Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Amateur Advocate

I have begun to assist a longtime friend who recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I don’t know what stage; either he doesn’t know or he’s not saying. I remind myself every time we talk that it’s important to put his needs ahead of my own. I want data but for him there is presently such a thing as too much information.

“You are the brains of the operation,” he said to me, “I decide with my gut.” Of course it’s not that straightforward. Despite his affect of attention deficit he learns quickly. And there’s a tremendous amount to learn.

He has heard from a famous research center surgeon. He has also sought an opinion from a well respected community hospital surgeon who trained at famous research center. Tomorrow I’ll accompany him to a consultation with a radiation oncologist. I keep thinking that if I show him a picture of the linear accelerator before we get there maybe he won’t get as freaked out -

- because he’s been doing a fair amount of freaking out. It’s not surprising: our conversations are filled with catheters, erectile dysfunction, recurrence rates and robotic surgery. Scary enough, especially for a man who, as the cliche goes, has never been sick a day in his life.

Good news: there are plenty of treatment options. Less-good news: without a medical degree it's difficult to know which one is best. The prostate cancer decision tree is much more complicated than I anticipated.

I'm sure he'll find his way through the current chaos. But regardless of which treatment there will be some difficult times ahead. He's single so I wonder who will be with him when he’s feeling crummy, whether it’s post op or week 5 of radiation treatments. I can be very patient while researching medical studies but I'm not sure I would be as patient with, well, an actual patient to take care of!

I appreciate this opportunity to practice being an advocate but I'm sorry it comes at his expense. I'm sure I'll be called upon again at some point down the road. I will do what I can and try to learn how to do the rest.

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