George Monbiot’s experience can help other men with prostate cancer


George Monbiot writes about the excruciating pain he experienced after prostatectomy (Through my cancer, I have found the key to a good life, 9 May), but recognises that short-term pain presaged long-term gain – being cancer-free, continent and sexually active. It is important for men to know that most who have prostate surgery do not experience the terrible pain that George reports, but equally not all are as free from side-effects as he is. George, it seems, had a particularly rough ride to recovery. This should not deter other men from seeking treatment when needed. We know from the hundreds of men associated with this support group that every man’s reactions to treatment is different. We also echo his praise for the humanity, dedication and professional skills of the cancer teams at the Churchill hospital, with whom it is a pleasure to collaborate.
John Grundy
Chairman, Oxfordshire Prostate Cancer Support Group

• Welcome back and thank you to George Monbiot for sharing what might help others faced with ordeals such as his. His excellent point that “men’s health in particular has been blighted by undersharing” has been lived out by a retired friend.

Even as a retired GP, it was news to him that because two older brothers had died of prostate cancer there was a greater chance that he would suffer it. But, after initial tests showed no cancer, it was only at a hospital, with the latest and more sensitive scanning equipment, that the cancer showed up and successful treatment started.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• As someone who is living with a person who has advanced cancer, and whose outcome is as yet unsure, it was disconcerting to see the huge prominence given to George Monbiot’s detailed account (front of Journal with prominent illustration, and flagged up on the front of the main edition). People react differently to living with cancer. Some, like George, deal with it by going public. Others find it better to downplay it in order to survive; to allow it to assume a place in life so that it becomes part of the everyday, subservient to the wish to enjoy every moment as much as possible. Would it be too much to place such articles discreetly within the body of the paper?
Name and address supplied

• Thanks to George Monbiot for the inspiring article. But I have one quibble. He describes the superb care he had – the patient consideration of doctors and nurses; the instant responses when he ran into trouble; and the regular contacts from his surgeon. Then he says: “This was more than just professionalism. It felt like care in every sense.” So it was, but this is what real professionalism, in a caring profession like medicine or a caring institution like the NHS, looks like. That it should be a matter for wonderment reveals what has been done to the NHS and the practice of medicine within it.
Dr Michael Parsons

• It was good to see that “the argumentative old git” is back and to read that his experiences following surgery led him to the realisation that “the state of being for which we should strive is to be attached to life without being possessive of it”. My first thought was that this is a form of spiritual enlightenment – becoming fully involved in all aspects of life, but not being attached to them. But Monbiot then goes on to perpetuate a common misunderstanding, namely that the great religions teach “detachment”, when in fact they teach just the non-possessiveness which he describes, using the term “non-attachment”. This carries a very different meaning from detachment, in that it implies that one can be fully engaged and involved in everything in life, but not bound by one’s possessive attachment to it.

The Zen saying, “The spade is in my hand, I hold it not”, characterises this very neatly.
Terence Gaussen
Boston Spa, West Yorkshire

• It’s great that George Monbiot has some wisdom to share, namely that we should “strive to be attached to life without being possessive of it”. Could I point out that this is traditional Christian teaching, as for example, succinctly expressed in TS Eliot’s words: “Teach us to care and not to care, / Teach us to sit still.”
Richard (Lord) Harries