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Posts Tagged ‘Rodney Studd’

PART 21 of My PC Adventure – see full story HERE>

The headline for this – the penultimate chapter of my prostate story – isn’t what it seems.

SunsetIt’s not a goodbye, nor a resignation to impending death, nor a signal I’m giving in to the vicissitudes of age.

It’s a metaphor, of course, drawn from a famous NZ play by that name ( The End of the Golden Weather  by Bruce Mason ) which spoke to my boyhood of  “…the eternal optimism of the child and the harsh certainty of age…”

To quote one tribute to Mason’s 1959 work:

“Golden Weather tells the story of the loss of innocence and of human fallibility…”

The end of my golden weather refers, in part, to the “official”  finish of my recovery from the surgery that took out the prostate cancer, a two-month idyll during which I’ve researched and written about prostate cancer in this forum, which began as a personal blog and has grown to a website with a following around the world.

(That’s one reason, incidentally, why I have explained “end of the golden weather” – now two of five visitors to this site are from the US. The proportion of Kiwi readers is about one in three).

In this case, “end of the golden weather” also has a literal meaning, since my time at home has been blessed with a remarkable (for Wellington) patch of fine, still weather, an “Indian summer“.

In the last few days, winter has roared in from the Antarctic, bringing snow to the South Island and to hills around Wellington.

Rain hits the windows on the southerly side of the house as I write this, and I know the days of teeshirts and sunhats are over for a while.

Tomorrow, I return to work. Truly, the end of the golden weather, but in fact something well overdue if I am to feel fully restored.

Which is what I want to write about: how do I feel about what’s happened (that classically banal and inappropriate journalistic question)?

Perhaps I should begin with what I don’t feel.

I don’t feel old. At 62, the body and mind are in the kind of shape my parents’ generation, the Depression and war-shaped cohort, associated with their 40s. My mindset accords with that silly epithet, “60 is the new 40”.

I am getting old, of course, but cancer has had no obvious role in that gradual process.

It didn’t turn my beard white, steal the hair from the top of my head, slow up my legs in social soccer games, nor account for loss of memory for people’s names after we’ve just been introduced, nor the keeping to speed limits, and restricting of booze intake to a Heinie a day, and the working day hours to no more than a dozen.

All those things have been creeping up since I was 30.

I don’t feel debilitated. I’m back to the fitness I enjoyed prior to the operation in March, easily able to walk briskly over my personal training challenge, Wellington’s Mt Victoria.

These pictures show the 151 steps I climb on the route to the top, and a view from that top after my first post-surgery ascent, about six weeks after the operation:

MtVic 1

MtVic 2

As I rather over-excitedly reported in an earlier chapter, my urinal turn-around time is reduced to that of a youngster.

I have no major problems with incontinence – just a little drip of a leak sometimes when I’m tired and forget to brace the pelvic muscle when I laugh or cough.

And the big one – suffice to say, that’s not a problem either, without the use of Cialis or the dreaded injections. Bang goes my excuse to browse in the adult shops for a cheap pump.

I don’t feel apprehensive. I’ve got cancer, but we got it early, it would seem, and it was slow-growing – Gleason grade 6 (I’m now thinking it was there for years before my GP, bless him, encountered it with his digit).

It hadn’t migrated out of the prostate, and prior to the operation my PSA was a mere .77.

I’m a little less sanguine about the “let’s cut the bastard out and be done with it” mindset I had early on, because research tells me there’s never any guarantee that something microscopic didn’t escape into my system during the op, or even during the biopsy. Highly unlikely…but possible.

I expect when my PSA is tested in August I’ll show the required nil level, but I’ve also read data which shows it might rise again after a couple of years. I need to show nil PSA for a decade before I can possible say I’m cured.

But something has changed. Ever so subtly.

It can only be described as an odd sense of betrayal. My body – until now more or less organically sound – has finally let me down in a most shocking way.

Okay, I’ve had marginally elevated cholesterol since 1991, but there is still medical disagreement about what that actually means. And I take a light dosage of blood pressure medication for something that runs in the family.

Neither of these has felt anything other than a mild indication of getting through the years towards maturity.

But cancer! That’s systems failure. That’s involved the first major invasion of my body, leaving a scar (physical and mental), and thoughts – which will no doubt recede – of organic deterioration, of a hurrying of the first steps towards the grave.

Sound morbid?

It does, doesn’t it, but actually it’s not something I’m dwelling on in a neurotic way. It emerges merely as one of the more philosophical after-effects of a mortal event, a reminder that, yes, there is death at the end of the journey, and there’s no way to dodge it.

It doesn’t affect my optimistic view of life in the slightest.

I come from a line of long-livers. My great grand-father died in his baker’s shop in London at the age of 99. My grandfather lived to 84, and my father convinced himself he would go at the same age, so did. On my mother’s side (she lived to 80), there was grandma lasting till 94 and grandfather going to 86. We don’t pop off early in my family.

Age expectation is a tricky calculation, incidentally. One of the interesting things in Michael Dattoli’s new prostate cancer book (reviewed recently on this blogsite) is a reminder that average longevity calculated at birth (about 78 for male Kiwis) is way shorter than that enjoyed by someone at 60 and beyond.

This chart from the Dattoli book shows what I mean:

AgeData

This is important in the debate about population-based prostate screening. One of the arguments against it (and against surgical treatment after about 75) is the thesis that because many tumours are slow-growing, something else will getya before the prostate.

As age expectation rises significantly once you’ve reached 60 (compared with what you started out with, when accidents and other factors are probably much more influential), so presumably does the point at which “watchful waiting” should apply.

My life expectation in terms of surviving prostate cancer is also being extended as we speak by the massive effort by scientists and doctors – in the US especially – to achieve breakthroughs in testing, diagnosis and treatment.

Any time soon they’re going to find a quick, non-invasive method of helping the medics know how bad the cancer is and how (or if) it should be treated.

This is undoubtedly an effect of the great surge into old age of my generation, the baby boomers, with our more positive attitude to aging and our demands (and wherewithal to pay) for better medical options.

So. How am I feeling?

Bloody good, bloody lucky, bloody optimistic.

Even so, I will be taking a few precautions.

The number of red meat meals will be dropped from four or five a week to one or two, the already fat-free diet will be applied even more rigorously, the brisk walks will be taken even more regularly, stress at work will be avoided (hah!), sunsets and scenery will be noted more diligently, the regular evening hit of red wine will be replaced with pomegranate juice (which looks exactly the same in a wine glass and, amazingly, tastes like a slightly sweet version of a Central Otago pinot noir)…but the single daily can of that nectar of life, the Heineken (no, they’re not paying me a cent), will continue.

This weekend we had a pleasant visit from my journalist colleague, Barry Young, who also happens to be president of the NZ Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Barry is 10 years free of prostate cancer after his prostatectomy, his PSA is nil, he can enjoy a good glass or three of red wine, and he tucked into seconds of lamb shanks (grown on the open fields of the Canterbury Plains, no doubt).

I’d be tempted to say us journos have an extra gene that bodes well when we get prostate cancer, but I know that’s not true (witness the death of the legendary Frank Haden a couple of years ago).

But our sense of outrage might help. It comes from our journalism-driven suspicion that there are people in positions of medical power who – with their dogmatic opposition to the promotion of prostate testing – are deciding the fate of a lot of men in this country.

This comment in no way applies to the medics who have treated me – surgeon Rodney Studd and the team at Wellington Hospital, Bob Hale at the urology department, the nurse-manager of the rehab clinic, and to GP Rob McIlroy.

Thanks to them, I feel confident of a long life. I don’t care about speaking too soon – I’m just not suspicious about tempting fate.

NEXT (some time away): PSA – wherefore art thou?

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PART 15 of My PC Adventure (read full story HERE> )

“It’s good news…” the surgeon begins.

After that, his words are a blur.

When you’re a cancer patient and you’re taking a phone call from the doctor about your test results, you’re not really going to hear much beyond that wonderful opening line.

It’s a Monday morning, 12 days after my radical prostatectomy, and surgeon Rodney Studd is relaying details of the lab analysis of the cancerous prostate he’s removed:

  • The cancerous cells weren’t near the margins of the organ (which meant they weren’t touching anything else and thereby spreading);
  • They were non-aggressive – a lowly 6/10 on the Gleason scale.

That’s two out of three, he says. Good news, indeed.

Erm…the third thing?

Ah yes, the PSA blood test I need to have a few months after the operation when there has been time for everything to settle down.

If that shows negative, I’m good to go (although I will need to be monitored in future to make sure nothing in there is changing).

It’s time to celebrate, even though his call follows a tense weekend as the after effects of my little accident the previous Friday begin to subside.

Blood and clots cleared quite quickly and my urine is clear again, but it’s hard to rid my head of the thought I’ve done some permanent damage.

Rod’s call certainly helps. I need to spread the news.

Lots of phone calls and text messages later, I’m exhausted and sleeping. When Lin gets in from work with a bottle of Bollinger, I can manage half a glass before dozing off. Some party.

The week plays out anxiously.

By Wednesday, blood drops have returned to the urine. However, it’s oldish looking blood and it’s watery, so perhaps my system is just clearing itself out. Lin consults Dr Google, who tells her this is a natural occurrence.

I want to call someone, but it’s Easter.

I try to get myself moving about more. My first proper walk is all of 100 metres down to the bus stop and back, and it goes okay, duck-shuffle though it is.

Next day I go up the street to the other bus stop, twice the distance away, and in my enthusiasm start to walk quite quickly, forgetting I’m supposedly an invalid.

Then I hang out the washing. I sit at the computer and hammer out a blog. The bleeding gets a bit worse.

Have I overdone it? Hell, I wish I knew.

blood3On Tuesday, I shoot an email off to Rod with a still picture attached showing the colour of my urine.

I leave a message for Wellington Hospital urology nurse Bob Hale.

Bob gets back first. No problem. It’ll happen for a while. Don’t worry.

Rod emails back and says the same thing, and compliments me on the strong urine flow in the picture, which he says I must have taken one-handed.

I relax a bit. As they predicted, the blood gradually disappears, and is gone altogether by the weekend.

scar-after-18-daysAfter 18 days, my scar has healed beautifully and the only sensitivity I have is from the gens, which are still slightly swollen.

I use a horseshoe pillow on the computer seat to give a bit of clearance.

Then another problem arises – the dreaded incontinence.

So far, this hadn’t been an issue. But, mysteriously, when the blood disappeared, I suddenly found I was having trouble holding it back whenever I climbed up from the sofa or a chair or out of bed.

Right – get back to the pelvic floor exercises, which I hadn’t been able to do for a while because of the raw feeling in my groin.

The feelings of leaking slightly last just a few days. Then, everything seems to be back under control.

I sleep six or seven hours without having to get up to pee. This is helped by taking my blood pressure pill – a diuretic (piss-inducing) – in the mornings.

I try my first can of Heineken. Nectar. But just one a night.

The walks get longer.

The autumn weather has been superb for Wellington, calm, sunny, warm, perfect for perambulations around the block. I shed the slippers for proper shoes. I’m even trying hills (small ones – Mt Vic will have to wait).

I wish we had a dog. I feel like an old perv on the prowl. I start carrying my camera on my shoulder, which at least makes me think I’m walking slowly with obvious purpose.

Here’s one of the results – a beautiful day down at nearby Evans Bay. It’s nice to have time to look at things properly.evans-bay-12

I’m on the mend. For sure.

NEXT: Sorting out the other thing.

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PART 11 of My PC Adventure (read full story HERE)

THERE’S nothing like your own bed.

We’ve all said that. I kept saying it and saying it as I settled very slowly onto the king-size and took in the surrounds. Ahhh…

There was only one thing missing – a control panel to set the bed at any angle you like, a device that became a favourite toy during my brief time in the surgical ward at Wellington hospital. But you can’t have everything.

mccavitypainting1What I had instead was loving care from Lin, real food, McCavity the cat (pictured), a night shirt, HD TV to watch the cricket, radio to listen to RadioNZ National, a bottle of lime juice, remote controls, a toilet just down the hall, sun coming in through the window, a view of blue sky and rooftops, concerned neighbours, books, phones, a stash of fruit and an array of lollies (jet planes, 72% chocolate, liquorice, pine-apple lumps), enough painkillers to start a drug lab, well-wisher cards and flowers, the electric toothbrush, the bedside magnifying light…and, of course, some additional plumbing strapped to the side of my leg.

How did I get to this paradise?

Let’s step back a few hours on that notable Friday, the day I came home, just a couple of days after the radical prostatectomy operation that would change my life (and hopefully prolong it).

The morning began strangely in the ward. About 6.30am, after hours of little abatement in the circus – beepers beeping, buzzers buzzing, nurses poring over charts and administering, codgers trudging to the loo – everything suddenly changes.

The staff seem to vanish. This is probably entirely inappropriate as a simile, but it was like a concentration camp as the Russians approached – the guards melted away, and the inmates suddenly felt very alone.

The only person left to cope with the cacophony of beeping and buzzing is an elderly aid, who is preoccupied with cleaning up the mess from Mr PI’s “sit”.

Mr Seaman is half dressed and confused. His operation has been cancelled (all that finger-pricking for nothing). Mr PI is back to “hallo, hallo…” after his unfortunate experience with the buzzer. Mr Newcomer lies and listens to his radio and remains aloof.

Nobody answers the buzzers.

This goes on for about half an hour, then just as suddenly we’re “staffed” again, with a new shift of nurses frantically boning up on who’s in, what meds they need, what tests, and so on.

Mr PI is whisked away to the shower by a young Polynesian male nurse, who deals with him politely but firmly.

Mr Aloof has a visit from God, who tells him his operation is postponed.

As for me, well the phalanx is back, swooping in without warning, and we’re discussing my home-going. “Has he had a bowel motion?” asks Phalanx Leader, this apparently being one of the rules for freedom.

billy_connolly_brentwood3For some reason, I feel jocularity is required, so blurt out Billy Connolly’s line: “Never trust a fart.” Everyone looks blank (unsurprisingly). I’m trying to indicate that a movement is imminent, trust me, but the point is lost. We all let it pass (the remark).

I’m prescribed laxatives, which will replace the delicious kiwifruit concentrate that has been administered up till then to “keep things loose. We don’t want you straining…”

I’m introduced to one of the team, Bob Hale, the senior urology nurse, who will be providing catheter and post-operative care. Another mistake on my part: I relate my friend’s remark about everyone growing to love their catheter.

Bob is stern: having a catheter is one of the most uncomfortable (or a word to that effect)  experiences a man can have, he says unsmilingly.

They move on, and I’m left to assume I can escape. I announce this to a nurse, who says fine, but I need to fill out some forms. That will take forever, so why don’t I get dressed and head down to the lounge. He’ll get the discharge papers mailed out to me.

Surgeon Rod appears, togged up in white gummies and dark blue overalls (he must be operating again today) and asks how I’m going. I’m good. No pain, and the catheter bag is starting to run Chardonnay.

Did he get it all? “I think so.” The lab analysis will tell, and he’ll have that in a week or so. He asks me to cough gently while he feels for the hernia, and it seems fine. “I’ll give you a call when I’ve got the results,” and he’s gone.

He thinks so…hmmm.

The nurse comes back to remove the drip valve from the back of my hand.

Lin arrives and we get me dressed. We’re off out of here, me waddling at pensioner pace and feeling strangely disoriented, woozy, frightened, hopeful.

Sitting in the lounge, we wait for a while, visited a couple of times by the nurse, who explains why the ward emptied out earlier: there was a major emergency in another section and everyone went to have a look. Oh well, it’s a teaching hospital, and people have gotta learn.

The handsome young Asian doc comes past and wishes me well. Surely, Shortland Street will snap him up before long.

catheter-drawingBob arrives with meticulous advice and my catheter take-home pack. He says the catheter will be in until the following Wednesday, when I need to come and see him at the urology clinic. They’re in the middle of moving into the new hospital, so he’ll need to let me know if they’re ready that day. He’ll be removing the catheter and advising me on after-op care.

I totter down to the main entrance, feeling vulnerable and weak, and lean against a railing in the door airlock while Lin gets the car. The short drive home is dominated by pothole avoidance.

At home, I change into a nightshirt and collapse, slowly, into bed. And doze…

NEXT: Learning to love my catheter – not.

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Part 7 of My PC Adventure (click HERE to read the full story so far)

AT precisely 4.15pm on Tuesday, March 24, 2009, I made what seemed the most important phone call of my 62 years – to the hospital to see if I would go under the knife the next day.

“Yes, Mr Tucker,” said a cheery voice. “You’re number one on the list.” Report in at 7am. Don’t eat or drink after midnight.

Bloody hell. It’s on.

Right. Turn to colleagues and tell them…call to Lin to tell her…call to the boss…email to students to say I won’t be joining them at graduation on Thursday… quick video performance to say thanks to people for their support for the journalism course over the past year, something that will be played at the grad dinner…call to my brother…call to my son…text to a few other people and family…tidy the desk…last briefing to colleagues about the grad dinner Powerpoint show I’ve been putting together…install “out of office” assistant on my work email…and so on.

Get home to find something odd in the mail – a request (from the nurse who sent me to the “red seats” after the pre-assessment clinic to get my blood test)  requesting me to get my blood and urine tests done urgently.  A hand-written note says if I’ve already done this, please ignore.

That gives cause for last minute panic: they’ve lost my tests. The op will be cancelled. It’s after 6pm, so there’s nobody to call. Oh well, let’s see what happens in the morning.

My op is to be in the morning, so I can eat and drink until midnight. But I decide I’ve had my last Heineken the day before, so it’s an alcohol-free last supper.

There’s Coronation Street for distraction. And packing a small bag.

Early to bed. The alarm is set for 5.30am, though goodness knows why, since I can’t have any breakfast.

It’s dark, clear, cool next morning. It feels like getting up early to catch the Qantas flight to Melbourne as we drive 10 minutes to the hospital.

Several nervous couples are there, like us, to see one of their number off to heaven knows what.

We’re taken to a tiny cubicle, where a nurse gives me one of those ridiculous gowns to put on, although no advice on how to don it. I guess they assume we’ve all seen people wearing them in TV hospital dramas, arses flying in the wind. I leave my underpants on, and put on a once-fluffy white dressing gown, and blue plastic slipper things.

operation1

TRUSSED UP and ready to go.

She checks a few things (like date of birth and what I think I’m there for, which is reassuring). Have I had an enema? No. Hmm, that’s unusual. Oops, could this mean postponement?  No, and no mention of the “missing” blood tests.

People walk past and peer in, then walk on. Other patients wander past, off to meet their fates.

A young male medical person comes in and cheerfully goes through the consent forms. They don’t mention that I’m having a two-for-one deal, a hernia on my left side patched up at the same time as the radical prostatectomy. He says he’ll get it amended for a re-signing, but doesn’t come back. Hmm.

Then we’re visited by the anaesthetist, who has bad BO and a mumbling voice, and a tendency to direct his inaudible briefing at some point beyond my left elbow. He leaves us with a lingering pong, and speculation about whether he’ll be as diligent at the job as he is with personal hygiene.

Turns out he is brilliant, later administering the spinal jab painlessly and with sure hands, and the general anaesthetic without leaving me with much of a hangover or – that apparent sign of ineptitude – a sore throat from the tube. Which goes to show you can’t judge a doctor by bedside manner alone.

Now we’re off, led down a floor or two to a bed.  Surgeon Rod Studd calls in for a quick pre-op check and kindly offers to call Lin after the op.

He’s dressed down, it seems to me: dark blue jumpsuit and chunky, white dairy factory gumboots. Functional, I guess.

It seems I’m his only customer today. His afternoon operation has been cancelled because of a bed shortage. I’m not just number one on the list – I am the list.

Soon, I’m on my way, guided by a young Moroccan doctor, whose ethnic diverseness is but a small precursor to the sight awaiting me in the operating theatre: it’s like stumbling onto the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise, such is the diversity of face.

What looks like a dozen or more people go about their tasks quietly, without actually catching my eye, in that way people have when they know what’s in store for you, and you’re just apprehensive about about whether this is the last scene you’ll ever witness. Reassuring, in a way, because you believe absolutely that they will know what they’re doing, and with such a lot of them, all the bases will be covered.

I’m shifted across to a ludicrously narrow platform, the operating table, then asked to sit at its edge and arch my spine while the anaesthetist prepares to give me the spinal injection. It takes precision, for obvious reasons.

“Just a little scratch,” someone says. I like this term, the current euphemism everyone is using for “we’re gonna stick this needle into you, but it won’t hurt much”. Sounds a lot better than the old “just a little prick”, which was probably dropped for reasons of political correctness.

Next thing, I’m lying on my back, and a tube is inserted in a vein on the back of my hand and I’m connected up to something. I can’t see what.

Next thing…

Well, I can only imagine what happened over the next three hours…because, next thing, I’m fiddling away at something tickling my nostrils and someone is saying “you’re having trouble with that, aren’t you”.

It’s the oxygen feed, which – contrary to my belief from watching telly, does not involve tubes going up into the nasal cavities and down to the lungs – has a couple of short outlets feeding pure air into my nostrils, and they’re irritating the hell out of me.

But, hey, I’m awake. I’m alive. I’ve made it. Woohoo!

NEXT: Off to the circus for a couple of nights.

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Part 2 of My PC Adventure: a Kiwi male’s brush with prostate cancer

WHEN I was a kid, vague family discussion sometimes turned to the “waterworks” problems of one or other of my numerous uncles.

I realise now they were probably not talking about council water connections, but there was never enough solid detail to pin anything down: it was made clear this was not a topic for young ears.

Judging by the muted amusement, the stories were slightly comical to those with the code: “…and when Jack asked the bus driver to stop so he could go, there was no arguing about it. When Jack has to go, he has to go. So they stopped right there in the middle of the Mahoenui Hills…” But incomprehensible to those without it.

Despite what sounded to the untrained ear like a plethora of mysterious difficulties with his plumbing, Uncle Jack eventually died of pneumonia, and to my knowledge, prostate cancer was never linked to his death or to those of any other senior male family member.

I have no recollection of when I first heard of prostate cancer, which is hardly surprising, given that unless you’re the one being told you’ve got it, it’s not a death-of-Princess-Di-or-Jack-Kennedy moment when it’s first mentioned.

Probably, it cropped up when I was doing the medical round on the Auckland Star in the late 70s, when I imported various lofty medical publications to read for story ideas, usually understanding no more than a fifth of what I perused, and going home with a new complaint every day. Not that one of those was likely to have been PC, given I was thirty-something and had plenty of hypochondriac possibilities to embrace other than those associated with old age.

However, as you ease into your 50s, you become aware of what I heard someone call “the corridor”, an alarming pre-late-middle-age state in which mortality presents its first real challenges. Former school mates (still “just boys”) die suddenly of heart attacks. Others have bypass operations. Lung cancer, bowel cancer and diabetes become possibilities, because we’ve all just heard the news about (insert name).

No mention then, though, of the old prostate. No, that was still coming…and has duly arrived over the last decade as we baby boomers head for a different kind of 60s than the liberating ones we claim not to remember, a decade that is very much likely to be implanted on the memory cells and involve quite different reasons for embracing morphia.

It currently seems like a tsunami of bad tidings. In the last few years I’ve become aware of dozens of friends, acquaintances and work colleagues who’ve had the PC diagnosis, many of them more or less my age (I’m 62). The latest was former Auckland Star colleague Phil Gifford, who wrote about his PC news in last weekend’s Sunday Star-Times (something that partly motivated me to write this blog, to do my bit).

My PC news came on Christmas Eve, 2008. That was no fault of my wonderful GP, Rob McIlroy, who said – after I pestered him for the result of my tests – that he didn’t want to ruin my Christmas with news that could have waited.

Which was a clue that my diagnosis was not as bad as it might have been: I had a non-aggressive form of the disease, only just showing, and there would be plenty of time to consider treatment.

Let’s step back a bit. Rob acquired me as a patient after we moved to Wellington in 2005. He is a well known and respected Hataitai GP, who is sometimes growled at by us patients because he always seems to be at the surgery working ridiculously long hours to look after us.

After being accepted on his books that year, I got into an annual pattern of checkups. Rob would record weight, blood pressure and general wellbeing, as well as taking out a bit of the red stuff for tests on diabetes signs, cholesterol…and the old PSA (which, incidentally, stands for prostate-specific antigen.

My PSA barely registered. We didn’t bother with a digi-test, since I’d had one the year before in New Plymouth, and Rob had no other cause to act: so far I’d neglected to mention my gradually slowing urine stream, just assuming my prostate was enlarging naturally with age and pressing slightly on the urethra.

During the 2006 check, however, I did bring it up, and without hesitation Rob had me positioned for a digital examination. “That’s benign,” he pronounced.

I didn’t ask for another one the following year (2007), what with the PSA practically nil still, but in November, 2008 (a couple of months behind schedule for the annual because I’d been busy at work), I mentioned the slow pee stream again, so we agreed another digital was in order.

This time, the probing lasted a bit longer than usual. Rob ummed for a moment, then said he’d like a second feel. “Hmm, just feels a bit rough on the surface on the right. May be nothing, but let’s get you along to a urologist. Better to be sure.”

Prior to my first appointment with Wellington urology surgeon Rodney Studd, the latest PSA result came back: .77, about as low as you go. But Rod’s digital exam quickly confirmed that Rob had indeed discovered something (later described by one of them as like “feeling a bit of gravel in a soft apricot”). I would now need a biopsy, involving taking samples from the prostate and analysing them.

Right. Paul Holmes sprang to mind again. Wasn’t this the procedure he described in a newspaper column as “like being punched up the backside”. Terrific. I was terrified by the time the day for the biopsy arrived. Thanks Holmesy.

All I can say is, my experience was different, something which now seems quite common with nearly every aspect of the PC path. No two people tell of the same pain, results, feelings, outcomes, etc, as you proceed through what is a complex and individual journey.

Again, I was lying on my side with pants down and knees drawn high as Rod conducted the biopsy procedure. He explained that the probe he would introduce to my back passage (I’d had a self-administered enema before going to his rooms) would firstly give a local anaesthetic, so the biopsy needle going through the wall of my bowel would not cause any pain.

It didn’t, and we chatted away, analysing the merits or otherwise of the Dominion Post while he took 12 samples from various parts of the prostate.

To me, each felt like a barely noticeable, dull thud (not the “punch” described by Paul). It was all over in what seemed like 10 minutes, when – inexplicably – I felt faint and slumped a bit, showing what the nurse and my wife later said was a very pale face. Some sort of delayed shock reaction, I guess, or maybe just relief that nobody, especially me, died.

Rod gave me his cell number and told me to ring if any infection showed up. As he said, the puncture was through the wall of the bowel, so there was a small chance of infection, which would likely happen about three days afterwards and show up as a fever. If that happened, I was to get to A and E and give him a call. Nothing happened and I was back at work the next day, albeit walking about gingerly.

That didn’t stop me worrying, of course. There are side effects, carefully explained beforehand by Rod but nontheless disquieting. My pee was rose for a day, but quickly turned to a healthy-looking sauv blanc. Having the first crap was daunting, knowing your bowel had a wound of some kind in it; but by chance I’d been on a liquorice bender that week, so the usual straining wasn’t needed, and there was no sign of blood.

Then my good and helpful mate Lance – who’s had a couple of these procedures because of his high PSA count – laughingly warned: “Wait till you come!” He was referring to the pre-procedure advice there would be blood in my semen. Sure enough, the usual creamy grey was sort of dirty-looking, brownish rather than red, but certainly not standard colour. Again, as warned, this lasted a week or two, then cleared. As the doc said, usage “clears the pipes”.

Two weeks later, the standard wait for results, we were approaching Christmas and I was getting anxious to know my fate. My call to GP Rob revealed the following:

  •  Three of the 12 samples showed indication of cancer.
  •  The level of aggression seemed to be low.
  •  The prognosis was good.

So. In a reverse kind of way, the Waiheke GP had been right, sort of. My low PSA, which had given me a certain piece of mind, turned out to be completely wrong. How come? I would need to wait a couple of weeks for my appointment with Rod to find out, as Christmas festivities intervened.

Next: What goes through your mind when told you’ve got cancer – and who do you tell?

For information about prostate cancer,  go to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ

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