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Two years ago, my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
This is something I haven’t talked about much until today, not online and not on this blog. There were a couple of reasons for that.
For one thing, though it impacted me as well, it really wasn’t my story to tell. It was my husband’s and he is a very private person.
Also, in our usual straightforward and efficient way, we handled it. After talking with doctors and doing quite a bit of research, my husband had surgery to remove his prostate. The margins were clear and no chemotherapy or radiation was deemed necessary. After a few months of recovery, everything seemed fine and we went on with our lives.
A few months ago, we learned that the cancer is back. Or maybe they never got it all of it during the surgery. We’re not quite sure. But it doesn’t really matter as far as the treatment is concerned.
Before you get too worried, I want you to know that my husband’s odds of recovery are still excellent. He is undergoing treatment that should allow him to live a completely normal life for many years to come. So, while I know some of you will be concerned, please know that he is fine and so am I. All will be well.
SO WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT THIS NOW?
My husband and I know a lot more about prostate cancer than we did a couple of years ago. For one thing, we know that it is one of the most common male cancers. We also know that while this is “his” cancer, going through this experience has had an impact on our life as a couple.
I’m writing about this now (with my husband’s support) because the chances of a Beyond 50 woman learning that her beloved has been diagnosed with prostate cancer are significant. We hope our experience will be of help to others who will be facing the same situation.
Know the Lingo: Gleason Scores, PSA Counts, and DRE
If your beloved is over 50, he should be screened for prostate cancer annually. The most common screen for prostate cancer is a PSA test. Unfortunately, the PSA tests can be unreliable. As much as your man may dislike it, his doctor should also perform a DRE, Digital Rectal Examination (as in performed with digits – i.e., fingers).
My husband’s PSA numbers were completely normal. However, during the DRE, his doctor felt a small lump. A subsequent biopsy showed it was cancerous.
When prostate cancer is found, testing will be done to determine the patient’s “Gleason Score” to see how aggressive the cancer is. (If you want more specifics on the Gleason score and prostate cancer grading, the Prostate Cancer Foundation website is very helpful and relatively easy to understand.)
Even though my husband’s PSA scores were normal, his cancer was moderately aggressive. The prostate needed to be removed to prevent the cancer from spreading. If not for that uncomfortable digital exam, it might already have done so and we would be facing much less favorable odds of survival.
I cannot stress it strongly enough – do not rely on the PSA test alone. A digital examination is very important in helping to detect prostate cancer.
COMMON AND CURABLE OR NOT, IT’S STILL CANCER
The bad news about prostate cancer is that a lot of men get it.
Approximately 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives. However, it is primarily a disease for men over the age of 50, which is another reason I want my Fierce Friends to know more about it.
Only about 1 in 350 men under age 50 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, that rate rises to 1 in 52 for ages 50 to 59, 1 in 19 for ages 60 to 69, and 1 in 11 for men 70 and older.
The good news is that prostate cancer is highly treatable. The 5-year survival rate for prostate cancer is 99%. Even so, prostate cancer is still the second leading cause of death among men in the US.
Recently, a well-intended friend said, “But nobody dies of prostate cancer.” This simply isn’t true.
Common or not, treatable or not, cancer is cancer. Ignoring it or delaying necessary treatment can have dire consequences. But with early detection and appropriate treatment, most men with prostate cancer can enjoy a normal lifespan.
I’m counting on my husband being one of them.
AFTER THE DIAGNOSIS
Many forms of prostate cancer are very slow growing. Doctors may advise “watchful waiting” for men who are in the early stages of the disease. In that instance, the patient is monitored closely and treatment is delayed until the cancer progresses.
Men whose prostate cancer is more aggressive or advanced will require further treatment and possibly surgery to remove the prostate. There are a lot of different possible approaches to treatment. Do as much research as you can before deciding which approach is right for you and your beloved. (Again, the Prostate Cancer Foundation has a lot of excellent information.
Just about any treatment for prostate cancer will have the potential for temporary or permanent sexual side effects. I’m planning to write another post about specifics in the future. For now, I’ll simply urge you and your beloved to discuss this openly before, during, and after treatment. Talking about the sexual side of his prostate treatment may be uncomfortable but discussing it in an honest and supportive manner is important.
HIS CANCER, OUR JOURNEY
After doing the research, my husband decided to undergo robotic surgery to remove the prostate.
Some minor complications meant that his surgery lasted a little longer than was expected. He was in the hospital for two nights instead of one. After that, he went home and was fully recovered after a few weeks. At the time, tests showed that the cancer was gone and that no radiation or chemotherapy was needed.
Most men who undergo a prostatectomy see their PSA drop to undetectable levels. That never happened with my husband but the numbers continued to head slowly in the right direction so his doctor wasn’t concerned.
However, a few months back, the PSA began to climb. A new type of scan which can detect even very small traces of cancer did show a mass in the prostate area. However, it hasn’t migrated to the lymph nodes or other parts of his body. We’re grateful for that and very optimistic about the outcome.
Recently, he underwent the first of 35 external beam radiation treatments. The side effects should be very mild. So far, he hasn’t had any problems. Even so, I’ve moved into the big city, where he is undergoing treatment, for the next couple of months. He probably won’t need my help. In fact, he keeps assuring me he won’t.
Probably he is right. But I’ll be here, just the same.