NOTE: Diseases and illnesses affect not only the person afflicted, but also spouses, children, and extended families. In this story, Dave and Kathie Houchens share their experiences of how they have faced and dealt with Dave’s diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Both: Prostate cancer is a couple’s disease. We are in it together, a non-voluntary fraternity that has included us since 2001. Our coping, strategizing, researching treatment options and finding ways to reach out to others has been a team effort.
Dave: We first met when I was serving as an officer in the Army Chemical Corps at Fort Detrick, MD. Kathie was a student at nearby Hood College in Frederick. We celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary in July. Our partnership has been long and rich, but the diagnosis of prostate cancer challenged our relationship and our intimacy. We had a lot to learn about the disease and about each other.
As a career researcher I focused on cancer treatment so when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer I was able to draw on that experience to select my initial treatment, radical open prostatectomy. My surgery and recovery went well, but an increasing PSA called for further therapy. I have had two rounds of hormone ablation and 45 IMRT radiation treatments and am on a maintenance regimen of several drugs and supplements. My PSA is non-detectable.
Kathie: As wife and partner in this ongoing walk to well-being, I researched ways to contribute to our health through diet choices. Learning about nutrition and its role in a healthy lifestyle brought us energy and hope. I have been able to share what I learned with women in the prostate cancer support group I lead. Dave and I now eat a Mediterranean heart-healthy diet, which is a proven nutritionally sound, diverse and colorful diet that is easy to follow. It has been fun to try new recipes and explore creative food options. I even started making photos of new dinner entrees because the plates looked so attractive.
Both: Knowing that exercise was important, we became intentional about sharing activities together. We enjoy walks, hiking, riding bikes and seasonally cross-country skiing. Individually we have committed time each week for aerobic exercise and weight lifting. We approach each day knowing that our sleep is sound, our weight under control and our energy abundant as we commit to practices that promote all-around good health.
Our emotional and spiritual health is important, too. We have each found ways to expand and deepen our faith journey. Our common religious background is one factor that brought us together in the first place. The peace and hope that comes with trust in a loving Creator is bedrock to our lives. Individually, our personalities call us to a variety of spiritual practices including prayer and meditation, study and service to others.
Over the ten years we have walked through the prostate cancer experience, we have learned a few things that enrich our lives. Here is the short list:
We can ask or tell each other whatever is on our mind or heart. Being honest and open is a gift we give each other.
- We are gentle with ourselves and with each other. We can stay calm and work through even the disappointing news of disease progression or need for additional treatment.
- We take time to really BE with each other. We listen more deeply and try not to judge. We want to resonate, not react.
- We find ways to serve others together through support groups and one-on-one friendships where we can share the hope and strength we have found.
- We have shared our journey related to intimacy issues and prostate cancer at both national meetings and local support groups.
Dave: I also have dedicated time in my partial retirement to volunteer activities including service at the James Cancer Hospital at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio were we live. I help facilitate a support group that meets monthly at OSU, while Kathie leads the women’s group. I am on the board of UsTOO International, a non-profit organization that promotes support, education and advocacy for men and their families. And I have served for three years as a consumer reviewer for the CDMRP’s Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP). As a prostate cancer patient and a scientist I am interested in the development of new therapies that will bring better treatments for survival and quality of life for me, for my son and grandson and for men everywhere. The PCRP is a program vital to attaining that goal.