As a runner who completed the 50-mile Le Grizz Ultramarathon in Montana as a younger man – and then did it 19 more times – Steve Heaps is slower than he used to be.
Six-minute miles have become 11-minute miles. There’s good reason – he had surgery in 2010 to repair a leaky heart valve. But his slower pace still bothers him.
That’s where the retired Spokane Valley psychologist, 68, employs the tools of his trade, using “self-talk” to turn negative thoughts into “reasonable” ones.
“ ‘Quit bitching. You can still move,’ ” Heaps said he tells himself. “ ‘You’re going to be healthier (if you run). You can still visit with your buddies.’ ”
Heaps, who also had a radical prostatectomy – removal of the whole gland – in 2008 to treat prostate cancer, said his ability to reframe his thinking has helped him live a full life through serious illness. He will talk about his experiences at a reading of his book “The Rancid Walnut” tonight at Auntie’s Bookstore.
The book covers Heaps’ prostate cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. It also addresses his emotional responses to his illnesses and his use of cognitive-behavioral psychology techniques to keep moving.
Dr. Rob Golden, a Spokane Valley urologist who performed Heaps’ surgery, said Heaps’ experiences as a psychologist and long-distance runner helped him handle his cancer with “grace and a healthy attitude.”
“He viewed this as an opportunity to grow and to look at himself rather than become the victim,” Golden said.
In an interview at the Spokane Valley home Heaps shares with his wife, Karen Heaps – they watch the ospreys from their deck overlooking the Spokane River – Heaps said he’ll use the reading to share what he knows about living with cancer without falling apart.
At the moment, Heaps’ prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, levels are slowly rising, which is unusual for someone without a prostate and could indicate his cancer is back.
He’ll likely have to decide in the coming months whether to follow his surgery with radiation treatment.
Among Heaps’ advice to other men diagnosed with prostate cancer:
• In the face of powerlessness, gain knowledge.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer or any serious disease, you inevitably feel helpless,” Heaps said.
But becoming involved in your treatment gives you a sense of control, he said. Gather lots of information and explore all your options with your doctors.
• Acknowledge your fears. Talk about them with other people.
In his nearly 30 years of practice, Golden said, he’s seen many patients go through the stages of grief upon learning their diagnosis: denial, anger, bargaining and so on. But men with prostate cancer seem to go through a special brand of terror, not only of the cancer, but of the treatment’s effects.
“For men, what sets them apart is this incredible fear,” he said.
Incontinence and erectile dysfunction each get full discussion in Heaps’ book. Many men are surprised to learn neither necessarily results from prostate surgery, he said, thanks to improved methods.
“I think a lot of guys still think, ‘I’m gonna not get erections, and I’m gonna walk around in Depends,’ ” Heaps said.
While talking about fears is difficult for some men, Heaps said, airing worries often eases them. “I have lots of friends that I’ve cried in front of and with.”
• Notice the pattern of your thoughts, and change it if necessary.
“When you have some negative emotion, step back and ask yourself what you’re saying to yourself about your situation,” Heaps said. Trade out “ ‘Oh, I’m going to die. This is terrible,’ ” he said, for “ ‘You still have a life. Nobody said you’re going to die right away. Nobody said life is fair.’ ”