After Effects

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on the after effects of Prostate Surgery.

A personal Story

I remember very distinctly the day my doctor called and left a voicemail to call him back as soon as possible. I had just turned 51 and was feeling extremely good for my advancing age . Every year, near my birthday, I would get my annual physical. The physical went well, and they took the standard blood tests. I had no reason to suspect that anything was wrong.

I was in my car when I called the doctor, expecting to be told that my cholesterol was too high … it had always been in the 220 range. (It is below 100 now—but that’s another story that I will share with anyone who wants the information.) I was more than a little shocked when he said my PSA test results had gone from 3.2 the previous year to 7.7. I had very little idea what a PSA test even measured, let alone what a 7.7 score meant. He said it had to do with my prostate and could indicate an infection or something more serious like cancer. Like most men, I knew very little about the prostate.

I was healthy: never smoked, didn’t drink, was not overweight, and had no known history of prostate cancer in my family, so it was probably just some kind of infection, I thought. However, I am naturally curious when it comes to my health, so I began to research prostate problems. After searching the net for several weeks, I knew more than I ever wanted to know about my prostate. However, much of the information was confusing if not contradictory. I asked friends what they knew, but that was an exercise in futility. The most important thing I learned was that if the worst came true, and I had cancer, it was not a death sentence.

From my research, I concluded that since I was an avid bicycle rider, the seat pressing on the prostate could have caused the increased numbers. Therefore, I decided I would stop riding for a few months and find some supplements designed to improve prostate health. The good news was that after several months, my numbers did in fact come back down below 4.0, which is the upper limit for a healthy PSA test. Nonetheless, the doctor said that while the total number came down, another indicator (PSA Free) had also declined. He told me that anything below 24 was a concerning level for PSA Free. My original number was 11 and for the second test it went down to 9. He recommended I see a urologist.

I went to several urologists before I found one I liked. The first one was cocky and resented that I brought my wife with me to talk to him. He suggested a prostate biopsy. Uck! A prostate biopsy involves a dart gun like device being placed inside one’s rectum. Then a metal rod similar to a darning needle, with a hook on the end, is shot through the rectal wall to rip out 6 to 12 quarter inch pieces of an organ the size of a walnut (when not enlarged). For some reason, this didn’t seem like a pleasant test to me. As a result, I continued to do research until I was convinced that there was no other way. Finally, I gave in. The test pretty much met my expectations—which I won’t describe further, but it didn’t take long and wasn’t as painful as I had anticipated.

By the time the doctor called me with the test results, I had concluded that I did in fact have prostate cancer. I always figured if you expect the worst in situations like this, you won’t be disappointed when the worst does happen. I wasn’t disappointed. It was cancer and my numbers were average on the Gleason scale. When I relayed the news to my wife, she correctly said, “Well, that’s what you expected.”

I know this will sound strange, but the news did not depress me or make me ask, “Why me?” I approached the problem as I would any business issue, with logic and as little emotion as possible. Again, I knew that prostate cancer grows very slowly and even after the discovery, there was still only a small chance that I would die from it. I investigated surgery, seed implants, and also “watchful waiting”. I have always believed that the best treatment for cancer is to cut it out. My mother and father both died of cancer, but it was discovered too late to operate. When I asked the doctor who specialized in seed implants what he would do if he had prostate cancer at my age, and his answer was surgery, I was convinced.

In May of 1999, I went into Johns Hopkins Hospital and had a radical prostatectomy. Because I believe in being prepared, prior to surgery I had treatments from an acupuncturist and counseling sessions with a psychotherapist. The acupuncture was to reduce the size of the tumor, if possible, and the therapist was to prepare me mentally for the surgery and recovery. I can never be sure if the acupuncture helped, but the therapy was incredible. I learned meditation and visualization in order to develop positive images. I saw myself in the hospital, in surgery, with everything going as planned and then a quick recovery. During surgery I took a CD player with my meditation music into the operating room to keep from hearing the doctors’ conversation (I was awake during most of the surgery). Then I used the CD player and meditation techniques while I was in the hospital for my three-day stay to “zone-out” from the ruckus that occurs in a typical hospital, and to make the time go by faster.

The end result of the surgery was that the doctor said he believed he had gotten all the cancer. Amazingly, I was in little or no pain after surgery and stopped pain medication before I left the hospital. Three weeks later, much to the doctor’s and insurance company’s chagrin, I was back to work part-time. One week after that, I was back to work on a full-time basis. (For the golfers out there, I was told I couldn’t play for six weeks. The wait almost killed me, but I was standing on the tee ready to play on the last day of the six-week period—and I played darn good.)

Although surgery worked for me, I am not necessarily recommending surgery for prostate cancer. I know many men who are very happy with seed implants. It is an individual choice, and I think every man has to make up his own mind. I do not believe there is a right or wrong treatment; it has more to do with the comfort level of the individual. Each treatment has advantages and disadvantages. What I would warn every man is not to believe the hype given by doctors and hospitals about how successful they are in preventing impotency and incontinence. Regardless of what we want to think, medicine is a business and the doctors and hospitals compete for patients. The hospital with the best statistics for cure, potency, and continence gets the most patients. Therefore, there is an incentive to interpret the statistics on successful surgeries in a favorable light. Specifically, you owe it to yourself to ask the doctor how they define potency and continence. It might not be the way you (or anyone else in this world) define it.

Another warning I would share is that many well-meaning people want you to feel sorry for yourself, because they feel sorry for you. Friends and others close to me, as well as doctors, said, “I suppose you are asking, why me?” or they said, “It is okay to cry and feel sorry for yourself.” To the first question I answered, “Why not me?” There are medical problems far worse than prostate cancer in my opinion. In response to the statement about self-pity, I said simply, “What do I have to cry about? I’m not going to die … at least not from prostate cancer.”

I would be more than happy to correspond with men about my experiences (or their wives, girlfriends, daughters, or sisters—since they are often the ones willing to discuss prostate cancer).

What can all this teach a person you might ask? Well, for me, surviving Vietnam many years ago made me realize that every day is a gift … and there are no guarantees for tomorrow. Since I survived Vietnam and returned without physical scars, every day has been a bonus to me. There are over 58,000 men listed on the Wall in Washington D.C. who never saw a tomorrow. Developing prostate cancer only reaffirms my belief that you must live everyday as if it was your last …be positive about the future, but enjoy today. There are a number of things I want to do before I am no longer dancing on this earth.

Not long ago, I read about a survey that asked people over 75 years old what they regretted in their lives. Surprisingly, there was little regret about things they had done. The regret was about the things they didn’t do. Like many people, I was putting off many of the things I wanted to do until I reached retirement (60 for me) and had “free” time. Prostate cancer convinced me not to wait. First of all, I re-dedicated myself to my family and my job … my credo is work hard but enjoy as much free time with my family and friends as possible. I also decided that I would enjoy life every single day. I bought that house in Florida that I had been putting off (for someplace to go when it is too cold to play golf in Maryland). I started a number of hobbies I had an interest in: photography, travel, target shooting, and writing a book, to name a few. Now, more than ever, there are not enough hours in the day.

“Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt. Sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth.” Mark Twain

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” Carl Sandburg

“Yesterday is a dream, tomorrow but a vision. But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore to this day.” - Sanskrit Proverb

© 2006, Russell G. Johnson,

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