Welcome back to my “C” Journal, Part 2. It’s a bit long-winded, but the ending is worth it—at least it was for me.
We left off at the Panama Canal cruise that my wife and I were on in April. I did basically three things during this cruise. I ate a lot; I read yet another book on prostate cancer; and I stared out at the ocean thinking about all the events and people who have come and gone while it relentlessly sloshed around doing what it’s been doing for millions of years. I was just one more human to marvel at its wayward longevity. Cancer makes one ever so philosophical and you look at everything with a new perspective. You catch yourself constantly thinking “is this the last time I’ll be doing this, seeing that or experiencing whatever?” Time takes on new meaning and measurement.
Mind you, I was burdened only with the early stages of prostate cancer. I say “only” because there are far far worse cancers that leave little time for contemplating the meaning of life. These trigger a more hasty thought pattern dealing with death. I was lucky. I had time to supposedly figure out what I should do and knew that if I made the right decisions the entire episode would eventually be over and I would more likely be killed in an automobile accident than succumb to evil cells devouring my organs…or so said some of the books I had read. There was one thought I kept packed away in the back of my mind, however, and that was my feeling that cancer was like pregnancy. You cannot be just a little pregnant.
Two days following our return home from our cruise I was scheduled for a second biopsy. Given the awe-inspiring infection I got after the first biopsy you can imagine how eager I was to have another. “More? You want more?” I really had no choice. I needed new information that the biopsy would provide. Was the cancer in my prostate status quo or was it accelerating? I had to be ready to collect all the data and figure out whether or not it was time to yank the damn thing out or continue “watchful surveillance.”
Having read so much over the past several months, I was better educated by now…and that’s what made this second biopsy a lot more scarier. I had even paid an additional $500 out-of-pocket to have a new super high-tech MRI done. Supposedly, it would help zero in on exactly where the cancer was located, giving the doctor a more accurate target as to where to take snippets of material for the lab to investigate. This time I was prepped with a stronger antibiotic and further in advance of the procedure. I was also given a heartier injection in the butt just before. If there were to be another post-biopsy infection, it was going to have to get through a much stronger barrier this time…I hoped.
Not wanting to get too graphic, a prostate biopsy is a time when any shyness you may have simply takes a back seat. There’s an up-close-and-personal audience, a member of which has taken the liberty of placing a probe inside your butt that will pulsate sonic vibrations which help steer the doctor’s little pincers (another item that’s in there too) to look for places to bite off pieces of the gland. Oh, not to worry, preceding the pincers were a few injections of some stinging substance to numb everything in the immediate area….maybe. Twelve “bites” were taken and each was felt and heard by a little mechanical click. No, not excruciating pain, but enough to make you wince a little and wish you were somewhere else far far away, maybe even having a root canal done.
There is little after-effect to the biopsy other than an unnerving few days of seeing small quantities of blood in the discharges your body normally keeps blood-free. It’s a bit of a wonderment at first, much like seeing a rare solar eclipse. You say “wow” and then move on. I am quite sure that those who have had to go through chemo for their cancer would view my prostate biopsy a “piece of cake.”
The follow-up visit with my doctor would take a week. This gave me more time to think about the alternatives. Interpretation: more time to second guess myself. Should I go for removal of the prostate and accept the small risk of saying goodbye to sex and hello to diapers…plus having to deal with a side issue I have that would add complications to the surgery? Or, assuming things were status quo, should I opt out of surgery and simply keep an eye on the situation to make sure it doesn’t suddenly turn bad?
One doctor whose book I had spent a lot of time on, said age was an important factor. If you are young (fifties or below) you are better off having the prostate removed because it will eventually go sour within your lifetime and you are young enough to go through the surgery now with much vigor and little chance for problems afterwards. Then, the good doctor points out, if you are older(70’s) you may as well let things be. Translation: you will be dead soon anyway so why risk surgery when your body least wants it and the cancer may or may not be the main cause of your demise anyway. The trouble I had was that I was in the “dead zone” …so to speak. I was not as young as the doctor recommended for having the gland removed…but I was just on the cusp of “old” so maybe I should leave it in. God, my brain had become warped with months of this stuff.
So the big day came earlier this week. With my wife, who also serves as my chief medical and spiritual advisor, at my side, we sat in the little examination room waiting for Hans Christian Andersen (see previous post) to walk in and deliver the latest news. And, indeed, it was like a fable out of an Andersen fairytale. In walks my doctor who says, “Good news, we found no cancer!” Pause…pause….pause. I am numb, dumb and almost speechless. “How can that be?” I ask. “Was the other doctor that wrong when his biopsy showed cancer?” This was just all too puzzling and too unexpected.
My doctor subsequently explained that the first doctor “got lucky” and just happened to hit one of the small malignant cells in my prostate. He said the bad cells are so small and so infrequent that they are, for all practical purpose, pretty much harmless. All twelve samples taken from the second biopsy were benign. Even the high-priced/high-tech MRI saw very little evidence of anything serious.
I was told I will likely long outlive the threat and I that should go forth, be happy and worry about dying from something else other than prostate cancer. My doctor did, however, advise me to continue to have my blood tested every three months just for safety sake and he proceeded to list some foods and vitamins I should add to my daily intake just for good anti-cancer measure. Goodbye, have a nice day.
My wife and I left the office in hand-holding silence. When we got outside I stopped and told her I was not sure how I should feel. I just went through 8-10 months of internal mind wrenching thinking of little else but the “big decision” I had to make and whether or not it would make any difference on how long and how well the rest of my life went. Shouldn’t I be pissed that I had to go through all that? But, on the other hand, holy crap, it’s all over and the burden is entirely gone and I can get on with my life. I should be ecstatic but I just wasn’t at the time.
I have since made peace with my prostate, as Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid did with her mermaid tail…and, just as she did, she swam off happily knowing she would have yet three hundred years to live. I, in the meantime, was grateful having learned that in my stars was a blessing and not a fault.