Saturday, May 18, 2013

Unexpected Challenges

This is another in a series of posts about my journey through prostate cancer. The series begins here if you would like to read more.

The lady who cuts my hair told me a story about having surgery several years ago. "Six weeks!" That's how long her doctor said she must wait before doing any heavy lifting or strenuous exercise. "I didn't feel like doing anything for the first three weeks," she told me, "but about the fourth week, I was feeling really good. I was taking a walk along the canal bank one morning when I felt so good that I decided to run. Big mistake! Something broke loose, I had to rush to the doctor, have some surgical repair and start the recuperation period over from scratch." "Will you believe me this time?" the doctor asked. She did and finally got well.

Her story and others like it convinced me that I was ready to be a good boy. I wanted this surgery and, if possible, this my rear view mirror. The road turned out bumpier than I could have imagined.

I was released from the hospital on a Wednesday afternoon, two days after my prostatectomy. I could feel strength returning and my pain was so mild that Extra-Strength Tylenol took care of it. Cathy and I rented a privately-owned condominium about two miles from the hospital, preparing to stay a week post-surgery; our doctor suggested this. We received a few visitors who live in the Phoenix area. We were encouraged and our spirits were high. It looked like smooth sailing...until Friday.

Sometime Thursday night I started feeling like I was coming down with the Flu. I was aching and ping-ponging between chills and fever. I didn't have other Flu symptoms so I asked a follow-up nurse what to do. She gave me some simple advice and suggested I call the doctor on call in my physician's urology group. We watched my temperature for the next day or so and finally were told to go to the Emergency Room for some tests. Fever can be a sign of infection and we needed to know. That Saturday even in the ER, I was trembling with chills and feeling weak and yucky. The various tests, though, showed no infection. By the next day I was feeling much better and thought we were on the way to a speedy recovery. Another challenge was ahead.

On Wednesday the following week, my catheter was removed and we were given permission to come home to Yuma the next day, Thanksgiving. We awoke early, packed the car and headed down the Interstate toward home. About an hour later we made our first stop and I went to the bathroom. I experienced such significant pain that I couldn't stand up straight for several moments. Thinking it was something I had eaten, I told Cathy that we should drive on. The next stop, another hour along, and the same thing happened, but this time it was worse. By then, we were only an hour or so from home and were both anxious to get there. We were Thanksgiving guests at the home of some of our dearest friends and felt that surely Cathy could go even if I needed to stay home.

Our arrival at our house gave me the chance to go to the bathroom once again. This time the pain was so acute that I cried out in agony. We called the on-call doc back in Phoenix and he said I needed to get to the ER to find out what was wrong. Their original diagnosis was a urinary tract infection, but the lab results later ruled that out. We never found out the cause of that pain that someone said was like a kidney stone (which they also never found). For the next two days or so I was on heavy pain meds. Then, for a couple of weeks, I woke up every 1.5 hours or so and had to to potty.

Fast forward to this Spring when yet another problem cropped up. A prostatectomy is accompanied by two major risks: incontinence and sexual dysfunction. One prostate cancer survivor I know simply told me, "I was one for two." In my case, I sailed through both of these problems without severe challenge. However, I discovered that 1 in 10 prostatectomy patients have a different problem: scar tissue. You see, the prostatectomy involves disconnecting and reconnecting some of your plumbing. Your urethra must be disconnected from your bladder, then reconnected after the prostate is out of the way. Scar tissue can develop at that connection, closing off the opening through which the urine leaves the bladder. I discovered that it can become a painful situation.

My discovery took place as I was preparing for my 3-month checkup. My urine flow had been slowing down for the previous few weeks. Not understanding the problem, I chose to simply talk about it when I was at the checkup. Big mistake! My checkup showed no detectable cancer: "Yes!" However, my doc took a quick look at what I was dealing with and ordered me to surgery the next morning. The last 18 hours before that surgery were some of the most uncomfortable of my life. I constantly needed to "go", yet hardly anything came out. The doctor told us after surgery that I had but a pinhole of an opening left and he almost couldn't find it.

It turns out that stretching the urethra is relatively common in a case like mine, but it often has to be done more than once. I have had the procedure done a second time already and am scheduled for surgery number three. As a Christian, I believe that God can and does heal people physically. I have seen it. In fact, we are seeing it more and more where we live. Thus, we are praying that He does this stretching without another surgery, but we are at peace if the surgery is required. I have a few weeks to see what happens.

I sat in an examining room at my family physician's office yesterday. He and I are friends and I enjoyed a moment to reflect during my my twice-yearly checkup. I am in amazingly good health for this season in my life. Cathy and I enjoy significant energy and try to care for our bodies with proper diet, exercise and rest. We have so much for which to be thankful. These days, every time I see something in the press about cancer survivors, it hits me: "I'm one of those!" For years I thought of cancer as "the big C." It's actually pretty small in the grand scheme of things.

The Big "C" is Christ and He is massive!


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