Preparing For and Recovering From Surgery
Surgery is the chosen option for about one quarter of men diagnosed with prostate cancer and is seen by many as preferable as “it gets it all out”. The very fact that the entire affected prostate is removed is felt by many men as taking firm, positive action against a deadly disease.
Prepare for the possibilities
You will have been told that surgery has at least two significant side effects - erectile dysfunction and urinary continence. Both are common, so your treatment team will be able to talk to you in detail about them and discuss possible solutions for them, but you need to be ready. Talk through the possibility of ED with your partner if you can. Eight years on and I still suffer with it and while I dislike it I’m pretty much able to deal with it. Some men find it has an enormous impact on their masculinity and their self-image, but your partner’s perspective is vital. It’s highly unlikely they’ll leave you simply on the basis of not being able to get an erection!
Urinary continence can have a huge impact too. Many men have issues in the three to six months after surgery which ease over time, but some men have long term problems. There are short term solutions such as pads while for those with an apparent long term lack of continence there can be surgical solutions.
Part of the problem with cancer is the feeling of helplessness - “I can’t do anything to overcome this disease” is often heard. Well, you might not be able to treat it directly but you are able to get yourself in the best possible shape when treatment takes place. Look at your weight and general fitness first. Are you a good weight for your height or have the last few years see you gain a few pounds? While weight loss should not be fast you’ll be better able to deal with surgery if you are not carrying excess baggage. Similarly look at your fitness. If two flights of stairs make you puff, or a gentle jog seems like a challenge then use the diagnosis as a spur to improve your fitness.
Surgery will take it out of you, of that we can be sure, so be ready for this in the days after you return home. Many men without any complications are discharged forty-eight hours after their procedure, but that first journey home will be arduous. Don’t even think about carrying anything more than a light bag, and be ready to feel exhausted after just an hour or sitting down.
Becoming an ordinary man again
I was lucky as I was already at a good weight for my height (170 lbs and 6’ high) and I was fit, but even I found those first few days at home very tiring. I had to learn very quickly to listen to my body and rest when it said so. Your appetite may be quite variable and you might also become constipated due to the surgery and your lack of physical activity.
Once those first few days are out of the way you can start to walk gently. I found that by two weeks I was able to walk for two hours, once a day. I needed to walk just to escape the house as I’m not used to sitting still, but despite feeling tired after the walk I also felt better about myself for having made the effort. I had set myself a medium term recovery challenge, so after four weeks I started running (again).
Sixteen weeks after surgery I ran a half-marathon in one hour forty-eight minutes. That was when I stopped being a prostate cancer patient and started being an ordinary man again.
Have you experienced side effects from androgen deprivation therapy (ADT)?