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Discovering Cape Cod's Cancer "Underground"

Updated: Mar 8

By Lawrence Brown, Cape Cod Times Columnist


          It's been a few weeks since I published my piece about getting cancer.  I'm still getting emails - over 70  now - from Cape Cod Times readers. I was stunned, touched, and most importantly, helped by the messages so many of you sent me. I've got conversations now, still ongoing, from people who are currently struggling with cancer or - at least for now - have beaten it.

          Cancer doesn't offer us a fair fight. As Sophocles wrote, “Count no man lucky until he passes this life unscathed by woe.”  We've only truly beaten cancer when we've lived long enough to die of something else.

          How do we face something so grim? With friends, that's how. In the company of people who love us. Here's what I'm learning from all the good people who've written me.

          Get tested. There's a temptation to avoid testing because we don't know if we could stand to hear bad news. There's an old sailor’s adage.  “Reefing” sail is lowering and tying off part of the sail in high winds to keep your boat from capsizing.  So when is it time to reef?  Answer: when you first think of it. When is it time to get tested? When you first think of it. Or when your doctor first thinks of it… or someone who loves you does. With a prostate the size of a softball, I've been followed pretty carefully. But if I'd gotten a biopsy nine months ago, my cancer might not have gotten out. Get tested.

          Insight #2: Cancer is nothing to be ashamed of. We've just seen a Secretary of Defense, a tough military man, get prostate surgery without telling anyone, not the president, not even his own staff.  Why didn't he tell?  If projecting virility is important, there are things some men are reluctant to disclose even to their best friends. An old pal from 1957 had his prostate out and he never told me. He didn't want to tell anybody. It seemed too personal.

          We have to talk about this stuff. We have to be far more open than we have been in the past. In a culture of embarrassed silence, men and women may avoid being tested. And then they may keep silent at exactly the moment in their lives when they most need the support and advice of their family and friends. Exactly at the moment when they feel most alone.  I told my daughter my chemo is giving me hot flashes and without missing a beat, she called it manopause.

          Insight #3: The more people who know, the more good advice you get.  It takes the fear and mystery out of what's about to happen next.  I've been advised to look up the qualities of pomegranate juice. I've had people who've gone through all the procedures I'm now discovering and telling me what to expect… what's going to be hard, what's probably not going to be as painful as I'd feared. 

          Insight #4: The more people you talk to, the more hope you get.  What I'm hearing from cancer veterans, over and over again, is that I'm going to get through it… that medicine has made marvelous advances… that the people writing me have faced everything I'm facing now - and lived.  Over and over, I've received the same loving message, even from strangers, “You can beat this.”

          Insight #5: A positive attitude really helps. It doesn't just keep you cheerful; it helps you beat cancer. I'm taking four big chemotherapy tablets every day.  And I know that my prostate cancer feeds off testosterone.  So these pills are designed to beat my testosterone levels down to zero. That being the case, each time I take my pills, I address them as if I were Atilla the Hun addressing his generals: “Go down there and burn their crops to the ground. Raze their barns; kill the little bastards.”  I do that every time.  I picture it in my head.  By the way, profanity is absolutely appropriate in addressing cancer.  In fact, I highly recommend it.

          Visit YouTube and dedicate ½ hour each day listening to stand-up comedians and watching funny animal clips.  You’ll need the endorphins. Lewis Black’s rants are particularly effective.

          Final insight: We have good hospital cancer care here on Cape. Ideally, men should have a PSA score around 2.  4 might require surgery.  My PSA score was 27. After a month of chemotherapy, my score dropped to 6.9. But it's more than results; it's humanity. Getting my first infusion at Cape Cod hospital, I saw a woman walk in for her treatment. Immediately two nurses showed up. They hugged her. They asked about her family and children by name.  Obviously, the care was more than professional; it was personal.

          There should be no cancer “underground” on Cape Cod. We should have a cancer community instead, reaching out, helping each other, praying for each other, and supporting each other in victory and in loss. There is a difference between a cure and a healing.  Doctors help us with the cure but the healing… that comes from everyone.


Lawrence Brown is a columnist for the Cape Cod Times. Email him at


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