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Paul Schmidt's lessons from a war against cancer

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Paul Schmidt has been cancer free of the disease for eight years, but there are many lessons he has learned from his battles to defeat all aspects of prostate cancer.

By Lisa King

Paul Schmidt has experienced the fear, the uncertainty, that dark realm that cancer brings firsthand.

And he has triumphed.

Cancer free for eight years now, Schmidt, a Shelbyville psychologist, will be one of hundreds of men expected to take advantage of the 12th annual Men’s Health Fair on Saturday morning at Jewish Hospital Shelbyville, to get a full checkup on overall good health and – perhaps more emphatically – keep cancer at bay.

Schmidt, who said he found out he had prostrate cancer at age 55, just as he was preparing to get married, has agreed to share his story in hopes of helping other men recognize the implications of cancer – the issues this disease brings with it, both physical and emotional – and perhaps be motivated to get a free checkup at the health fair.

Prostate cancer is only one of hundreds of dollars worth of free health screenings that men can have at the fair. Some men go through the screenings and learn that they are in stages of cancer or even other diseases.

And dealing with cancer, as Schmidt describes it, is something to be avoided at any cost.

“I think the first important thing that people should realize is that you should make something more out of it than it makes out of you,” he said. “I feel like I’m a better man for having been through it. It’s like any other devastating experience, like losing a loved one or going through a divorce – you can make something good come out of it.”

 

Treatments and side effects

Schmidt said he had no symptoms, no sign that anything was wrong. He went for a routine physical exam, and the doctor found his prostrate was enlarged and sent him to a urologist.

He was given a choice of three different treatments: surgery, radiation or what he calls watchful waiting.

“I chose to go after it more aggressively, with surgery, because that way, I got the worst of it over with,” he said. “Another reason I chose that is because it kept the option open for doing radiation later; if you do radiation first, then you can never do surgery.”

He explained that the watchful waiting approach was not for him, because that is when you just keep tabs on the disease to see how fast it is spreading.

For elderly men in whom the progress of the disease is fairly slow, they may choose this route, he said.

Schmidt’s doctor explained the side effects of prostrate cancer to him, mainly, incontinence, urinary infections, and the most dreaded side effect for most men, loss of sexual function.

Although plagued with chronic urinary infections for two years, Schmidt said he learned how to triumph over the other two side effects.

He found that doing Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor exercises, helped strengthen the bladder muscles that control urination, but he said dealing with loss of sexual function, which is often temporary with prostrate cancer, was also very difficult.

“That’s the one thing that men want to keep,” he said. “That’s what motivates us. Honestly, men don’t care about lifespan as much as they care about keeping that going while they are alive. That’s a big part of what makes a man feel like a man.”

In dealing successfully with that particular side effect, he said he realized then that for a man, sexuality is as much a state of mind as it is physical.

“What I would say to men is that the real primary sex organ is the brain,” he said. “You can use other love languages in your marriage, and I certainly did that, and the neat thing about that is when you learn to say I love you and to hear I love you in so many different ways, it really does motivate everything in your recovery.

“It certainly motivates the sexual function to come back, because that is motivated by love as well as by lust, and when the love is maximized, the restoring of sexual function is maximized as well.”

 

Emotional impact

 

When faced with such a devastating thing as loss of sexual function, Schmidt said that’s when a man needs to realize his entire worth, which is so much more than just physical.

“There is the impact you have on your children, the way you love your wife, these are also things that make you feel special about your manhood,” he said. “Also, it’s important to connect with other men and have those friendships as well.

“We men are generally poor at connecting with each other except on a superficial level. I really endorse male friendships now, because connecting heart-to-heart is very important, too, and you need to do that so you can bring your manhood to a woman, not rely on her to draw it from you.”

Schmidt said before having any treatment done, men also should  seek out other men who have had prostrate cancer and get their advice.

“You should talk to people who have been through it; get their advice, see how it affected them, know what to expect,” he said.

“One of the most important things I want men to know is they should always have regular exams, so you can catch it early, like I did.

“My uncle, Cal Schmidt, he died of prostrate cancer two years ago. He was further along when he was diagnosed with it, and he struggled with it for the last eight years of his life, until it finally took him out. It’s not a good way to go.

“So I hope people will learn from my story and just be aggressive in early detection.”

Schmidt said he will not be acting in any official or volunteer capacity at the health fair but will be attending, and he extends an offer to talk to anyone who wants to seek him out to talk about his experiences.

“I’ll be there a good portion of the morning, and I’ll be glad to talk to anyone,” he said.

 

Men’s Health Fair

What:Free health screenings, including prostrate exams, blood analyses, skin cancer checks, podiatry

When:From 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday

Where:Jewish Hospital Shelbyville

Appointments:Set your schedule by calling 647-4341.

Other events:First Baptist Church in Shelbyville will be having a car show, music and food during the health fair.