The Power of Acceptance
Learning to accept my post-cancer impotence freed me to experience extraordinary intimacy, beyond anything I had even considered possible before cancer knocked on my door.
by Michael J. Russer
In October 2011, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Given that five other members of my immediate family have perished from various forms of cancer, I did not take this lightly. Despite the encouraging biopsy results that indicated a slow-growing, early-stage cancer, I chose to listen to my intuition and insisted that my doctors remove my prostate immediately. It’s a good thing they did because the post-surgery tissue studies showed that the cancer was extremely aggressive. So aggressive, in fact, that they had to do a follow-up of intensive daily radiation for seven weeks.
Because of surgery and these treatments, I was rendered clinically impotent. For many men, this is viewed as a fate worse than death. (I’ve actually had men tell me that.) I fought this reality with everything I had – especially considering I had just come out of a 26-year marriage, of which the last 11 years were celibate. A not uncommon outcome of many baby-boomer marriages.
So when I finally met my current life partner a year later, and it became clear we were going to be more than just friends, I was still determined to make things work like they used to, if you know what I mean.
My partner is a beautiful and conscious woman who had never been with a man affected by erectile dysfunction. Her adventurous spirit made her open to exploring what might be possible in the intimacy department. Neither of us really knew what it meant to delve into other ways of being intimate, but we were more than willing to find out.
We wanted to make our first intimate time together special. So I booked a night at a resort about a two-hour drive from where we live. Upon arrival, we were greeted with an incredible suite that had the biggest and highest four-poster bed I’ve ever seen, a stunning fireplace, and our own private natural hot springs tub on the adjoining deck. Our jaws were hanging in awe as we fully took in what awaited us.
The only problem was my excitement failed to show where it counted most.
I still hadn’t given up the notion of being able to “perform” for this wonderful woman. And to prove my commitment to that end, I brought the full complement of erectile aids money could buy. This included the highest recommended doses of Cialis and Muse, which is a very expensive (and potent) intraurethral suppository. And just in case everything else failed, I also brought a penis vacuum pump, which is supposed to work no matter what.
Keep in mind that when we first lay down together on that incredible bed, it had been over 12 years since I had experienced sex with anyone. To say I was excited is the world’s greatest understatement. The only problem was my excitement failed to show where it counted most. We spent about an hour of wonderful and gentle foreplay using all the pharmaceuticals at our disposal. However, despite all that, it was abundantly clear things just were not happening in the erection department.
By this time, little beads of sweat had started forming on my bald head, underscoring my growing performance anxiety. Still being the forever optimist, I said to her, “Sweetie, no problem. I brought the ‘failsafe’ – the vacuum pump. And it has to work because it’s based on physics!” This was spoken with a bit of bravado, more to mask my growing apprehension than to offer hope or encouragement in regards to our rapidly deteriorating chances of enjoying intercourse.
With renewed enthusiasm, I sat on the edge of the bed and started pumping for all I’m worth. After a minute or so, I’m starting to see and feel results! YES! That is, until I inadvertently sucked in my left testicle, at which point I doubled over in pain.
Once I stopped fighting and resisting what simply was, once I surrendered, I opened myself to worlds of experience and insights I had no idea even existed.
Now, sweat was pouring down my entire body, and my darkest fears seemed to come true as I sat there, shoulders hunched over in abject defeat and despair. All I heard was that voice in my head that said, “It’s over; it’s over before we even got started.”
Then, at my very lowest point, something profound and extraordinary happened. I finally, to the very core of my being, fully accepted my impotence and simply stopped fighting it.
I turned around and looked into her eyes and said in a very quiet voice, “I’m done. I’m done with all of this. Let’s just lie together and see what happens.” Well, what happened was we made love for at least four hours (with me being completely flaccid and not using any aids whatsoever). Then, the next morning, we made love for another two hours or so until it was time to head back home. What we experienced was so extraordinary that it is now the subject of numerous radio interviews, speeches, a TEDx talk, and a book for cancer survivors and their partners on how to achieve deep, fulfilling intimacy in the face of cancer.
Here’s what I discovered through this whole process. Accepting what is is really just surrendering to the possibility of transformation. Once I stopped fighting and resisting what simply was, once I surrendered, I opened myself to worlds of experience and insights I had no idea even existed. Including intimate experiences on all levels that far exceed what either of us had known or even considered possible before cancer knocked on my door.
In most cultures, surrender is usually equated with giving up, yielding to the power or control of another, allowing yourself to be dominated; essentially, it’s showing weakness. No wonder it has such a negative vibe, especially for men. It appears to be the very opposite of heroics, or efforts put forth by unstoppable individuals who eventually prevail no matter what the obstacles. We all love the hero and, at best, distance ourselves from the “loser,” the one who surrenders.
However, acceptance is the other side of the surrender coin. Acceptance can be far more empowering and transformative than even the greatest feats of heroics. Opening yourself up to this shift in how you look at and apply acceptance in your life can make a huge difference. This is especially true for those dealing with the challenges of cancer. It can be the difference between living a life based on fear and uncertainty and one that is full of self-expression and unimagined possibilities, regardless of circumstances.
In this context, it should be clear that my acceptance was anything but a sign of weakness. Without it, I would have remained a very frustrated, angry man, wondering how fate could have been so cruel. Through my acceptance, my partner and I now have an intimate life that is far beyond our wildest dreams.
Giving Up vs. Acceptance
There is a big distinction to be made between giving up and accepting what is. Giving up implies hopelessness, resignation, and a sense of powerlessness. Accepting what is is often the threshold to possibilities you can’t even imagine. This kind of acceptance reflects a much more empowering form of surrender. When you accept what is, you are no longer fighting the reality of the isness, which frees you up to explore, discover, and experience other wonders. Including those that may not even have been on your radar of what’s possible.
Culture imprints often make us believe that we must do whatever it takes to achieve a certain end, and that anything short of this is a failure, or defeat. I’m hoping that you now see this is not true. Cancer and its treatment will most certainly affect the circumstances of everyone who experiences it. However, we do have the power, through acceptance, to transform what at first seems to be an insurmountable tragedy into incredible triumphs. And, just perhaps, end up in a place that is better than where we were before diagnosis.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my journey so far. Within every challenge are the seeds of far greater possibilities. And the best things in life are not those we make happen, but are those that we allow to show up because we simply got out of the way.
Michael Russer (pictured above) is a fully impotent prostate cancer survivor and an international speaker, author, and thought leader in the field of advanced human sexuality, intimacy, and relationships. He and his life partner, Jacqueline Lopez, speak pro-bono to cancer survivors and their partners all over North America. They also consult the medical community on how to best communicate with cancer survivors about the disease’s impact on their intimacy. Their latest book, Return to Sex & Intimacy – For Cancer Survivors and Their Partners, is scheduled for release in March, 2017.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2017.
Everyone has a unique story to share. Do you want to share your survivor story? We consider a cancer survivor to be anyone living with a history of cancer – from diagnosis through the remainder of life.
Here are our submission guidelines.