Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winning the Battle With Prostate Cancer: a very personal story, Part III

Friday May 28, 2010 was the scariest day of my life. And even though I had done the research and was satisfied that I had made the right choice for me and the quality of life I wanted to lead there was still a lot I didn't know about the radioactive seed implants- - -a lot the literature just didn't speak to, at least not in detail. The docs at Moffitt Cancer Center, a urologic surgeon, a radiation oncologist and, of course, an anesthesiologist had each spoken to me as I laid on the gurney in the pre-surgery prep area. They confirmed what I already knew: that they would use long, very fine needles to insert 53 radioactive titanium seeds in strings of 5 or 6 each through my Perineum and into my prostate gland in a pattern devised to be close to the cancerous areas in order to kill off those cells while leaving healthy tissue and nerve bundles untouched. And while this procedure is far less invasive and physically less risky than a radical removal of the entire gland, it is not fool proof. If not done properly it can fail to kill off the cancer cells, create extreme bladder and bowel problems and damage the nerve bundles attached to the prostate- - -the nerve bundles critical to male sexual function. These issues are of deep concern to men. No man wants to be put to sleep full of hopeful expectations for a better life free of disease only to wake up and find out that he might spend the rest of his life wearing adult diapers and the last moment of intimacy he shared with someone might have been his last ever. As I said, it was a very scary day.

And so, with those thoughts in mind and a waiting syringe full of Propofol, otherwise known as "milk of amnesia" and the anesthetic that killed Michael Jackson, I was wheeled into the operating room. Five hours later I was awake, discharged and on my way home to rest and work my "plan for recovery and remission." After all, I had done countless hours of reading and was certain I knew what to expect. I was wrong.

The first part of my plan was tied to my notion that "the healthier I was going into this the healthier I would be coming out of it" so, after resting on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and with the approval of my doctors, Tuesday morning I was back in the gym on a very limited exercise regimen- - -some low level cardio and light upper body weights. No lower body weights and no core exercises. I was back! I still had the big red "S" on my chest, by gosh. I would get through this recovery with ease I told myself. And, again, I was wrong.

What all the research and all the pre-surgery consultations with the doctors failed to do was to prepare me for the extent of the effects on areas of my body near the prostate gland. It also failed to prepare me for something called "cancer fatigue" and how that would change my lifestyle and my mood on a day-to-day basis.

Body functions we take for granted and do reflexively suddenly became difficult and required concentration. Those simple functions were also painful initially. Spasms as strong as leg cramps attacked my bladder and knocked me to the floor in agony at least twice a day on most days in the first several weeks. Sitting in a chair was not a restful thing after 15 minutes or so. And then there was the incredible lack of stamina and energy.

As I said before I've always been an active guy. I took pride in maintaining my home, my lawn and my pool and doing repair projects myself. Now all of a sudden I had to hire someone to do all these things for me. I had no energy. No reserves. By 12:30 or 1:00 PM each day I was completely fatigued. Finished. Spent. And I was also really angry that I could no longer see the red "S" on my chest and had no idea where my blue tights and red cape had gone. Superman was not only no longer super he had also turned into an angry, snarly jerk who wasn't always very nice to be around if you were part of my family or one of my closest friends on the days when the physical realities and the fatigue converged to blacken my mood. Unfortunately, during the first 90 days or so those times were more the rule rather than the exception. But, fortunately, in addition to having always been active I've always been stubborn and determined. So I kept getting up early 5 days a week and going to the gym, very gradually increasing my exercise regimen. Slowly my stamina started to return. And thanks to the physical exercise and part 2 of my plan, the cancer cells stopped growing and started dying.

Part 2 of my "plan for recovery and remission" involved something I had read about but never tried- - -the use of mental imagery to focus the body's own energy. Each night as I lay in bed, all was quiet and I was alone with my own thoughts, I imagined that I was summoning up energy from other relaxed parts of my body- -legs, arms, toes, fingers- -and focusing that energy like a hot laser beam on my prostate. In my mind's eye I could see that beam of energy killing off the cancer cells and the dead cells flying out of my body. I repeated the process each night and again each morning as I awoke and everything was quiet and still.

Laugh if you want. Even sneer if you'd like but, all I know is that by doing those two things along with listening to my doctors carefully and accepting the prayers of my friends, within 90 days my PSA level was down to 0.78 ppn and 90 days after that I was in remission with no current evidence of disease.

But this isn't quite the end of this story. Like all such stories there are lessons to be learned and in the next post I'll share some of those with you.

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