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Turning pain into purpose after a cancer diagnosis

June is Men’s Health Month. It is a reminder to men to prioritize their well-being, something that I have been on a mission to uphold.

A few months ago, I learned some news that would change my life forever.

On March 8, I had a telehealth appointment with my urologist to discuss the results of a re-biopsy on my prostate. This followed an atypical biopsy in November.

Before the March appointment, my doctor had reassured me that, at my age of 45, I would probably be fine and there should not be any cause for concern.

However, as a therapist who has studied the intricacies of human behavior such as body language, I knew before my doctor said a word that it was not good news.

Impact on my mental health

I never thought I would say the words: I have prostate cancer. I thought that if I continued to run 20 miles per week — something that I have done faithfully for the past 12 years — eat a plant-based diet and practice a lifestyle free of alcohol and tobacco that I would be good.

However, genetics is a powerful indicator, and prostate cancer is prevalent across both sides of my family. Although in most cases my family members were well into their 60s or 70s when diagnosed with this disease, I recently learned that my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer in his 40s.

The first few days after my diagnosis I was in shock. I kept thinking I was living a bad dream. But when I woke up, nothing had changed.

Once reality started setting in, the anger came in waves, but it remained for several weeks — “Why me? How can I have cancer when I take good care of myself?”

The anger turned into low-grade depressive feelings. I noticed that my motivation started declining, and some days I just felt like staying in bed, despite how positive I was trying to be.

But I leaned on my faith more than ever, and that provided me with a lot of strength. The few people who knew about the diagnosis were extremely supportive, which also made me feel that I was not alone with this journey.

As I started building enough strength, my mindset started to shift, and I started to feel this spiritual peace come over me. I started finding purpose in my journey. It was then when I was more accepting of my diagnosis, however, I still have days when I struggle with my new reality, just not as often as before.

In the mental health world, my journey resembles what is known as the stages of grief.

Importance of self-care

If you or someone you know is struggling with something similar, remaining positive is difficult — but extremely important. In my journey, I learned that if my mental health was not intact, it was going to negatively affect my outlook, which in turn would affect my behavior, such as how I treated myself and those around me.

Looking at ourselves in the mirror is not easy, and there were a few times that I had to sit myself down and reinforce the importance of practicing what I preach.

Despite some very dark days, I stuck to my routine. I continued to approach life with the same vigor that brought me meaning and purpose. I did not take exercise days off, or stop following the diet that has helped me manage other areas in my health journey.

Without my routine, my mental health probably would have suffered.

Raising awareness vital

Since my diagnosis, I have done extensive research on prostate cancer. What has stood out the most are the numbers. The American Cancer Society indicates that prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men aside from skin cancer — there will be roughly 299,010 new cases of prostate cancer and 35,250 prostate cancer deaths in 2024.

Another statistic that caught my attention: The risk for prostate cancer is 74 percent higher in Black men than non-Hispanic white men, and Black men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than white men.

I have learned that early detection and targeted treatment that is timely are critical in managing prostate cancer. Regular screenings and increased awareness are vital when it comes to outcome.

Something else I have noticed is that not too many men openly talk about prostate cancer, even considering some of the high-profile men who have recently been diagnosed or who have succumbed to the disease.

I am hoping to change that.

Sheldon A. Jacobs, Psy.D., LMFT, is a licensed mental health professional based in Las Vegas. Contact him at drjacobs10@hotmail.com. Follow @drjacobs33 on X and Instagram.

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