Grant McKenzie: If life hands you cancer, drive a convertible

First, the bad news: I have cancer.

When I was told the news, my first reaction was anger. I was angry because I wasn’t negligent in my health. I wasn’t one of those guys who feared the doctor performing a prostate exam, and I had asked for a PSA exam (blood test for early diagnosis of prostate cancer) two years ago when I was 53.

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Unfortunately, British Columbia has cut back on the type of exams it will cover, and my request for a PSA test was ignored. The province also frowns upon paying for an annual physical exam for men, which, if I’m being polite, is @#!$% ridiculous.

When I turned 55 in May, I requested a physical exam from my doctor, including a PSA test. With no family history or other high-risk markers in my file, the doctor asked if I really needed the PSA. I answered that I would like to check it off my to-do list.

When my PSA returned, I had a score of 24. Ideally, the score is meant to be below 3.

At first, my doctor and I convinced ourselves the score was an aberration or possibly a urinary tract infection. I began antibiotics and took the PSA again. My score was 22.

I was sent to a urologist who did a more in-depth physical exam and found a lump. A biopsy was scheduled, where the surgeon took 14 core samples from my prostate. All 14 came back with positive results for cancer. My Gleason score was 7, which is intermediate/high risk.

An MRI followed, which brought more bad news. The entire prostate was compromised, and the cancer was beginning to encroach upon the seminal vessels. Fortunately, the lymph nodes appear clear. A bone scan and chest X-ray were scheduled.

My options are limited, but I’ve chosen an aggressive path. I started hormone treatment to stop the bastard in its tracks and I will be undergoing a radical prostatectomy in November. This leaves radiation on the table in case the surgery doesn’t catch it all.

I remain optimistic. I believe the surgery has a good chance of rendering me cancer-free, and if not, I still have options.

My family is supportive and understands that this will be life-changing surgery. And that’s a key message: life-changing, not life-ending. Some people aren’t so fortunate.

So I’m officially a cancer patient, but I aim to become a cancer survivor in the very near future.

I also consider myself lucky. Not because of the bastard that has infected my physical carriage, but because of the life I have led. I never let fear get in my way of doing some wondrous things.

I have written and published 10 novels, which would make my teenage self giggle with glee; I am married to the love of my life; and we have a kind, beautiful and wondrous daughter who makes me proud and happy every single day. I was brave enough to make big changes in my life without regret, and fortunate enough to have loved ones who believed in me even when times appeared desperate. I followed my heart and it all worked out.

If I am to impart any advice to those who might face cancer in their lives, I would say this:

1. Men, get a PSA test. Insist on it, if you must. The earlier this bastard is treated, the better your results.

2. Drive a convertible. Even if you don’t have cancer, everyone deserves to own and drive a convertible. It makes you feel alive.

3. Wear great shoes. Enough with the drab. Wear colourful, fancy, wonderful shoes.

4. Embrace your individuality. Being part of the herd means you’re on autopilot. Go manual. If you want to skip to work, skip. If you want to ride a Segway, ride a Segway. Who cares what other people think? Be you because you are awesome.

5. Don’t be a grump. Always remember that you don’t know what other people are going through, so don’t judge. Hell, they might have just found out they have cancer.

6. Be kind. It’s a hard thing to teach, but if you treat people the way you would like to be treated, it’ll soon sink in. Empathy comes from understanding.

7. Avoid assholes. Although this might seem counter-intuitive to No. 6, it really isn’t. Sometimes people are assholes; they’re human, but that is their problem, not yours. Walk away and let their bad day be their bad day.

8. Count your blessings. Sure, this sounds corny, but it can also help you understand how rich your life truly is. When your child, spouse, friend, pet, houseplant perks up at your presence. It’s because you bring light into their lives. Embrace this.

9. Forgive yourself. There will be days when you’re not at your best, when you feel angry or sad. That’s OK. You don’t need to be perfect. It’s the flaws that make us who we are.

10. Be selfish. If work/life isn’t going great and you feel your stress levels rising, skip out and go watch a fun movie by yourself. Buy the popcorn and/or Skittles and indulge in an afternoon flick when the theatre is mostly empty. Laugh or whoop out loud and relish it. Life is too short for guilt.

11. Don’t be afraid of trying something new. You’re never too old to learn a new skill or do something that has always intrigued you. Age means nothing. If you want to go to Burning Man, go. If you want to get a tattoo, get it. If you want to dip your toes in that fountain, dip away. Life is for living, and so long as you’re not harming others, nothing is out of bounds.

12. Be happy. Easier said than done at times, but know that it is possible. Life is very often ridiculous, even though we try to pretend it’s not. We can’t see around every corner or predict every turn in the road, but we can choose to experience happiness rather than dread or fear. Laugh at the ridiculous and find joy in the absurd. Make your laugh reverberate off the walls and leave its mark upon all who hear it.

I have cancer. It’s annoying and frustrating and scary, but it doesn’t define me. Cancer is part of my journey. It’s not something that I thought I would ever face, but it’s here and I need to deal with it. I won’t always be brave. I might even shed a few tears, but you can bet I won’t go down without a fight.

So for all those who have faced this journey, and for those who will face it in the future, I would like to say: “F--- you, Cancer! You may have snuck up on me, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”

Grant McKenzie is the director of communications for Our Place.

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