Today marks three months since robotic surgery to remove my prostate and I am writing this note to provide my experience in hope that it can be shared with others who are going through their own journey. The week before Christmas last year, I heard those three dreaded words that no one ever wants to hear – YOU HAVE CANCER.
My prostate cancer was diagnosed by another doctor who performed a biopsy, but through my personal physician, I was referred to Dr. Bui for a second opinion and consultation. With my wife nervously sitting next to an equally nervous me, Dr. Bui confirmed my biopsy diagnosis by saying, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE FROM PROSTATE CANCER. He told me that my cancer was in fact aggressive and very methodically walked through statistics and the various options available for treatment and the specific percentages of potential outcomes and life impact. I asked him if this was his personal diagnosis, what course of treatment would he recommend for himself? While Dr. Bui is extremely confident (with good reason) of his own surgical skills, his explanation for why surgery was the best course of action for my situation was reasoned and compelling. He explained that if cancer did recur or if surgery was not able to leave me cancer free, that radiation was an additional option that would still be open to me. So surgery it was, which due to my personal schedule was 6 weeks away.
By the time of my consultation with Dr. Bui, I had read way too much about prostate cancer and knew all too well about the side effects of treatment, especially incontinence and ED. Dr. Bui, put me on a pre-surgery dose of Cialis which proved to have both pre and post surgical benefits.
I committed to a dedicated pre-surgery regimen of continued exercise including my usual elliptical, core strengthening, hiking, and added kegels (which I did as much as I possibly could). My kegels were doing kegels and the great thing about doing kegels is you can be doing them while doing pretty much everything else. It is possible I was doing kegels in my sleep.
My surgical experience at Cedars was professional and I awoke in ICU with my wife telling me that Dr. Bui felt everything went well. The next 24 hours was a blur with relatively minimal pain from surgery, but with a new thankfully temporary life addition – a very annoying catheter. I passed all of the tests that I did not study for including passing gas and doing enough laps (with that pesky catheter) around the hospital floor that I was cleared to go home by 3 PM the day after my surgery.
The first week after surgery was filled with learning about making sure my incisions healed well, living with a catheter (one benefit, actually the only one – was that I did not have to get up all those times at night to pee) and finding ways to keep moving as I was advised not to sit for longer than 45 minutes. My wife and I caught up by binging a number of shows we always wanted to see and every 45 minutes I would get up to do some walking. In that first week, I walked around my house, stopping to notice things that in my usual crazy work life I never noticed in my own house and yard. Somehow I was able to walk about 3 – 5 miles a day (thanks iPhone) without leaving home.
I was supposed to get my catheter out 7 days after surgery but due to scheduling availability, it was removed in 6 days (thanks Dr. Bui). Imaging revealed that I was sufficiently healed and the catheter removal was quick, if not a bit abrupt. Whoosh – it was pulled out like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Glad I was not awake to feel it go in!
Of course, from my way too much reading on the challenges post surgery about the inability to stay dry, my wife and I stopped on the way home from catheter removal to get “pads” for my recovery. For whatever reason, I never needed them. In the first week or so after catheter removal, there were a few times where I did leak when I got up from sitting on the floor, but with continued kegels, I continued to be dry.
And in the other department, I began to regain my abilities, maybe not as robust as before, but over the past three months, I have to say that the lifestyle impacts of my surgery have been minimal. I am back to my regular exercise and am looking forward to seeing my abs at the end of the shelter in place order.
I know that my situation is not common but due to the very real skills that Dr. Bui applied in my nerve sparing and prostate removal, as well as my own genetic makeup, luck, or circumstances, that it is possible to emerge from a prostatectomy with a literal new lease on life and a lifestyle similar to pre-surgery.
And the best news of all. Dr. Bui’s office just called with my first PSA test results – undetectable. I am cancer free, humbled by the experience and grateful for the care from all including Dr. Bui, my family and friends. If you are on this journey with prostate cancer, what to me was the most important thing, was to recognize the most important thing, which are those things you take for granted. I’m smelling roses, slowing down just a bit and taking the time to keep healthy, focused…and do a few more kegels.