Riding the Roller Coaster
“By the time I write my next article, I am confident that cancer will be gone from my body.” That was the final sentence of my last article, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Radiation.” The good news is that it appears to have been a prophetic statement. I had my prostate removed via a laparoscopic radical prostatectomy on April 16th. On the 23rd I received my pathology report: “No malignancy in two lymph nodes identified; margins clear of malignancy.” The faith I alluded to in “A Funny Thing” was rewarded.
Preparing for surgery
It seemed like forever between the day I decided to have surgery in late February and the actual experience. I can’t say I was completely fearless at 4:45 a.m. on the 16th when my wife drove me to the hospital, but I was confident that the outcome would be positive. I was comfortable during all of the pre-surgery preparations and joking with the anesthesiologist when I was wheeled into surgery. I was surprised, and impressed, by the size and complexity of the Da Vinci robot. Clearly a high tech device, and so I was glad my doctor had performed a thousand procedures using it.
Of course joking with the anesthesiologist is the last thing I remember before waking up in recovery and eventually being wheeled to my room. It wasn’t until several hours later that my doctor visited and said how well it had gone. At that time, still under the influence, I guess, of the anesthesia and pain medication, I was upbeat and feeling good, even accepting with a sense of humor the catheter draining urine from my bladder. My wife and a few friends visited throughout the late afternoon and evening. It wasn’t until about 8:00 p.m. that I started feeling the pain.
Then the pain
With the help of a couple of 10 mg Percocets, and, eventually, a dose of intravenous Dilaudid, I made it through an uncomfortable night. I don’t like to take pain medication, but I’m grateful it was available when I needed it. I was sent home with a prescription for twenty Percocet, but I only ended up taking four, and that was all within thirty-six hours of my release.
My vital signs were good and my pain was manageable, so, as planned, I was released from the hospital the next day. Once again, I felt pretty good, so when the real pain hit I wasn’t really prepared for its intensity. Either I wasn’t listening very well when post-surgery conditions were discussed (or maybe all I heard was ED and incontinence), but for the next twenty-four hours I was miserable.
In addition to the increasing pain I was experiencing in my “pelvic floor,” aka my groin, the five incisions in my abdomen, held closed by staples, used for entry and exit during the surgery, began to hurt, as did my sides and shoulders. My abdomen was distended from the air used to inflate my interior for better viewing, and, of course, I was experiencing discomfort from my catheter and inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement. I started getting waves of stomach cramps like nothing I’ve ever experienced. For most of a day I felt nauseous to the point of wanting to vomit, which was terrifying, given my abdominal pain from the incisions.
Luckily, by Thursday morning, three days after surgery I began to gradually improve. I was able to pass some gas and by Friday morning the Miralax I was taking began to work. I started taking short walks at a snail’s pace, and I started sleeping a little better. At first, I slept in a recliner, the next best thing to a hospital bed, but finally I began sleeping in bed propped up by pillows. It was very difficult sleeping in a fully stretched out position.
The first great relief occurred one week after surgery when I had my catheter removed. With any luck at all, it will be my last experience with one of those. But once it was removed, the first most obvious side effect – incontinence – presented itself. I was immediately dripping like a leaky faucet, so the Depends I brought came in handy. Six days later, as I write this article, I’ve gone through at least thirty of them and come to appreciate their value.
On the ninth day of my recovery I had the staples removed from my incisions, and each day the swelling and discomfort in my abdomen subside a little more. My wife and I met with my urologist/surgeon who was very happy about how well the surgery had gone and equally optimistic about my full recovery of bladder control and erectile function. He prescribed Cialis for use at the beginning of my second week post-surgery.
And, best of all, I’m cancer-free. When I heard that my post-surgery Gleason was a six, just as it was after my first biopsy, for a moment I thought that my decision to have surgery was premature, that I could have stayed on active surveillance longer, but that thought has since vanished.
My cancer appears to be gone, having cancer in my body no longer occupies my mind, I’m on the road to recovery, and I will continue to have faith, which arrived in a moment of clarity a couple of months ago and which I’ll never regret. Updates will follow in my next article.
I’ll conclude this article by praising my doctor, the hospital staff who took care of me during my brief stay, my family and friends who have supported me, and, most of all, Melinda, my wife of almost thirty-seven years. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel as if prostate cancer and a laparoscopic radical prostatectomy is “cancer lite” or “minor surgery.” Both are as major as they get, and without the love, strength and support of my wife, my misery would have been multiplied ten-fold. I will be forever grateful.