Voice Male Spring 2004
There Had to Be a Better Way:
My Search for Alternative Treatments
for Prostate Cancer
Four years ago at the age of 50, I got a phone call from my urologist telling me I had prostate cancer. The news just exploded in my head: my father had died five years earlier of the same disease. For days I broke out in cold sweats and couldn't sleep or concentrate. It felt as if the world as I knew it was caving in and I was going to die, it was that simple. My wife Mary and I could barely talk to each other. Terrified and isolated, I was sure that any cancer diagnosis was a death sentence.
That day four years ago started me on a journey I could never have imagined. My journey began with a remarkable dream that came immediately after the diagnosis, just when I was feeling the most vulnerable.
In the dream, I'm surprised to find myself the only rider on a chairlift. Looking ahead I can see that something is terribly wrong: the lift cables are carrying me forward into what appears to be the solid wall of a huge building. The lift is too high to jump off and I will soon be crushed by the impact. I brace myself for the inevitable but, as I hit the wall, it simply pops harmlessly out of the way like a big piece of styrofoam. The lift continues up through a cavernous building, repeating several more effortless collisions through ceilings and a roof. After safely reaching the top and exiting the lift, I ski down the mountain on a beautiful day, crossing under another chairlift that is completely weighed down with passengers.
At the time I didn't know what to make of this dream. I rarely remember my dreams, yet this one was strikingly clear in every detail. It provided a peculiar kind of confidence, a gift to the soul, that I carried with me constantly as I struggled during the weeks ahead to make sense of this new challenge. Eventually I deciphered the dream's clear and startling message: I was being guided on a path all my own, which would carry me safely through daunting obstacles. I was going to be all right.
I began an intense period of research to learn as much as I could about prostate cancer and available treatments. The urologist had recommended surgery or radiation--the almost universal approach. But my research, rather than confirming this advice, was inconclusive. I was surprised to find that there was no compelling evidence that surgery or radiation was significantly more effective than simply doing nothing. Apparently most prostate cancers are either so slow-growing--or even nonprogressive--that they will not pose a threat within a man's lifetime.
Through an Internet site devoted to alternative treatments of prostate cancer, I purchased a book, Prostate Health in 90 Days by Larry Clapp, which spelled out an approach to restoring prostate health without conventional surgery or radiation. Apparently there was good evidence that prostate cancer responds well to diet and lifestyle changes. Reading the book filled me with cautious hope, but also left me feeling confused and skeptical. I joined the Internet list and queried the group about my condition. Within just a few days half a dozen men replied--including one who even called me from Japan! I was moved by their positive stories and heartfelt demonstrations of solidarity.
And yet I knew that I was getting in over my head. How could I possibly assimilate all of this medical knowledge in order to make an informed decision? I needed professional advice, but whom could I trust? To whom could I turn? I had so many questions that were not being answered adequately by the doctors I had met. Since almost all men choose surgery or radiation, I felt defensive about challenging this approach. But my instincts--powerfully displayed in my dream--signaled that there had to be a better way. Why was the term "cure rate" used by doctors when there is no known cure for prostate cancer? If the prostate is removed or severely damaged by radiation treatments, and the cancer comes back, to what does it come back and how much more dangerous is it? Wouldn't I be better off keeping my prostate intact, and carefully monitoring the few cancer cells located there?
My wife Mary found the person who could help me: Dr. Susan Kowalsky, a naturopathic doctor practicing in our area. I soon learned that naturopathic medicine takes a complementary approach to healing, with practitioners trained in a combination of conventional and alternative medicine. Dr. Kowalsky was the bridge I was looking for: someone who could look objectively at my condition and give advice without having an "axe to grind."
With Dr. Kowalsky's guidance and support I slowly gained confidence in the decision to pursue an alternative approach to treating my prostate cancer. She reassured me that my instincts were valid and that many other men were coming to the same conclusions. We discussed supplements and diet changes, fasting and toxin removal, bodywork and stress reduction, hormone levels and dental work, immune system boosters and exercise. Together, we developed a plan to reverse the cancer, restore prostate health, and remove any obstacles to general good health that could be identified, while monitoring my health with regular blood tests, ultrasound, and physical exams.
More important, a new kind of relationship developed, which I had never experienced with a doctor. Rather than being told what to do, I became an active collaborator with Dr. Kowalsky in restoring my own health. Suddenly I was in the driver's seat. I would be responsible for my own healing and she was there to help as needed. At the first appointment I remember both Mary and I cried from the release of tension and anxiety we had been carrying. A huge door had been opened.
Dr. Kowalsky became the first member of what I have come to call my "team." All the health practitioners and teachers who have helped me are on my team. They may not know each other, but they each contribute something unique with their skills to promote my well-being. They include yoga teachers, a holistic dentist, an oncologist, an acupuncturist, a bodywork specialist, an ultrasound specialist, and our family doctor. My team also includes my loving wife Mary, family, and friends who constantly surround me with their love and support.
Dr. Kowalsky once told me that at the end of a day, she likes to take a moment to stand in her empty office with her eyes closed, imagining all her patients from that day holding hands and dancing around her in a circle. I have always enjoyed that image. It inspires me to imagine everyone on my team--doctors, healers, teachers, authors, family, friends, my men's group--encircling me in a huge, joyous dance of love and connectedness.
The past four years have brought on great moments of self-discovery, stretching my belief system about healing into new territory. There have also been several relapses into doubt and disappointment. Through it all, there has been the steady realization that I am part of a new community of men dealing with this problem regardless of their treatment choice. My heart has opened to these men, and to the larger community of men and women living with cancer, and I realize that this gift of compassion is part of my healing.
I feel healthier now than at any time in the last 20 years. I've become empowered and energized by taking charge of my own health, and the paralyzing fear is gone. In its place is a much deeper understanding of how I affect my well-being, and a greater acceptance of what is beyond my control.
Danny Dover, a chronic career changer, lives with his wife Mary in Bethel, Vermont. The piano technician at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.