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From Patient to Caregiver: Dad’s Prostate Cancer -- Part II

Last updated: September 2019

This is Part II of From Patient to Caregiver: Dad’s Prostate Cancer.

Finally, finally Dad made up his mind: surgery! Relief washed over us all, yet there was still more stress and anxiety to come. By the time he called to schedule a surgery date, his doctor/surgeon was booked out by over several months. What? No! He can’t wait that long! He’s already waited too long, I remember thinking, worried that each day that passed the cancer was eating away at him and spreading.

Scheduling dad's surgery

What happened next was that I decided to do something that I’ve never done before. I made some phone calls to the surgery scheduling department and Dad’s urologist’s nurse. I felt guilty and sneaky making these phone calls behind my dad’s back and he would kill me if he found out I was meddling in his health business. But it was urgent to move his surgery date up on the calendar. I told the nurse about the situation and stressed how worried we all were, pleading with her to help get him in sooner.

Miraculously, something opened up in mid-August! I breathed a sigh of relief, although still worried Dad had waited too long. And I hadn't even begun to worry yet about the surgery itself. Will he be OK? Will they get all of the cancer? Will he be OK after the surgery? So many questions, so many anxieties. But the good news was that he was finally going to get that diseased thing out of him. That made me feel better.

Recovering from surgery

I'm happy to report that Dad's prostate surgery went well, although it took much longer than the surgeon anticipated. I had never realized what a complicated and somewhat harrowing procedure it is to remove a prostate gland safely. We were all so relieved and glad that it was done, though. Visiting Dad and seeing him lying in the hospital bed, pale and weak and disheveled, it was good to see him awake and talking with us. The surgery had obviously taken a lot out of him, though.

Despite all of this good surgery news, some bad news lurked as well. The surgeon informed us that the cancer had spread outside of the prostate wall, and at this point he had no way of knowing if minuscule cancer cells had spread elsewhere in Dad's body. Follow up PSA tests and possibly PET scans would be needed to help determine this.

It took weeks (months), but Dad recovered from surgery remarkably well. He had some normal side effects, I believe, but I'm not sure of the details. I didn't really want to know about his bathroom habits or anything else related to that. Mom could deal with those things!

Dad's PSA follow-up

Fast forward to Dad's first PSA follow-up test. The surgery had caused his PSA to go way down compared to what it was before surgery, but it wasn't at "0." We were told that if his PSA was "0" after surgery, that would mean he was cured. So, sadly, he wasn't officially cured. Also frustrating, the surgeon couldn't say if the PSA reading was due to actual cancer cells or not. His advice, for the time being, was to just keep monitoring Dad and his PSA and explore radiation next, if needed.

After months of rising PSA levels, although not drastic, radiation did become Dad's next treatment. Like the prostatectomy, he tolerated eight weeks of getting zapped with radiation impressively well. I can't remember him complaining of any side effects, actually. This was also a relief. But did it work? Once again his PSA went way down but not quite to "0."

Standing by my dad, no matter what

During these five years of Dad's prostate cancer, my family and I have all lived in a constant state of dread and anxiety, always afraid of what the next PSA will say. Today, as I write this, Dad's PSA is very low but stable. This is somewhat reassuring, I guess. But we would all love to see a big fat "0" announcing the end of this frightening journey.

No matter what happens with Dad's fight against cancer, or how apathetic he may seem, Mom, Sis, and I will all be there for him. And if I have to, I'll do whatever it takes to help--even going behind his back again, if needed. I don't want to lose my dad to this disease.

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