An old friend of mine told me today that his father has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. My friend is in his early forties, his father in his early seventies but very fit, healthy and sharp. He is one of those men who hasn’t really aged, whose vitality and spirit outshines greying hair and wrinkles. The prognosis is uncertain but he has opted to live with it – he has got to an age where ensuring quality of life for his remaining years is far more important than merely prolonging his lifespan.
It is a remarkably clear-sighted and rational decision and one that I hope I can make when I am in my seventies. Of course, there’s increasing evidence that active surveillance is an effective approach to prostate cancer (see here) but nonetheless, it’s still a tough call especially when taken within the larger context: that at the age of seventy, you are almost certainly going to die of something in the next 10 – 15 years (male life expectancy in Australia at the age of 65 being 84) and so you might as well not bother with treating some forms of cancer especially when the treatment is in itself will permanently reduce your quality of life. Having just seen another friend in her forties go through breast cancer treatment, I have a new appreciation of what that means.