When Charlie Stoothoff was diagnosed with stage II prostate cancer at age 39, he looked in the mirror and cried for an hour. Then he said to himself, “That’s not who I am. I’m a victor, not a victim. I will beat you, and then I will use my testimony to help others beat you.” A year and a half later, he is doing exactly that.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Stoothoff participated in a fundraising walk for ZERO Prostate Cancer, a nonprofit dedicated to ending prostate cancer and supporting those affected by the disease. After sharing his story on stage, someone suggested he volunteer for ZERO’s MENtor Program, a peer-to-peer support program for men with prostate cancer. With his natural ability to communicate and his desire to help others, it was a perfect fit.
“I absolutely love it,” Stoothoff said of being a MENtor. He recently shared with Patient Power some of what he has learned through his own experiences and from helping others.
Try to Stay Positive
Stoothoff recommends giving yourself a moment to grieve after your diagnosis and then working to cultivate a positive attitude as soon as possible.
“Your mentality can help determine your outcome,” Stoothoff said. “And your attitude is one thing you can control.”
Stoothoff also considered the example he wanted to provide for others, especially his nephews. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he went on the attack, diving into nutrition information and treatment options. For him, being proactive helped his mindset. To find what works for you, experiment with different activities or outlets.
Here are some ideas:
Go for a walk
Spend time in nature
Talk to a therapist
Create an upbeat playlist
Write in a journal
Also, tell your loved ones you are trying to stay positive. If they focus on worst-case scenarios, gently remind them that it is not helpful for you. When your own negative feelings or emotions return, acknowledge them, but keep moving forward, focused on strength and healing.
Ask for Help
Stoothoff wants people to know that help is available, and the sooner you ask for it, the better.
“I wish I would have been more open right away as far as asking for help,” Stoothoff said. “But I had my apprehensions and didn’t want to talk about it at first. The other thing is, when you do talk about it, it’s almost like you’re certifying that it’s real.”
If asking for help is uncomfortable for you, start small. Ask a loved one to drive you to your next doctor’s appointment. When someone offers to make dinner, accept. If you’re struggling with housework, ask a loved one for help or contact an organization like Cleaning for a Reason, a nonprofit that provides free home cleaning to people battling cancer. To learn about support groups and other resources, contact ZERO or other prostate cancer organizations.
“There’s such a strong outpouring of outreach and support in this space,” Stoothoff said. “Help is definitely available, but you need to ask for it.”
Trust Your Family and Friends
If you hesitate to share what you’re going through because you think people won’t understand, or you worry about burdening others with your struggles, Stoothoff encourages you to trust that your loved ones want to support you – and then let them.
“Prostate cancer is nothing to be ashamed of,” Stoothoff said. “We’re not a burden on our partners, wives, or mothers and sisters. If you don’t tell them, and you don’t get it corrected, you’ll be in a lot more trouble, not only with your health but also with the people who love you.”
Anytime Stoothoff feels like a burden, he looks at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Trust that your loved ones want to be there for you, just as you would for them.
Be Unapologetically You
Stoothoff and his wife, Janelle, were in a long-term relationship when he was diagnosed but were not yet married. He acknowledges that talking about the physical adverse effects of prostate cancer can be challenging, especially if you are starting to date and are worried about rejection, but he offers a different perspective to consider.
“I don’t look at this like it might chase somebody away,” Stoothoff said. “I think it’s a blessing to open you up to the opportunity to find your person. Being honest might even bring someone into your life permanently, because they’ve shown that they will be there for you.”
Stoothoff suggests adopting the same honest approach with friends. If you’re turning down invitations because you’re worried about not having a bathroom nearby, consider what would happen if you told your friends about your concerns, asked for their support, and went out instead of staying home.
“I’m very open and honest about it,” Stoothoff said. “I don’t care if I pee myself a little bit. I’ll laugh and wear it as a badge of honor because I’m still here to be able to do that, and that’s awesome. The alternative is you that don’t get to be here to do any of it.”
If you continue to struggle with being open, ask yourself what you would do if the situation was reversed. Wouldn’t you love and support your friend or partner through their challenges?
Find People Who Can Relate
After a cancer diagnosis, some find it helpful to connect with others who can relate to what they’re going through. Sharing your story might help both you and the person you’re talking to.
“Most men aren’t very open to talking about it,” Stoothoff said. “But I am. I believe in being an open book. If it will help you, then I’m going to talk about it.”
Places to look for support include:
Prostate cancer groups on Facebook can also be helpful, but not all are moderated or provide research-based information. Be cautious and ask your healthcare provider if you have questions. To read about others’ prostate cancer experiences, visit the Patient Power prostate cancer hub.
“The more we have these conversations and share our stories, the more we can help each other,” Stoothoff said. “And that’s the goal.”
Use It as Fuel to Excel
Stoothoff recently went through testing because there is a chance the prostate cancer has spread. He will receive the results in a few weeks.
“Whatever it is, we face it head-on,” he said. “If life says, ‘That’s that,’ then we go out on our shield. We don’t bow to it. I’m not going to bend to something I’ve already beaten. I’m not going to allow it to control what I do throughout the rest of my life or let it hold me back any further. It’s taken enough from me.”
After sharing this, Stoothoff paused and looked down at the memento mori tattoo on his finger before continuing.
“It means remember death,” he said of his tattoo. “I want that to impact everything I say, do, and try to accomplish. We can use it as fuel to excel.”
For more information about ZERO Prostate Cancer, visit zerocancer.org.