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Life After Surgery: From Lemons to Lemonade

As a long-time fan of hiking and backpacking, and approaching 70, in January of 2018 I booked a trip with REI for a 13 day, 120 mile guided trek in the mountains of Patagonia, a birthday gift to myself. I was on active surveillance at the time, with a PSA around 7 and a Gleason 6. With my birthday in October and the trip the following January, I was looking forward to two milestone experiences.

A change in travel plans

When my PSA went up to 8.3, my mind went from comfort with active surveillance to fear that my cancer was getting more aggressive. After a month of thought, conversations with my family and close friends, and consultation with my doctor, I decided to have laparoscopic surgery to have my prostate removed, which happened on April 16th.

I knew that some level of incontinence was an inevitable side effect, but I also thought that with nine months of natural healing and strengthening of my pelvic floor muscles, through kegeling, I could be ready for the trek. It became my primary motivator.

Although I made good progress, by mid-August I realized that my Patagonia dream might be in jeopardy. Long hikes and weight bearing activities still resulted in significant leakage. I had until the 1st of October to pull the plug on the trip and get back all of my down payment, and I had bought flight insurance to protect that investment. In September, finding it difficult to project confidence about being ready by January, I canceled the trip.

Our delayed honeymoon

But as sometimes happens, when one door closes, another door opens. When my wife, Melinda, and I got married in 1981, it had been our intention to honeymoon on Kauai, the legendary Garden Isle. Circumstance intervened and we ended up at a bed and breakfast in Mendocino instead! We had a lovely time but promised ourselves that we would someday make that delayed honeymoon trip to Kauai.

Coinciding with everything else, not long after my surgery we decided it was time for my wife to retire. Spending time together was more important than working to maintain health insurance until she was sixty-five and qualified for Medicare, which was still three years away. First we decided on June 2019, and then thought, what the hell, let’s do it in December 2018. We can handle the insurance premiums for two-and-a-half years.

Assured that my trip down payment and airline tickets charges would be reimbursed, and now with three occasions to celebrate -- our 37th anniversary, my 70th birthday, and Melinda’s retirement -- we did it: we booked an eight day trip to Kauai during the same time I would have been in Patagonia.

Memorable times in Kauai

Our celebration was all we hoped it would be: a beautiful resort, an ocean view, excellent weather, island exploration, hiking, snorkeling, a catamaran trip along the breathtakingly beautiful Napali Coast (escorted by spinner dolphins, entertained by breaching humpback whales), delicious food. Because of my continued progress toward pelvic floor recovery, and with the most strenuous activity being a six mile hike in Waimea Canyon, I was able to spend many hours without protection from leakage. I was always prepared, but I rarely needed help.

Maybe it was the trade winds, maybe it was the relaxation and lots of time spent soaking in the many spas at the resort, maybe it was the dream fulfilled, sitting and watching the sunset each night from our patio; the reason didn’t matter. I enjoyed a freedom I hadn’t enjoyed in nine months. It was glorious.

Planning for a future together

Now, almost two years since my diagnosis and cancer free, Melinda and I will continue to expand our lives outward. In stark contrast to our tropical vacation, next month we’re traveling to Death Valley for wildflower viewing, canyon hiking, abandoned mine exploration. Prostate cancer has impacted my life in many ways, and I still don’t know if I’ll ever return to full continence, but life right now is very, very good, and I’m cancer free.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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