How Am I Feeling Halfway Through Nearly 2 Months of Radiation?

December 18, 2023

How Am I Feeling Halfway Through Nearly 2 Months of Radiation?

May 29, 2023

Cancer is a demanding teacher, much like my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Stump, who insisted on complete attention and once said to me, “If you’re not giving me attention, I’m going to give you some tension.” In deference to my cancer teacher, who also wants me to be a good student, I wanted to share the four key lessons I’ve learned so far. These insights have come during the course of almost half of my 36 weekday radiation treatments, which are being complemented by ongoing hormone depletion therapy such that I have 1% of the testosterone in my body as compared to the past.

  1. Emotional. "Yes, you CAN, SIR!" That was said to me by an immigrant Uber driver on a long drive to see my parents. He wanted to coach me into believing that a positive mindset and sheer willpower would get me through this experience. I showed up for my first session on the radiation bed rather nonchalantly, only to be overcome with so many emotions and tears that they had to postpone the session. I hadn't realized how many feelings I'd been storing up these past five years since my official diagnosis of stage 2 prostate cancer—given the day after my book "Wisdom@Work" came out and the day before I was giving a TED speech. In the past two years, my cancer has metastasized, so I'm now stage 3 and have had two serious surgeries (both times with more than a week of having a catheter), a hospital stay that led me to catch Covid, nearly a year of hormone depletion therapy,, and taking more than 40 supplement pills per day (including Indian mud). My unexpected tears during my first two radiation sessions were a function of realizing that willpower alone ("you CAN SIR") will not beat cancer. 

  1. Physical. Nausea. Tiredness. Body aches. Menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings). Weight gain. Brain fog. No libido. Incontinence (“Loose Bowels Soil Towels” and “Loose Bladders, Diapers Matter”....I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself…write those sophomoric rhymes…LOL).  This experience has been more inconvenient than impossible. I don’t like complaining, so I feel awkward even writing this, but the combo of testosterone blockers and radiation have taken a toll. So, I’m doing my best to love my body and be in partnership on this journey. At least 10,000 steps a day (which I’m getting from my frequent trips to the bathroom as it feels like my bladder is smaller than a peanut). Twice a week acupuncture. Twice a week massage and alternating ice cold/hot plunges. Sea moss applesauce and mushrooms of every kind. A complete abstinence from drinking alcohol. Sobriety deserves another sentence as through most of the past five years, I’ve appreciated that alcohol often took me to the soft edge of oblivion so I could outrun my emotions (I particularly appreciated this recent first-hand account of stopping drinking by a former U.S. poet laureate in the Washington Post - I no longer feel like alcohol’s captive). While I still enjoy my dark chocolate, my body has reduced my craving for sweets. 
  1. Relational. What a gift to be able to spend quality time with my parents late in their lives. They live here in the Bay Area, as do my sisters and most of my friends, so a less compact schedule and a desire for support have meant a lot more IRL (In Real Life) connection than URL (Zoom) pseudo-connection. I’ve also had to occasionally ask for extra love from my partner, Oren, which has tested my non-neediness ethos (somehow, I have this script in my head when I’m in need: “Leave me alone or I’ll find someone else who will”). And, of course, the overflowing love from our MEA community has been such a soulful salve. 

  1. Spiritual. John Lennon wrote, “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong.” I’ve always believed that the most powerful religious or spiritual experiences are those that require a devotion to something bigger than yourself and that guide you to be an enlightened mirror for others on earth. In this time that has felt somewhat existential for me, rather than fearing the mystery, I’ve been trying to embrace it with faith that I’m going to become a better human as a result of this experience. 


Let me go on the record as saying that I’m not as “put-together” as this blog post makes me sound. I’m in the messy middle, which is particularly awkward when I’ve got a new book coming out just as I finish my radiation regimen and the launch of MEA’s Ranch campus in Santa Fe soon after that. It’s a lot to handle, which is why I appreciate all your support. As much as my habits take me in the direction of the rugged individualist, I’m learning that I don’t have to do this alone. Thanks for being there for me.

-Chip

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