Okay, today marks six months since having my radical prostatectomy on 4 January 2011, and I thought that I would provide a general overview of what life has been like in those six months.
Elements of this page will be very graphic in nature (talking about incontinence and sexual function), so if you’re not a fellow prostate cancer patient, you may just want to hit Google’s “I feel lucky” button.
The Early Days
I was off work from 3 January to 14 February, and might have been able to return sooner had it not been for the little episode with the infected lymph fluid that sent me back into the hospital for five days in late January.
Because the lymph fluid built up around my bladder and squeezed the piss out of it (literally), my bladder control wasn’t exactly where I wanted it when I returned to work. Fortunately, it was good enough not to have to wear the full Depends diapers, and only the protective pads.
In late February and March, any residual pain from the surgery or drain tubes was gone and I resumed most of my normal activities–walking, stairs, driving–without much of an issue. I was typically going through two or three pads a day depending on how active I was or just whether or not it was a good day or bad day for me.
That’s one thing my surgeon told me to expect–a roller coaster ride of good and bad days. I didn’t let myself get too discouraged on the bad days because I knew that the trend line was going up–my good days kept outnumbering my bad days more and more.
The other thing that he reminded me was that recovery times vary person-by-person. One person can be dry in a matter of weeks, and another can take a full year. I’ve been in the middle on that.
Stress incontinence was an issue early on. Chances of me spring a leak were pretty good when squatting, lifting groceries from an odd angle, sneezing, or coughing. In the very early days, I found that even standing too quickly could cause a leak.
And then there are just the, “What the hell was that?” episodes. I can recall just standing in the grocery store talking to a coworker when I felt a little squirt just hit the pad for no apparent reason. Go figure.
None of the leaks were large in volume. In other words, I wasn’t peeing in my pants. Most, I would estimate, were less than a teaspoonful (or perhaps a tablespoonful on some occasions)–enough to warrant having a bad to avoid a wet spot in my trousers.
Throughout all of that, I found myself running to the bathroom more frequently than I did before the surgery. It wasn’t that I really needed to “go,” rather I think it was more psychological at first. I just wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t have an accident.
Part of it was physical, too. Up until rather recently, there was a near-constant urge to urinate. That made for frequent trips to the bathroom even though my bladder was relatively empty.
Interestingly, in mid-May, the leaks pretty much stopped (save the stress incontinence) and I decided to stop wearing the pads. And I’ve done so with only one small incident–a sneeze surprised me before I could tighten my pelvic floor muscles and cross my legs.
By the first week of June, the near-constant urge to urinate went away, although it came back for a couple of days last week.
By April, I was able to resume traveling for fun and work. I took several lengthy road trips and my first flight.
Interestingly, there are some logistical and security concerns when traveling with pads. First, you have to remember to bring them. Second, getting through airport screenings with something shoved down your underwear is probably something you don’t want to do unless you want to have an intimate experience with a TSA agent.
For my first flight, I actually wore a pad as I drove to the airport. I went to the men’s room after checking in, removed it, and then proceeded through security. As I went through security, I explained my situation to the TSA agent and asked what would happen if I had to wear the pad through security. He said they’d pull me into a private room and conduct a search there.
After clearing security, I went to the men’s room, pulled a spare pad out of my carry-on bag, and put it in place for the flight.
As far as sexual function is concerned, we may as well call it sexual dysfunction at this point. Nothing’s happening in that department yet.
Remember that, because my tumor was so large, the surgeon had to take one set of nerve bundles, so that greatly reduced my possibility of regaining normal sexual function without some sort of assistance.
The doctor started me on the daily 5 mg Cialis pills when he pulled the catheter out. We stopped them when I was readmitted to the hospital for my infection, and then resumed them on my return home.
Shortly after returning to work, my vision started getting pretty blurry. Knowing that one of the side effects of Cialis is blurred vision or–worse–out-and-out blindness, I stopped taking the pills. Saving my vision was more important than getting a boner.
I think that I may have overreacted some, because a visit to my optometrist revealed that I had perfectly healthy eyes. Perhaps it was just getting back in front of a computer under miserable fluorescent lights that caused the blurriness. Still, I have yet to resume the Cialis.
While I haven’t been able to have an erection, I have been able to generate enough excitement to have orgasms. Orgasms after the prostatectomy are much different than those before.
First, there’s the obvious fact that there’s no ejaculate. All of that plumbing was disconnected or removed during the surgery. Interestingly, I find the orgasms to be more intense after the surgery. I find myself much more hypersensitive to touch during or immediately after. That’s something that I wasn’t expecting.
So it took me from January to the end of May to become “dry” again as far as the incontinence was concerned. Wearing the pads was a minor inconvenience and they certainly beat the alternative of having cancer and dying. As my doctor reminded me, not everyone recovers the same, so be patient.
As far as the sexual function is concerned, I’ll be patient on that. A fellow survivor told me it took him 18 months to regain function, and he had both sets of nerves left behind. Besides, I’m not in a relationship right now so it’s not as though that’s an immediate need to satisfy a partner. If I do find someone, then this will take on increased importance.
Are there days that I wish I had my prostate back? Of course. But I’m thankful that I’m around to have those thoughts.