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URO TODAY: The rate of increase in PSA level prior to prostate cancer surgery is an indicator of your long-term survival, research shows. READ MORE>

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My PC Adventure – PART 24:

Cliche is true – cancer makes you re-evaluate

April 13, 2010

A year ago, I lay in bed at home in the mornings and stared out the window at blue skies, wishing I could be under them.

I’m looking through a different sort of bedroom window as I write this – the window of the campervan, and we’re parked beside Orewa Beach, north of Auckland.

Pohutukawa boughs frame a view beyond green and straw-coloured kikuyu and marram grass, out to the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsular, Tiritiri Matangi Island and the hill tips of Great Barrier Island popping up into the horizon of the Hauraki Gulf.

OREWA SUNRISE: Portents of rain over Great Barrier Island.

It’s a year post-prostatectomy.

We’re on holiday for a few weeks, and this April there is the same Indian summer weather, but no catheter, no bright new scar slashing the lower abdomen, no need to hold back from coughing, laughing or leaping off the bed to go for a walk.

The only “slashing” these days is at the urinal, when the flow never fails to mimic that of  mythical 18-year-olds.

The year has passed with many highlights:

  • The birth of Oliver Thomas Tucker, first grandchild (thank you Megan and Kirk).
  • Two PSA undetectables.
  • A journalism graduation dinner I was actually able to attend last month (rather than imagine from the haze of anaesthetic recovery, as happened last year).
  • A return to fitness, following walks and a change of diet to reduce red meat.
  • A couple of months’ membership of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ.
  • Six months of blogging about prostate cancer, then “retirement” apart from occasional blogs. The site had 70,000 hits in the year, with about 20,000 people reading My PC Adventure.
  • Many kind messages from readers, who seem to appreciate the candour of my account.
  • Selling our house and buying a campervan, and so far several tours to beautiful parts of NZ.  We may never own another property, having fallen in love with being on the road.
  • Most important – the support of friends, colleagues and family.

YOUNG OLLIE: Me and Lin with Oliver Tucker - grandparenthood is such a bonus.

I’m now more aware than ever how widespread is the prostate cancer “epidemic”, and without compunction will ask every 40-plus male I meet  whether he gets himself tested.

An early stop on this current trip was at Palmerston North (the place John Cleese said made him suicidal) to visit my mate Lance, who is halfway through external beam radiation treatment for low grade prostate cancer. His prognosis is good.

I have one disappointment – lack of news about the NZ Parliament Health Select Committee inquiry into prostate cancer detection. It started with a hiss and a roar in September, but nothing has been heard so far this year.

My state of mind is rarely troubled by thoughts of whether or not I am “cured” of prostate cancer. It just doesn’t figure.

What scar?

However, now and again there are reminders. An acquaintance who had his prostatectomy a decade ago told me recently he was suddenly suffering peeing problems, apparently caused by scar tissue resulting from radiation he had all those years ago.

And just yesterday I had to sit down for a few minutes after feeling a bit dizzy. But that may have been an over-zealous intake of resveratrol (erm, pinot noir) the night before, and absolutely nothing to do with anything else. But you do wonder for a moment.

For those who are curious but too polite to ask, “functionality” is fine. Erection firmness is as good as ever, although the lost inch is still a little disconcerting.

Libido is normal – ie, it disappears with work stress and goes berserk during holidays.

Orgasms are just as enjoyable and intense as before, and a lot less messy, of course. No more careless maps of Asia on the bottom sheet.

The only bad in my life is stress from work. I continue the task of rebuilding Whitireia Journalism School into a half-decent hall of learning, but at times the workload is immense.

In February and March this year I found myself toiling seven days a week every week just to meet the demands of graduating 28 diploma students.

As I enter the last quarter of my life, I’m thinking seriously about how to avoid doing that for too much longer.

That’s one of the upsides of getting cancer: you take a hard look at your lifestyle.

And the view. There’s a couple of kite surfers out there on the sea. Our spell of 15 straight days without rain is about to end, by the look of the gathering nimbus and the feel of the breeze.

Bugger cancer – I’m off for a walk.  See you later.

READ the full story here: MY PC ADVENTURE

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NEW PROSTATE CANCER INFOLINK: How honest are we about our sexual function before and after prostate cancer treatment? It depends, as Mike Scott writes:

If you want to be able to understand how certain types of treatment for prostate cancer (and other diseases) affect sexual function, you need to be able to define and understand the sexual functionality of couples prior to any treatment as well as post-treatment.

However, this is not something that patients or their partners necessarily greet with enthusiasm! READ MORE>

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BUZZ MACHINE: Incontinence and impotence are two frightening words for a grown man, but they are the side-effects of removing the prostate and its cancer with it, writes US media blogger Jeff Jarvis in a blog he calls the “penis post”. READ MORE>

Worth the price, or at least that’s the calculation one makes beforehand: Cancer or erections? Cancer or dry underwear? Cancer loses.

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URO TODAY: A fracture-reducing drug called toremifene has a useful side effect when used on prostate cancer patients – it significantly reduces hot flushes caused by hormone therapy. READ MORE>

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catheter2

ME and my catheter.

PROSTABLOG NZ: More on catheters.

An English industrial design student called Sam Gough has been in touch to ask if he can use my account of having a catheter after surgery last March (see Comments).

Sam is researching medical equipment and is interested in the catheter.

If any of you have stories to tell about this indispensable – but seemingly at times devilish – piece of kit, please contact him at: samgough23@hotmail.com

I recounted a couple of negative anecdotes about catheters in last night’s blog, so perhaps I need to balance it with others that aren’t quite so downside.

One mate who went through radical prostatectomy a year before I did said it was a handy bit of gear: “You could go to the pub and just piss the beer straight through.”

He was surely joking, and it was probably just an attempt to allay my fears.

Another said: “Ah, the catheter…you’ll grow to love your catheter.” More irony, I guess.

Barry Young, president of the NZ Prostate Cancer Foundation told me that when he was recovering from surgery 10 years ago he had his catheter removed after a week or so, as you do, but then had recurring incidents of not being able to pee.

It would happen at the most inopportune times, so he had to learn to insert a catheter tube on himself.

Imagine that! After all, for some of us, the damned thing is put in place when we’re under anaesthetic, so we can only look and marvel later at how such a bloody big thick piece of tubing can be introduced to what you always imagine is a such narrow space.

Incidentally, Barry had the problem only temporarily. He has been fully recovered for 10 years, and probably – like all good boaties who suffer hell in a storm then quickly forget about it in the safe haven of harbour – now has trouble remembering the details. Maybe not.

The growing-to-love-your-catheter comment came back to haunt me straight after my surgery, when Bob Hale, the highly professional urology nurse at Wellington Hospital, came to see me in the recovery ward.

I made a gauche comment about “loving my catheter” and he looked at me sternly: “Having a catheter is one of the most uncomfortable experiences a man can have,” he said.

Bob turned out to be anything but stern. He was the one who took the tube out later and he did such a great job I felt no discomfort at all.

One more catheter anecdote: I have an old friend who, nearing 80, was admitted to Auckland Hospital with urinary problems and was discovered to have a very enlarged prostate. He had a catheter inserted for temporary relief and surgery was advised.

His response: no way. And he still has the catheter – a year later.

He truly loves his catheter.

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URO TODAY: Permanent brachytherapy implants sometimes have a detrimental effect on a patient’s bowel, so German researchers have been looking at whether side effects are any worse 30 days to a year after treatment. READ MORE>

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UNIVERSITY OF GOTHENBURG: Men who have prostate cancer often feel quite healthy, but the diagnosis still gives them a whole new outlook on life.

Once they have learned to live with their cancer, they choose to focus on valuable relationships and appreciate the little things in life, shows a dissertation thesis from the Sahlgrenska Academy. READ MORE>

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URO TODAY: Non-nerve sparing radical prostatectomy is more likely to lead to early development of venous leak, increased prevalence of venous leak, and reduction in return of natural erections. Nearly half the men in a study who had bilaterial nerve sparing surgery had recovered erectile function after 18 months. READ MORE>

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URO TODAY: Prostate cancer patients who wish to increase their odds of retaining sexual function might be counselled to choose external beam radiation therapy over cryoablation (freezing),  a new freezing suggests. READ MORE>

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