I knew getting prostate cancer at 48 would change me. I had no idea how much
For the past year, Mark Shanahan has been working on “Mr. 80 Percent,” a feature story and six-episode podcast miniseries about his experience with prostate cancer. It’s a deeply personal, sometimes harrowing, often funny tale about a disease that affects millions of men. The heroes are his doctors and family, who put up with some appalling behavior. You’ll hear from all of them.
That old feeling
When Mark comes out the other side, he’s decidedly not the man he used to be. But he has dodged the two outcomes he feared most: death and life without sex. Post-treatment, Mark reaches an uneasy peace with his status as a cancer survivor — relieved, but dreading the prospect of the cancer’s return.
episode 1Twelve Uneasy PiecesI’m 48 and married with two young kids. I’m an entertainment writer for The Boston Globe, which means I drink a lot of mediocre chardonnay at parties and track Matt and Ben’s every move. All in all, life’s pretty good. Until it isn’t. According to my primary care doctor, my PSA is high, and a high PSA can mean prostate cancer. Hold on, I think. Isn’t that something old men get? Yes, but not just old men. I discover that prostate cancer is extraordinarily common. Nearly 200,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with it every year, and 30,000 die from it. Still, like most guys, I know nothing about the prostate or prostate cancer. That’s about to change.
episode 2Chasing HutchMy wife, Michelle, and I met as students at Bates College. In other words, we’ve been together for an eternity. After the children arrive, as often happens in marriages, sex becomes perfunctory and much less frequent. But then, unbeknownst to me, Michelle begins devouring romance novels - books featuring hunky heroes with names like “Hutch” - and that proves to be the antidote to a lackluster sex life. Then boom! I’m facing treatment for prostate cancer, and the potential side effects on my sexual function range from bad to catastrophic.
Episode 3Hands of GodUntil the early 1980s, every man who had his prostate surgically removed was impotent afterward. You heard me: 100 percent of men who got a radical prostatectomy - the procedure I’m contemplating - couldn’t get an erection afterward. For generations, the treatment for prostate cancer was worse than the disease. A lot of men died on the operating table. Along came “the Michelangelo of prostate surgery,” Dr. Patrick Walsh, who pioneered a procedure that saved the sex lives of countless men. Would it save mine?
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Episode 4Our Prostates, OurselvesMy story is not unique. Indeed, prostate cancer is so common that doctors like to say men either die with it or from it. Age and family history are significant risk factors, but so is race. Shockingly, Black men are 76 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men, and twice as likely to die from it. One reason you don’t know this is because men don’t talk about prostate cancer. In this episode, we meet a couple of guys who’ve been treated for prostate cancer and, now, make it their mission to raise awareness about the disease.
Episode 5: The ManopauseAre you aware that testosterone is the food that fuels prostate cancer’s growth? I wasn’t either. What happens if you remove all of the testosterone from a man’s body? I find out the hard way. With a shot of a testosterone blocker in my backside, I’m temporarily castrated. Hello, manopause. My libido vanishes; I endure unbearable hot flashes; and what doctors euphemistically call “mood swings” are actually volcanic eruptions that freak out my family and alienate my friends.
Episode 6That Old FeelingComing out the other side, I’m decidedly not the man I used to be. But I’ve dodged the two outcomes I feared most: death and life without sex. Post-treatment, I reaches an uneasy peace with my status as a cancer survivor — relieved, but dreading the prospect of the cancer’s return.
• Writer and podcast host: Mark Shanahan
• Writer and senior podcast producer: Kelly Horan
• Executive producer: Scott Helman
• Story editor: Francis Storrs
• Design and development: Heather Ciras, Ryan Huddle, and Greg Klee
• Copy editing: Stacey Myers and Carrie Simonelli
• Photography: Aram Boghosian
• Audience engagement: Devin Smith and Jenna Cirbo
• Marketing & creative: Mike Begay and Erin Maghran
meet the family
Mark, Michelle, Julia and Beckett