Surgical Side Effects: Deep Vein Thrombosis Pulmonary Embolism

Last updated: April 2023

In two recent articles I’ve written about some of the unexpected side effects that can accompany prostate cancer surgery. They were based on my own experience and the recent experience of a friend who had surgery in October of 2020. I wasn’t expecting to write a third article about side effects, but the tragic experience of yet another friend has made that necessary.

An unexpected friendship

As a result of my openness about my prostate cancer journey, in my articles for Prostate and for a local magazine, I have been contacted by men in the early stages of their diagnoses and have shared information with them. In one case the contact led to an unexpectedly deep friendship.

A few months ago, that new friend’s cancer became more aggressive, and he and his doctors decided it was time to transition from active surveillance to a more aggressive intervention. They chose robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery. The surgery was scheduled for December 14 of 2020.

Wishing him luck before surgery

A few days before his surgery, my friend and I went on a long ocean-side walk in a beautiful state park near where we live. We discussed many topics and paused to watch big wave surfers challenge epic winter waves. I had shared with him all of my notes and journal entries from my surgery in 2018.

When we parted, I wished him good luck and told him I’d be available for whatever post-surgery assistance he and his wife might need. I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see him.

Good news, then tragedy

My friend emailed me from the hospital the day after his surgery. Everything had gone well. He was on his way home. I heard from him again a couple of days later. He was moving from stronger pain medication to ibuprofen to manage his discomfort and looking forward to having his catheter removed at the beginning of the next week.

On Sunday morning, December 20th, six days after my friend’s surgery, I was sitting on my patio reading an article when my cell phone rang. I saw my friend’s name on the screen and thought, great, he’s feeling good enough to talk. I answered enthusiastically, waiting to hear his voice.

A pulmonary embolism

There was a pause, the emptiness that precedes bad news. It was his wife. My friend had died suddenly the previous day from a pulmonary embolism. Nearly two months later, as I write this article, I still have a hard time believing he’s gone.

A pulmonary embolism can happen when arteries in the lungs are blocked by blood clots that traveled there from the deep veins of another body part, particularly the legs.1 Being stuck in bed for a long period of time after surgery can make you more at risk for those clots to develop.1

Ask about side effects of surgery

I’ve been asked to speak at a memorial for my friend. I will read a poem I wrote about our walk by the ocean before his surgery. It contains the lines: “men of a certain age, more past than future in our lives.” I didn’t know at the time how prophetic those lines would be.

Prostate cancer is a serious disease. Major surgery is a serious treatment. Please insist that your doctors inform you about all the potential side effects of surgery or any other treatment choice. Your life might depend upon it.

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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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