Prostate cancer: manhood, empathy and recovery

Being diagnosed with prostate cancer made me more mature because I had to take on more responsibilities

 

I remember sitting down one day and starting to cry. I still had the catheter inside me following the removal of my prostate gland. I had been told that this operation can be quite depressing. I think it goes back to how it affects reproduction.

Although I had got to the stage where I didn’t have kids, it was still an emotional journey being told I couldn’t have them. I’m still dealing with that. I don’t think that emotional impact is really recognised.

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago at the age of 49. Initially, I thought that there might have been some weakness in my bladder, as happens when you get older.

The diagnosis came as a result of my doctor monitoring my PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels and carrying out a test. My father had prostate cancer, so that was a factor. He got it in his 80s and had chemotherapy. He lived for about four years after the treatment.

The doctor examined me by putting a finger up my back passage. I thought that test was a myth but it’s the only way to find out at the beginning whether there’s a problem with the prostate. I was asked a lot of questions about toilet behaviour and whether I was stressed.

Subsequently, I had a biopsy which was intrusive. I had a local anaesthetic at the end of what I can describe only as something like an electric toothbrush being pushed up from behind. With this test, the prostate, which is the size of a walnut, is pierced 12 times.

The anaesthetic is inside the implement but I still felt pain. From that test, my consultant was able to tell me that my grading was six out of 10 which meant I had a small bit of cancer in the gland. I was told what options I had. My consultant recommended surgery because he said I was a young fit man. It was nice to be told that at 49.

Normal to have cancer

The word “cancer” is very scary for a lot of people but it’s very normal nowadays to have cancer. I came to a place in my mind where I had to embrace it and manage myself on my journey. I made myself walk after I woke up from the operation although it took me nearly two hours to get out of the bed. The night nurse came in and asked me what I was doing.

I didn’t really feel sore after the operation. I wasn’t on any strong pain killers. I’m in remission and I just suffer from slight aches and pains. It’s interesting when people meet me. They say I look great but they never actually ask me how I am. I think there’s a lack of empathy from people.

Men especially are not really supported regarding some of our health concerns. Girls become aware of their bodies at a very young age whereas we men are coy about talking about our bodies and our health. Therefore, we’re kind of isolated later in life.

I’m hoping to change that with my art project, ‘The Gallus Project’, which consists of photographs of me taken on my journey. There’s humour there and the photographs are very masculine suggesting Greco-Romanesque warriors. We men have to be brave so I’m using that idea in the work as a method of communicating.

The operation has a huge impact on one’s manhood. After the catheter came out, my consultant said he was going to put me on Viagra in order to stimulate that area. Otherwise, it gets smaller. Thank God for Viagra. Before the operation, I wasn’t really aware of how it would affect my manhood. I suppose the doctors are afraid to say too much to you in case you don’t reach that stage.

The recovery is quite isolating. I took a year off from my job as a librarian at UCC. I’m a strong person and I’ve looked after myself all my life.

I used the support of Arc House. It was nice to have a neutral person to talk to.

 

More mature

The experience made me more mature because I had to take on more responsibilities. I look at life differently now. I know people who are going into recovery from cancer. We talk a different language to each other. We’re able to empathise. We can be a friend but not a counsellor.

 

Prior to my operation, I wrote letters to people in my life telling them what was happening. They said they would be there to support me. After the operation, I wrote another letter thanking people who did actually support me.

I have a slight indifference towards people who said they’d be there for me but weren’t. But I do understand that people are afraid of cancer.

After the operation, I was like a woman who has had a baby. I had to relearn the “squeeze” when going to the toilet. It was so liberating to be without the catheter. I did some Pilates to help my core strength.

This year, I’ve been to the doctor only twice and that had nothing to do with my cancer. However, I’ll be in the care of my consultant for the rest of my life. I became aware only recently of the argument about over-screening of the prostate. I think men should get tested regularly. They should be vigilant. If you catch prostate cancer early, you have a better chance of recovery.