The Cancer Diaries, part 8

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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.

I still get up in the night to pee, three, sometimes four times. I awaken with a sense of unease, unsure why I left my dream state. I might have some twinge, or some vague sense of need, but there’s no biological gatekeeper yelling at me to get up and pee, just this disembodied voice that wakes me.

Without a prostate, I don’t get the same clear signals that my bladder is full, so I usually lie there for a groggy minute or two trying to feel my body, sense those more subtle messages that say the same thing as my prostate once told me. If they are there, they’re still pretty cryptic, so I get up anyway and empty whatever fluids I have in me. I wonder how women know their bladder’s full and why the same sort of warning system isn’t telling me about it. Or maybe it is and I’m too thick to realize it.

Being continent also means being confident. I don’t worry any more that I might have an accident while out shopping, or at night while I sleep. A weight of stress and anxiety has been lifted, which helps everything normalize. I do, however, pee a lot more than before the surgery, often “just in case.”

For the most part, everything external has healed, although the scars still look angrier than they feel. They are sensitive, but not painful to the touch. And places that were tender or even painful to press are now merely uncomfortable or simply normal.

I still get some pains now and then. Some I recognize: when I bend or twist too much and it strains my still-mending gut. Others are vague: nothing constant or regular, but I get aches now and then from somewhere inside. Twinges, soreness, usually brief but always transient. Are they from by bladder? The area where my prostate used to apply its trade? Are they the cancer rebounding and growing? Internal organs shifting and getting used to their new accommodations? Or just gas? Should I be worried or is it normal during recovery?

I really don’t know. And like so many other things with this cancer, there’s no one to ask about it. 

Nor is there anyone to talk about post-surgery/post-cancer sex. Without the nerves to make it work as biology intended, I’m pretty much resigned to consigning it to the past, but I hate to give up quite yet. But even if something can somehow be resurrected, how does it work without the piping to connect the organs? Without the prostate as the fluid pump? What’s happening with the biology here? And are there chemical or treatment options? If so, what are they?

I have looked it up online, but the information on the credible medical sites is somewhat unclear, and even a bit contradictory. Should I hold out hope for even the smallest possibility, or simply confine myself to remembering those happier times? Again, there’s no one to talk to who has either the personal or the medical/psychological experience. It’s a “cloud of unknowing” for we survivors.

Which makes me think again we really need a local prostate cancer/surgery support group. Which is confounded by the pandemic, with the ongoing lockdowns and restrictions, of course. But after my next consultation with the doctor, if I don’t need more treatment (radiation will take another three months or so and tends to be enervating), I may look into helping create one. I know at least five men in town who have gone through the process, and I expect there are many more. Having others in the area to discuss the issues, problems, and complications with might be really helpful. Might be able to get some doctors or oncologists in as guest speakers, too. But that depends on how my time will be spent after next week’s consultation.

More to come, after next week’s meeting.

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