by wjw on November 5, 2023

Well. Got that off my chest, anyway.

Last spring I received a diagnosis perhaps best expressed as a good news/bad news joke.

THE BAD NEWS: You have cancer.

THE GOOD NEWS: It’s in your prostate! Yay!


Well yes. Prostate cancer is the only cancer that can be detected with a blood test, which means it can be found early. A test a couple years ago confirmed that my PSA was high, and so I was kept under “observation” —meaning I saw a urologist once a year— till this year, when the PSA kept climbing, and a biopsy was found desirable. The biopsy— which was no fun— confirmed that I had cancer, and then the question was what— if anything— should be done.

There was a case to be made for doing nothing. Prostate cancer is very slow growing, and it was possible I’d die of something else before the cancer got me.

I decided to seek treatment. I was already tired of having to think about it, I just wanted the situation resolved ASAP, and resolved before the cancer had a chance to spread.

There was a recent NY Times article that suggested people should stop using the word “cancer” for the prostate thing, because the very word causes people to panic, overreact, and do stupid things, when there really isn’t much to get excited over.

I’m a little embarrassed to use the word myself, because my problem is so fixable. Some of my friends are even now battling far more virulent forms of the disease, and I don’t want to put myself in their category— I’d feel like an imposter. I’m playing the Game of Cancer on the easiest possible setting.

Anyway, there are a number of treatments available, basically either surgery or radiation, each of which as close to 100% success rate. (“Success” means staying cancer-free for five years, though in the case of the prostate, the chance of a recurrence is basically the same chance of getting the disease in the first place)

I haven’t had a lot of luck with surgery— there is always some unforeseeable consequence that leaves me limping or in pain— so I opted for radiation. Which basically involves putting me at the business end of a linear accelerator for 26 consecutive weekdays. I lie down in the machine while it rotates around me and delivers the x-rays or protons, I don’t know which. Each treatment takes about 15 minutes, from me walking into the treatment center to leaving. It’s not even a big hole in my day.

(Also, choosing radiation gives me a better chance of not having to wear adult diapers for the rest of my life. Something to be considered.)

I start treatment next week. The fact that the diagnosis was made in April while the treatment begins in November should be a clue that nobody sees any special urgency here.

So far I’ve told only a very few people about this, largely because I wanted all the responses to come in at once rather than trickling in over months.

I am happy to accept any good wishes you wish to send. I’m a little less happy to receive advice, particularly if it involves the Pomegranate Cure. (“Just drink 24 ounces of pomegranate juice twice a day, and you’ll be cancer-free in six months! Guaranteed!”) I lost a friend and mentor due to his believing in the Pomegranate Cure (or something like it), and I have little patience with it.

Thoughts and prayers are also gladly accepted, though with the proviso that I think they are better directed toward people in far worse situations than I.

Also, please don’t praise my courage. I’m not being brave at all, I’m just doing a lot of reading, talking to a lot of medical personnel, and trying to make rational choices when presented with items on a list.

It’s something every male goes through, provided he lives long enough. Apparently I’ve lived long enough.

It won’t be fun. It won’t be exciting. It’s just a thing.

John Appel November 5, 2023 at 7:04 pm


B) I’m glad you are dealing with one of the more treatable forms, and am sending my spare good wishes your way for complication-free treatment and recovery.

C) Some friends who’ve had radiation treatment for other cancers have dealt with burns towards the end of their treatment cycles. I’ve no idea if this is an issue with your condition & treatment, but might be something to ask about.

Dirk Bergstrom November 5, 2023 at 11:58 pm

Well shit, that sounds like a whole lot of no fun at all. Please be well.

Perhaps you can make the experience more fun if you imagine the accelerator as an orbital-sized thing normally dedicated to making antimatter…

Ariel November 6, 2023 at 12:57 am

Walter, hopefully everything goes smoothly and much more for you in these coming weeks. You have a sweet, caring, and thoughtful attitude towards everyone around you even at this given time❤️

I have this quote, often in my mind, and especially nowadays – and I believe it’s contributed to you:

“I’m not afraid of werewolves or vampires or haunted hotels, I’m afraid of what real human beings do to other real human beings.”

Once again, another kind and caring quote. Thank you for that, and with it being said and done, I hope that you are doing okay even with everything going on.

Much love and well wishes,

– Ariel Loveall

Clyde November 6, 2023 at 5:56 am

Hang tough. 💪
I very selfishly want you to keep on writing books for a long time!


Steve Chesney November 6, 2023 at 7:44 am

“It’s a thing”. Speaking as someone who finished his 26 weeks this summer and still has the anti-testosterone drug working in his system, please be kind to yourself. I’m not sure if you are dealing with stolen valor or survivor’s guilt but, despite the generally optimistic prognoses of this kind of C word, it won’t leave you unmarked.
And at some point when you find out the high energy X Rays are essentially gamma rays – you will want to quote Bill Bixby. Don’t feel guilty about that, you can get angry. People will still like you when you’re angry.

mearsk November 6, 2023 at 11:56 am

My dad had prostate cancer. It showed in all four quadrants or something like that. He opted for surgery, and given the side effects since then, you probably made the right choice. I do hope everything works out for you.

John F. MacMichael November 6, 2023 at 3:45 pm

I wish you a quick and complete recovery. Good luck!

Jeff November 6, 2023 at 8:07 pm

Thank you for your courage and candor. As always, you write so clearly and calmly yet filled with emotion. I’ve only spoken to you as a fan at cons but you make everyone feel welcome and will have tons of support to draw upon as you see fit. Best wishes, Jeff.

Susan B November 6, 2023 at 8:15 pm

Well darn. Sorry to hear you have to go through this, but yeah, radiation is a pretty easy treatment considering the alternatives.

When I had radiation almost 6 years ago I bought and used a cream containing calendula to protect my skin and did notice a difference between the places where I applied the cream and places that I missed. The brand I found was Miaderm, but I suspect there are others.

Derek November 7, 2023 at 12:11 am

Walter, my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

John Shaw November 7, 2023 at 8:22 am

I had two prostate biopsies (they found nothing). I don’t know about the cancer end of it, but biopsies are no fun at all. Very sorry you had to go through that, mate.

Wes Johnson November 7, 2023 at 11:39 pm

Genuinely sad to hear this news, but I hope for a recovery that is without complications.

wjw November 8, 2023 at 12:28 am

Thank you for the kind wishes.

I’ve examined the full range of possibilities for what can happen with this treatment, but of course I don’t get to pick my own side effects. It’s possible I’ll sail through it; it’s possible there may be issues.

I’m sure I will feel whatever emotions are appropriate to my situation. I’m painfully close to hulking out even when I’m not sick, so anger is always a valid option for me.

As I said, I’m not doing anything courageous here, I’m just following the instructions in the manual. If I come out of this a different person, I’m open to it.

oded November 8, 2023 at 10:47 am

Writing from Israel:

Had Cancer myself a few years ago (lymphoma). it’s not a joyride but it can be beat. Everybody deals with the treatments differently: some try to sleep it off, others (like myself) immerse themself in work, some watch TV all day long etc.

The importent thing is not to give up.

Sending you my best wishes and prayers.


RNS November 10, 2023 at 9:57 am

Sorry to hear this. But hope the treatment goes well for you.

Bruce Perens November 10, 2023 at 8:14 pm

Hi Walter,

I have had three hematological cancers for about three decades, with observation but no treatment. I wake up feeling great every morning, at 66 years old, and it’s most likely something else is going to get me first. So it is indeed possible for some of us to live half a lifetime with cancer and other than the monthly blood work and the annual bone marrow biopsy (with an electric drill no less), and perhaps some complication to the painless heart attack and not-too-bad double bypass, I’ve hardly noticed the cancer. Post-bypass I feel like Superman.

I hope things go as easily for you.

Of course prostate would be nothing except for that important nerve.

James R. Strickland November 11, 2023 at 3:19 pm

Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Also: it’s good to live in the 21st century.
Also: better living through high energy physics!
Also: fuck cancer.


TechyList December 2, 2023 at 5:56 am

I’m so glad I found this blog post. I’m currently fighting cancer and it’s been really tough. Thank you for sharing your story.

Bruce Arthurs December 17, 2023 at 1:39 am

Yikes. I hadn’t checked in here lately, so this was news to me. Hope the treatments are effective, and side-and-aftereffects are minimal.

Having my own PSA levels checked regularly nowadays, something fairly mandatory at my age. (I’m into my seventies now; HOW IN HELL did that happen when I wasn’t looking?)

Jason Aronowitz January 2, 2024 at 10:37 pm

Also haven’t checked in recently. Best wishes for a full recovery or remission or whatever the appropriate term is.

My first comment here, but it can’t hurt for you to hear from yet another person that you are one of their favorite authors. And thank you for the Maijstral books (which I am re-reading now), something you do not hear nearly as often as you deserve.

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