost home-bound. I lost a successful career that I'd worked for many years to create. If we are our jobs, the inability to work will devastate our sense of value.
- I’ve confronted the grief of losing my biological father who abandoned us when I was very young. I’ve also dealt with the life-long emotional distance that exists with my adoptive father, and the pain (and wounds) I live with because of his verbal abuse. He had never once asked about my cancer nor how I'm doing. I stood up to him a few years ago, and he hasn't spoken to me since. Truth is, the disease can challenge our most significant relationships, regardless of the stability. Wounds and weaknesses will surface!
- It hurts that I am not able to give my partner the intimacy that we once knew, but thankful that our marriage is not built solely on that one dimension. I cry as I watch him listen to the doctors. I can see that a union based on the physical, or the sexual or the visual could crumble under the weight of the devastating results of cancer. (I know for a fact that many relationships don’t survive the adversity of this disease.) If we are the part most affected by our disease (a breast, a limb, sexual function), we will feel inadequate.
- I've found that someone with control issues (Not me, of course!) will be dismayed at their inability to be in charge—of our bodies, of our energy...often, of our destiny. And if we see ourselves as self-sufficient, that will quickly be impacted. Cancer is a force in our body, asserting control. More than a year ago, my doctor optimistically talked about "managing" the cancer, now we know...that's an illusion.
- This disease impacts those around us as well, drawing attention to their wounds, too. Their fears, their insecurities, their grief come to light with this diagnosis. And they may not always respond in the best, kindest way. We may learn they are more comfortable not being part of our struggle, and they exit our lives now, rather than face what they perceive to be the ultimate separation later. It's sad. It's cowardly. And it's hurtful. But I've come to understand, and seek to forgive.
- I think when we initially hear a “cancer” diagnosis, regardless of what might come next about prognosis and treatment, the word will scream in our head, and echo back with the dread of death. It brings to the surface the issue of our mortality. That's rarely pleasant. If there are any suppressed metaphysical questions (e.g., "What happens after this?"), having a life-threatening disease will shine a bright light on it. We can become paralyzed with fear, lost in regrets and negativity can come to the surface, overwhelming our emotions, impacting those around us and actually hindering our recovery.
Author's Note: I am so grateful for the reality of my faith, and I feel it's been a constant comfort to me throughout the ordeal. No, that doesn’t mean that I don’t get afraid, and I'm not presenting myself as a saint. But in the midst of the fear, there is always that “still, small voice” of peace that keeps me from panic. I’ve never doubted God’s love, God’s grace, God’s presence or God’s purpose. I’ve never questioned or been angry with God about the disease. ("Why me?") And I’ve refused to give in to the suggestions of some that my cancer is somehow an indication of God’s displeasure with me.
I don’t have all the answers, but I am not overwhelmed by the questions.
So, in addition to the physical effects that any form of cancer brings to a body, it also reveals previous emotional hurts, scars, bruises and wounds: chinks in the armor of our self-confidence, the fragility of life, the fallacy of our ability to control, questions about our faith and destiny, faults in our relationships. And don’t get me wrong. I think, in the long run, this is a good thing. If we don’t face up to these old wounds, they are forever there, below the surface…waiting to infect and inflict us again. For me, cancer shows where I need help and healing!
Note: Portions of this post were originally published on a previous blog; it has been revised and updated for this entry.