Peter Blaze Corcoran
June is National Men’s Health Month. This month’s patient profile emphasizes the importance of continuing to explore options for maintaining optimum health after diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.
Peter Blaze Corcoran concedes that there is never a good time to get a stage four cancer diagnosis, but he says his diagnosis came at a time in his life when he felt secure in managing it. It was 2015 and he was a university professor nearing retirement. He had insurance, a supportive employer, and access to excellent medical care. “It came at a time when I was mature enough, secure enough, and knowledgeable enough,” says Peter. “I felt quite stable in dealing with it.” It was prostate cancer, a particularly aggressive form that was not confined to the prostate. Treatment required a radical prostatectomy and several months of radiation. During treatment doctor’s discovered a second cancer, liposarcoma, but fortunately it is non-threatening to date.
During his treatment, Peter was able to continue working part time which he says helped with his recovery. “It was a bit of a life line being able to work during treatment,” he says. “Work is so central to one’s identity.” The diversion of work meant Peter was able to maintain his pre-diagnosis identity. “I was not a cancer patient, but a professor who was still writing and administering.” It was important to him to maintain that persona because his goal was to return to the classroom, finish his career, and to be able to “go out on top” rather than retire early due to cancer. “The goal was to get back in the classroom, to teach again, and do another book and be involved in the university,” he says. “Which I was blessed to do.”
Peter retired this year and while he does have some health difficulties as a result of his cancer and treatment, he now has no evidence of disease (NED). He also has some other lasting effects from his experience. “I think I’m on a different path than I would have been without the cancer,” he says. “Cancer is an effective teacher.” Peter says he hopes he has learned to be more compassionate, empathetic, and more humble, and that he has developed a deeper gratitude for life. Cancer has been a source of spiritual development for Peter and he says it has brought him into what he calls a sacred space. “A diagnosis this serious is a wake up call to deeper questions.” says Peter who used his experience as a means to address life’s bigger questions, including questions about his own mortality and about the amount of suffering in the world. He also tackled the “why me” and “will it come back” questions, and in the answers he found what he calls a turning point. “I wanted to craft a life that diminishes the chance for cancer to return,” he says.
To do that, Peter turned to the Commonweal Cancer Help Program (CCHP). The program is a week long retreat for cancer patients in Bolinas, California. Patients can attend the retreat at any stage of their illness, but must be under a doctor’s care and able to care for themselves during the remote retreat. Each retreat is open to 8 or 9 participants at a time and focuses on integrative healing techniques. Peter says treatments include music, art therapy, qi gong, individual and group therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, massage, exercise, and nutrition. “Commonweal helps you integrate treatments and the importance of good nutrition,” he says. Patients develop a practice of intentional healing and Peter says it is a great opportunity for insight into your own cancer. While the program is expensive, Peter says there is a scholarship program. “Many people who’ve been there have made it possible for others to go,” he says. While Peter recognizes that Commonweal’s broad-minded approach may not be in some people’s comfort zone, he says that one of the lessons he learned from having cancer was to say yes to all forms of healing. He says that he had the best of western medicine and he’s grateful for that, but that he continues to be open to a variety of modalities and methodologies that can help him. “What distinguishes Commonweal is that they have analyzed and studied all methodologies that have helped people,” he says. “I feel as though it’s really helped me make a turn for the better in my life.” Peter adds that the program empowers patients to care of themselves. “You set your intention,” he says. “The power comes from setting your intention.”
A career educator, Peter moves forward with the intention of teaching others the lessons he’s learned. He’s very thoughtful about what he wants to share and he emphasizes the importance of his faith community to him and how comforting it was to him to know that people were praying for him and his healing. “My faith community was extraordinarily important in my recovery,” he says and credits being open to the power of prayer in his healing process. Peter encourages others to be open to a variety of healing, too. “It’s good to say yes and stay open to all possible ways of healing whether it takes you out of your comfort zone or not,” he says. Another thing Peter says to say yes to is a buddy. “It’s important to have a cancer buddy,” he says. Find someone who has been through cancer and can give you advice and can help you through the process. He credits his cancer buddy for helping him to be open to the opportunities that cancer might bring. She told him that if anyone should ever mention the word cancer to him, he should stop and pay attention. “Listen for the opportunity to help others,” he says.
You can learn more about the Commonweal Cancer Help Program at commonweal.org.
Jennifer Lessinger is a professional writer and editor who learned the value of patient empowerment during her struggle with a hard-to-diagnose and complex endocrine disorder.