Surgery was yesterday, Friday. Today it’s Saturday and I’ve driven myself home. And I have the kids on Saturdays (and Tuesdays and Thursdays and…) and no catheter and bag or swollen incisions or cancer-free innards is going to keep me from my kids. Besides, let them take care of me for a change! (Digression #2 – that’s also silliness. They are loving, caring, respectful, independent, attentive – oh, and brilliant, beautiful and…still, let ’em take care of me tonight!). The night goes well though I must confess that peeing in a bag is bothersome.
The next day they go to their mom’s. I look at my stationary bike. I look at the hose-and-bag situation. I do some quick calculations. Five minutes later I’m on the bike with a chair next to me serving as “coat rack” for the catheter bag. Feels pretty good. Next day I go to work – wearing my “cancer pants” – a pair of black track pants. They slip up over my swollen middle and allow me to strap my bag to my leg.
Only a couple people at work know about my weekend adventure. One of them sees me at work and says “didn’t you have…” and then just rolls her eyes.
Time out: this again sounds like I’m a little blase. I’m not. I’m just a data hound. If something hurts but is not doing damage, then it is your choice whether to do it or not. And if it doesn’t hurt, then there’s no reason not to do it. Exercise, work, etc – I’m following the doctor’s recommendation and letting the pain measure what I can do. Standards aren’t rules.
Here’s a very cool thing – COH has a twenty-four hour on-call nurse. You ring any time day or night and she’ll answer or get right back to you. A couple days after the surgery, I notice that an area of my body that is usually not pitch black suddenly is. I am slightly alarmed. It’s 2 a.m. I call the nurse. Margaret answers. She sounds experienced.
“Honey, I’ve seen ’em be yellow, black, red, purple…you’re fine. Don’t need to worry unless it hurts a lot.”
My relief is palpable.
A week later I pop into the hospital to have my catheter removed. It is an interesting sequence of events. Everyone handles it differently. The nurse explains the process, tells me it will be fine, attempts to be soothing, and I give her a short version of the same speech I gave Dr. Kawachi. She’s a pro – twenty seconds later we’re done and she practically hugs me; there’s a guy in the next room who’s been there for two hours and I think she’s ready to order valium.
There are two major side effects of having a prostatectomy (fancy word for the slash-and-grab that took the organ central to the ability to reproduce. Quick side note: I made a “deposit” at the cryogenic lab before my surgery. Just in case I need to make some more stunning children). The side effects are a result of the fact they are re-doing your internal plumbing. Things that were attached one way are now attached another way. And, as mentioned earlier, nerves are traumatized. So what are these two common side effects? Trying to think of some delicate euphemisms here…Never mind, here goes.
Incontinence and erectile dysfunction. NEITHER is a friend.
Going for delicacy at this point. By thirty days after the surgery the former was nothing more than a memory. On the other hand, re-invigorating those poor traumatized nerves that wanted to go into hiding for the rest of my life was a different matter. Standard treatment: a year of daily Viagra to remind the guys what a normal response is. My response: No. Freakin’. Way.
So I begin a…”regimen.” I record it (in writing and in code, of course – so my kids don’t come across down the road. On my first visit to Dr. Kawachi six weeks after the surgery, I show it to him. He is quiet for a moment.
“That’s very interesting.”
Fast forward three months. I take my first PSA test. If there are detectable levels of PSA in the first year, it is a very bad sign. My first test comes back “undetectable.” I continue my recovery. Three more months, then a year after surgery – still nothing.
It’s now been two years. I get the PSA test done on schedule, more or less. Physically, all is good. Emotionally, all is good. Spiritually? My life did not change, I did not suddenly go sky-diving or look at the sunrise with fresh eyes. I did not wake up and realize life is fragile and I have to grab every moment. I already knew all that. For fifteen years, every single day I’ve looked at my kids and said some version of “I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have them.” Before cancer, I grumbled about work or bad drivers or why I wasn’t writing enough. After cancer, I do all the same things. But I also loved my life before cancer and I love it now. Before cancer I questioned my choices, made fun of myself, wondered if I were moving through the world with too much of a sense of entitlement and ownership; after cancer I do the same things. There are things I like about myself and plenty I don’t. That was true before and after cancer.
What I didn’t know before cancer, though, was something I couldn’t have learned without it: that my view of the world is consistent, that I am who I think I am. I don’t know if that is good or bad. I just know it is real, and it is somehow comforting. Wait, that’s not the word – it isn’t comforting. It is…refreshing. Encouraging. Interesting. And maybe just a little disconcerting.
So at some level I suppose I should thank cancer for the experience. For the insight. For the – “side effects.” But I’m putting all that aside. Instead, the only message I have for cancer is: Kiss My Ass.
Murder In Mind at Amazon
Murder In Mind at Barnes & Noble
A Twisted Path at Amazon
A Twisted Path at Barnes & Noble