The Cancer Diaries, Part 12

catheterWell, that was easy. Relatively, so. Last Monday I got to remove my catheter all by myself. Not the sort of thing one looks forward to — doing the removing, that is — but I was looking forward to having it gone and able to go back to some normality in my daily life. While I have grown somewhat adept at wearing, caring for, and changing the urine bag, it certainly isn’t something one wants over a long time.

Actually, it was quite easy and painless; afterward, I felt a bit chagrined over the anxiety I had felt prior to the act. I stood in the shower and merely snipped the drainage tube for the balloon (following the simple instructions in the pamphlet the hospital sent me home with). I let the water drip out so it emptied — only a few seconds — then held onto my penis with one hand and with the other pulled the catheter out. Gingerly, but it slid out without any problems.

Irritation was minimal, with a small expression of blood occasionally, and only for the first few days. To my delight, I suffered no significant incontinence or leakage afterward, as I had with the removal of the previous (and larger diameter) catheter I had lived with for two weeks after surgery.

And to make it even better, I have (so far) no indication of the UTI that has followed my previous experiences hosting a catheter. But this time, I’ve been drinking cranberry juice every day since I took it out to help prevent a UTI. And, of course, I had the catheter in for a much shorter time (four days) than previously.

Aside: most cranberry juice sold in grocery stores is labelled “cocktail” and is shite. It’s a diluted mix with other fruit juices, often grape or apple, and usually added sugar — no telling how much cranberry is actually present. I tried some of the cranberry cocktails from several stores and they were all awful, syrupy crap. One house brand was so sickly sweet I took it back to the store and complained. If you plan to drink the juice for UTI reasons, then buy the undiluted stuff and mix your own. I did find Terra Beata brand (a Canadian company, too)  undiluted juice at the local Loblaws store, and that’s what I’ve used, diluting it only minimally. Far superior to the cocktail mixes.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 12”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 11

Three Stooges, nyuck, nyuck, nyuckAnaesthetic must be one of the most remarkable inventions of the 20th century. While various forms of anaesthesia have been used since the ancient Egyptians (with varying degrees of effectiveness), it really wasn’t perfected  until the last century. It’s difficult to imagine the horrors of surgery before it became commonly used and as effective as it is today.

Here I was, lying on a table in the operating room, Thursday morning, being covered with a warm blanket by one nurse, while another nurse held a mask over my face to breathe from, and a third prepared to administer my anesthetic via the IV drip (that spelling is for my American readers). The latter nurse said, “In the next thirty seconds you’re going to drift off to sleep…” And then I did. Lights out, like flipping a switch.

Sleep. Mercifully deep and absolute. No dreams, no tossing and turning. No having to get up to pee three or five times. No pushing the cat or dog off my legs. Don’t feel a thing as I am poked and prodded internally. Just sleep.

And then I awoke. Just like that: bang the shutters of the eyelids popped open and I was awake. No slow rise to consciousness, no lingering dream state. No memories either, just a sort of ellipsis between the operating table and the recovery room. And just like that, my surgery was over. Amazing stuff, anaesthetic. Where was I? Ah, yes, my latest surgery.

I know there are readers in the world, as well as many other good people in it, who are no readers at all, who find themselves ill at ease, unless they are let into the whole secret from first to last, of everything which concerns you.

That’s from Chapter IV of Laurence Sternes’ delightful 18th-century novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, more commonly simply referred to as Tristam Shandy. I’m reading it right now, among other books, and this bit amused me. He continues, apologetically, 

It is in pure compliance with this humour of theirs, and from a backwardness in my nature to disappoint any one soul living, that I have been so very particular already. … [I] therefore must beg pardon for going on a little farther in the same way: For which cause, right glad I am, that I have begun the history of myself in the way I have done; and that I am able to go on, tracing everything in it, as Horace says, ab Ovo.

From the egg, that Latin bit from Horace’s Ars Poetica; means from the beginning. So to follow in Shandy’s (or rather Sterne’s) literary footsteps I must go back a bit and explain for those who have not read the previous ten pieces on my cancer, why I was on the operating table again. Put it all in perspective, as it were. I do recommend you read the previous entries, however, to get a more robust story than this precis.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 11”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 10

My father died of esophageal cancer several years ago. It was a horrible, lingering death, and I watched him shrivel and die, in constant pain towards the end. On one of my last visits to his bedside, he asked me whether I thought it was better to die with the full knowledge of what was happening to you, or to be unaware.

It was a startling, unexpected question. My father and I had had few, if any, philosophical discussions in our lives together. Without giving it a lot of thought, I replied, “With knowledge.” I probably thought he was talking about the pain-killing drugs he could ask for, the sort that also numb your mind and make you oblivious, put you into a narcotic coma that takes away the pain and stress.

I have always wanted to know what is happening to me, to be aware of everything around me. I would hate to be unable to read as I do every day now. I would have assumed he would too — both my parents were voracious readers — but he never gave me back his own response, just looked up at the ceiling. I probably thought he was having a pain spasm and didn’t try to pursue it further. I should have noticed then that he was reading less and less as the cancer progressed.

But later I thought more about it, about his question and my response. I still do, but he died before I could return to discuss it with him.

By the time my father was sent to the hospital for his remaining time palliative care, my mother had already been placed in a nursing home. My father had resigned himself to the fact he could no longer care for her as she needed. She had had a stroke in 1960, leaving her left side paralyzed, and by the mid-1990s, was pretty much wheelchair-bound. My father continued to care for her every day, stoic and uncomplaining as he had for almost four decades, but at 92 he simply didn’t have the strength to move her in and out of her chair or bed, or lift her when she fell. The move to a care facility was mandated by both their ages and declining health.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 10”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 9

Good news/bad newsWell, I suppose it’s a good news/bad news story for this post, although I dearly wish it was better. Would that I could have put it all behind me, finished my recovery, and moved on. Not to be: I receive comfort like cold porridge (to quote from The Tempest). Still, I came away from my consultation with at least some sense of relief: after all, it might have been much worse. The anxiety of waiting for the results was far more stressful than actually hearing them.

My recent PSA blood test showed a greatly-reduced number (less than 1, which is very low, considering it was over 8 before my surgery), which is a relief, but it’s still higher than the doctor says I should have returned two months later. So I have another blood test booked for the end of the month. If it goes up, it probably means the cancer is still gnawing away at me.

Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen.
Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act 3, Sc. 4

The doctor reiterated that the cancer had been very aggressive, and the surgery difficult, and had already spread outside the prostate before my surgery, hence his “going wide” to remove my diseased organ (and taking with it some nerves that had once helped me rise to the occasion of sexual performance). On the positive side, the pathology for my lymph nodes after surgery came back positive (no cancer, which was a relief; lymphoma is a particularly nasty cancer).

Plus, while I am emptying my bladder, I do so too slowly; slower even than some weeks back. The stream is too weak for my stage of recovery, so the urinary tract may be thickening or be suffering some blockage (was I too enthusiastic in doing my Kegel exercises?).  And for that he wants to stick a camera into my penis and snake it down to my bladder to see what’s happening. What he can do about any problem he encounters, I don’t know.

I’ve had the procedure before, and while it wasn’t particularly painful, it sure wasn’t any fun. Not the least of all because it was done with a local anæsthetic, so I could see everyone looking at my tackle (are they smirking?) while the doctor threaded the scope through my urinary tract. And I could look down and see what seemed to be a golf ball on a tube being inserted into my penis. Had I wished to entertain myself, there was a small screen showing the view as it travelled within me. Netflix it wasn’t. 

Not that I have much dignity or self-respect about my private parts being on display at this point. Inhibition is an early victim of this cancer. And after the surgery, well, it’s not like it’s worthy of proud display any more. But still…

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 9”

The Cancer Diaries, part 8

Diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are relieved,
Or not at all.
Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act 4 Sc. 3

Those Kegel exercises sure work. I had my doubts at first, but I stand as living proof they are effective. My pelvic muscles could probably lift a car — well, whenever the doctor tells me I can start lifting things again, that is. And my anus can clench more tightly than a conservative’s when he is confronted by a liberal suggestion to raise the minimum wage to a liveable amount.

It’s been 51 full days since my surgery. I can also count it as:

  • 4,406,400 seconds;
  • 73,440 minutes;
  • 1,224 hours;
  • 7 weeks and 2 days;
  • Approx. 14% of the year.

Funny, though. It seems so much more recent than that. As if it was only last week, not seven. I suppose that’s because every day I am reminded of it in a dozen ways, so it stays fresh in my memory. And being reminded of it, i am also reminded daily of my own mortality. Not morbidly, just that I am still a week away from learning about my condition and future (was the cancer removed or does it still eat away at me? if so, what does my future hold?).

Incontinence is a minor (at its worst) issue, and most of the time doesn’t even arise. Unless, of course, I sneeze. Or fart. Or cough… those explosive actions often (but not always) squeeze out a small drop. Nothing much, but enough to remind me I’ve still some time to go before I am fully recovered. 

But otherwise, not a squirt comes out during my daily activities, and I seldom even think about it. Still, I continue to do my exercises, just in case. And to build towards the day when I have no need for any sort of protection. I did try an experiment a couple of weekends ago of not wearing a pad one day, but it was a bit too optimistic to do it so soon. Maybe I’ll try again in a week or so.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, part 8”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 7

I don’t want readers to think I’m being narcissistic in writing these posts about my cancer or how it has affected me. Sure, I can be accused of being all sorts of things for writing my other posts, and a narcissist is the least of them. I’m sharing these because I felt — I hoped —others might benefit from my experiences: men and their partners. I think partners (be they men or women) should be as fully informed and engaged about what happens and what to expect as the patient.

I found a lot of medical and pseudo-medical (read: quack) advice and descriptions online about prostate cancer, symptoms, and its treatment, but not much of a personal nature. Maybe I didn’t search far enough, but what I wanted to read was what it meant to the person who received the diagnosis and the treatment. How does it feel to wake up every day and look in the mirror, knowing you have cancer? What goes through a person’s mind as they get wheeled into surgery? Or sit for hours in a thin hospital gown, among strangers, awaiting treatment? How should I prepare for these events?

Knowing the technical details and the biology was, of course, important, but how it affected a life in progress mattered equally or more to me. So I decided to post my own.

I’ve tried to document my experiences and emotions in these posts as honestly and openly as I can. It isn’t easy: I’m unaccustomed to writing for the public about myself and the details of my life except in a somewhat removed or neutral manner (like my posts on shaving or my reading). I am normally a very private person when it comes to my body and was reluctant to even mention the diagnosis to close friends and relatives at first. I was raised with the typical inhibitions of a suburban, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon family, and we didn’t talk about body parts, especially those related to sex. Admittedly, that was a long time ago — the Fifties and Sixties often seem like another world, imagined in a book or movie, rather than lived — but the reluctance to do so now remains.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 7”