It really is amazing what you can be grateful for, when you have the right perspective. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer four weeks ago today. But the disease has not spread beyond the gland itself. That’s the wonderful news I got this morning, after four long, anguished weeks of waiting. And gloriously grateful am I to receive it!
With a PSA level of 9.5 and a high Gleason score of 9, I had pretty much convinced myself that my cancer was bound to have spread throughout my body, with the attendant impact on my chances of recovery.
The nurses had given me an unofficial heads up that the MRI and bone scan results looked good. But the results had yet to be reviewed by the medical team and there was always the risk that they would spot something untoward.
This morning my mind was put at ease in the Rapid Access Prostate Clinic. If I won the Lottery it couldn’t top the feeling I have now and my prospect for a full recovery is now far better than I dared hope when I was diagnosed four weeks ago.
Of course, once you are diagnosed with cancer, you are never completely out of the woods and there is always a chance that it could rear its ugly head elsewhere in my body, at any time in the future. But I could also be hit by a bus before that happens. So life goes on regardless and the spring in my step that eluded me on D-Day has finally materialised. In a peculiar way, being diagnosed with cancer has given me a new lease of life.
I also, finally, have a date for the surgery to remove my cancerous prostate gland (and a few other bits and pieces) – I go under the knife on Thursday 27th October. The tumour in my prostate measures 1cm x 1.9cm. Given that a prostate gland is about the size of a walnut, that seems quite large, not that it will bother me after the 27th. While the surgeon is in there, he’s going to remove lymph nodes in the pelvic area, as there is a chance that cancer can spread to these. So the surgeon’s instructions on the day will be “if in doubt, whip it out”!
Apparently, the consequences of losing my prostate gland may not be as severe or as long lasting as I had feared. I will certainly have to cope with some urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction following surgery. But the extent of these side effects varies greatly from one patient to another. I could be back to my old self within weeks or it could take a year or more. There is no way of knowing at this point.
Urinary incontinence may not be quite as bad as I’d feared. I had thought I would have no control whatsoever, pissing myself all the time – not cool! However it is, apparently, likely to be only when there is pressure on the bladder, such as when standing up from a seated position or bending over, stuff like that. The silver lining is that it gets me out of many of the household chores I hate.
Urinary control is based on two sphincter muscles: one behind the prostate and one in front. I will lose the rear one in the surgery but it’s the front sphincter that matters most. I can prepare for this over the next couple of weeks by stopping a slash in mid-stream. It’s not the most edifying of exercises but hardly the most arduous either. So I can live with it (“live” being the operative word).
I’ll be wearing a catheter for two or three weeks after surgery and it is when this is removed that I’ll know what I have to deal with. I’ll be wearing ‘pads’ (an awful word) to soak up the (hopefully) odd dribble for a while. I have only discussed this with one other prostate cancer patient so far and he was still having problems since his surgery in January. I’ll be talking to many more before my date with the scalpel. So hopefully I’ll learn of others who have had a better experience. Either way, it’s inconvenient but not the end of the world, all things considered.
Of course, the second major side effect of radical prostatectomy is erectile dysfunction (ED). Similarly, this may not be as long lasting as I’d first feared. There is no real pattern in the experiences of previous patients. So, again, it’s a case of ‘wait and see’ (the traditional ‘suck it and see’ seems hardly appropriate, under the circumstances). The Lovely Colette (TLC) can be assured of undisturbed nights sleep for quite some time following the surgery. It can take weeks, months or years before normal service is resumed, if at all. There is hope though.
One option is to take a quarter of a Viagra tablet six out of seven days. This does not mean I’ll be walking around with a stiffy all the time (sorry ladies!). To achieve the desired state, a full tablet at the weekend should do the trick.
Funnily enough, it is important to achieve erections in the first year following surgery, if only chemically induced. If this doesn’t happen, the tissues involved effectively form a kind of scar tissue that reduces the probability of being able to get it up naturally.
There is also the option of using an injection into the base of the penis, which would definitely perk Horace up (‘Horace’ is how TLC and I affectionately address my cock). The thought of sticking a needle into Horace seems kind of cruel. But if tough love is what he needs that’s what he’ll get – and he’ll bloody well like it!
Overall, today has been one of the best days of my life. The cliché that “today is the first day of the rest of your life” takes on renewed meaning after you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. So many clichés like “life’s too short” and “don’t sweat the small stuff” assume new meaning that you had previously taken for grated.
When you are faced with the cold, up close and personal prospect of imminent death you undergo a life-changing transformation that is utterly irreversible. Having being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition is not necessarily the end.
Blessed as I am with the beautiful family, friends and colleagues I have, I now realise what a lucky lucky bastard I am!