Growing up in the 1950s, I never heard the words prostate and cancer used in the same sentence. And, to be honest, for the longest time I had no idea what a prostate was — or that I even had one. Equally embarrassing, as an old college English major, I often confused the words prostate and prostrate, to the point where I eventually intuited that prostrate cancer had something to do with the patient having to be treated while lying face down.
Then, suddenly and shockingly, that all changed. My astute urologist, Dr. Granville Lloyd, had a hunch that something wasn’t right, suggested I have a needle biopsy “just to be sure,” and, lo and behold, I had prostate cancer.
“Welcome to the club that no male wants to join,” teased Dick, an old university colleague of mine who described himself as “a full-fledged member” of the club “having experienced prostate cancer over five years ago.” He admitted to me that he had opted for a radical prostatectomy and, now five years later, he was cancer free.
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Thus began one of the more interesting journeys in my life, one that began with a frightening prognosis and, with any luck, is about to end with more life, many more years of it for me that is.
I, of course, was stunned by the prostate cancer news, vacillating from denial to avoidance to panic to anger to incredulity and back again. The few conversations I could barely muster on the topic were with my doctor and my wife. I did a lot of reading. Reviewed a ton of available research. So did Pam, my supportive and vigilant spouse. In the end, the options — which each man must weigh for himself with his medical team — came down to:
- Active surveillance (watchful waiting)
- Surgery (radical prostatectomy)
Frankly, I didn’t find any of these three options very appealing. In fact they seemed reminiscent of my choices for dealing with my 1-A draft status upon my gradation from college in the summer of 1969, which were:
- The Army
In both cases, I chose Door Number 3, although part of me hoped that Monty Hall would intervene at the last minute and rescue me from both those alternatives. He never showed.
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Spreading the News
Now that I was committed to wanting the cancer removed, I scheduled a radical prostatectomy, in hopes that the disease was confined to my prostate. In keeping with the kind of person I am, I chose to go public with the news, following heartrending conversations with my family, especially my two adult children whom I love dearly.
My being out there with my cancer opened the floodgates of feedback. Dick, my old UW colleague, wasn’t the only person I heard from who had an experience, or opinion, on the subject. I was shocked to realize how many of my male peers, the majority of them younger, had undergone either prostate surgery or radiation. I was overwhelmed by how many of us there were in the club that Dick said none of us wanted to belong to!
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There were other suggestions and opinions too — avoid robotic surgery, have robotic surgery, don’t have any surgery, try hormone treatments, consider proton beam radiation, don’t do anything. Do everything!
And all options in between.
While I was bewildered by the range, and intensity, of some of the opinions, I was touched by the warm and genuine best wishes offered by everyone who gave me advice. It helped to get me through the anticipation-of-surgery state I was in.
And then the day of surgery arrived. Me, practically upside down, with a roomful of talented medical professionals, including Dr. Lloyd at the helm of a robot. My last thought as I went under was of Robby the Robot from the sci-fi film Forbidden Planet I saw when I was a kid. And now Robby, accompanied by Dr. Lloyd, had my life in their hands. Did I want to be in this movie?
I’m nearly a month past my five-hour, radical prostatectomy and my body is gradually coming back to life, albeit with occasional plumbing difficulties. The initial pathology reports are very positive (Gleason 3+4 cancer with negative margins on the specimen). “All is in excellent order,” proclaims Dr. Lloyd.
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I hope, and expect, to remain cancer free. I won’t know for sure for quite some time, but there’s something inside me that tells me I’m healed.
And I’m ecstatic and grateful and thankful and fortunate to have access to the kind of first-rate care I’ve received. And the love and support of my family and so many friends.
And maybe someday soon, I’ll be welcomed to the club that every person with cancer wants to join — the survivor’s club!