Living with Cancer: Steve’s Story
“I am not fine,” says Steve Drechsler. “I am now in advanced cancer. Until the surgery failed, there was the possibility of a cure. After surgery failed, all treatment is palliative.”
Steve knows cancer well. “I spent the last three months with my brother who died three years ago. I get to skip the ‘why me?’ part. My father died of prostate cancer. My brother died of prostate cancer. I have prostate cancer,” he says matter-of-factly.
When his brother received his prostate cancer diagnosis, Steve asked his doctor to test him. That’s when he found that his PSA, a tumor marker for prostate cancer, had leapt upward within a mere three months since his last routine test. The biopsy that followed showed that his Gleason score (which estimates prostate cancer’s aggressiveness) was high, too. Although he scheduled surgery immediately, the cancer had escaped. That was four years ago.
He was put on drugs, which leave him incredibly fatigued, incredibly hungry, and with short-term memory loss, frequently searching for words. He also gets hot flashes, but, he says, with an impish grin, “The women in my support groups aren’t sympathetic.” His sense of humor remains.
But he also believes a diet has extended his life. One of his Cancer Support Community facilitators suggested he attend a seminar at which a prostate cancer specialist recommended giving up meat and dairy, which Steve did. Well, not entirely. “I have a thing for ice cream,” he cocks his head. “And I did try some goat, recently, at a restaurant.”
Life has changed in other ways as well. Now, he conserves his energy. He no longer works in Research & Development at a pharmaceutical company. He has given up canoeing, but taken up an early love, silversmithing. In fact, as a young man, he trained as a journeyman silversmith at Tiffany, before moving to New Mexico to set up his own shop. Now, he works from his basement, and often takes a bench outside to work. He reads less, but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t found a great substitute: he’s become a fan of TED Talks online.
“I’ve changed spiritually, too.” Wistful that he’s had to give up a dream of fishing from the side of a kayak, at the same time, he doesn’t really want to fish because he doesn’t feel like hurting the fish.
“When I was diagnosed, I was accepting,” he continues. “This attitude has gotten me through quite a lot: it is what it is. Once we accept the ‘it,’ we go from there. The past is irrelevant as are the whys and why nots. Whether earlier surgery would have gotten the cancer is also irrelevant. What is relevant is to make the most of the time I have. I am making the most of my life by talking to people more about basic things.”
Steve didn’t come to the Cancer Support Community for himself, but for his wife.
His voice is soft and contemplative. “I knew she would have problems. But she doesn’t come. I do. Twice on Tuesday. Thursday. And some other times. I go to jewelry-making, QiGong. Healthy Cooking, Creative Expressions, the Legacy Project.” He ticks the names of the groups off on his fingers.
“At Cancer Support Community, I feel that I deal with cancer so well that I can help others. There is a lot of give and take here. There is no one kind of cancer even if we have the same kind of cancer. It’s individualized in all of us. People in my support group take turns being inspiring.”
He takes a sip from a bottle of water. “I like the people I’ve come into contact with. I like the sense of community. Communities are based on having something in common and wanting to help each other. That’s what we do here.
“I don’t have to be taken care of at this point. But there are days when I can’t fix dinner or get things done. It is frustrating but you do what you can when you can do it.” He fiddles with the water bottle cap.
Then he stands to leave, to go home to his wife, and two sons.