Getting older, unfortunately, can be more than just a series of aches and pains, skim blotches and gray hair. Sometimes major Bad Stuff happens.
Prostate cancer, for example. I had my encounter with the Big C when I was still in my sixties. I went in for my annual checkup – something everyone needs to do, no exceptions -- and the doc said there appeared to be a spike in my PSA (prostate specific antigen) reading. A subsequent biopsy confirmed that I had a cancerous tumor in my prostate gland. Not the sort of news you want to hear.
If I’d had that diagnosis later – this year, for example, when I’m 75 – and the cancer appeared to be slow-growing, I probably wouldn’t do anything about it. The medics figure that something else would probably kill me first, before the prostate cancer had a chance. But my diagnosis came earlier, the cancer was fast-growing, and something had to be done. So I checked my options.
The good news is that there are a number of options. The bad news is that there are a number of options. There’s not one clear favorite, and all can have unpleasant side effects, most commonly incontinence and impotence. In this instance, the I’s definitely don’t have it.
One option is implanting radioactive seeds in the prostate. Another is bombarding the tumor with highly-targeted beams of radiation, guided by a different type of implants. There’s also surgical removal of the prostate, and the tumor with it.
I chose the latter, with the operation performed by a top surgeon who specializes in keeping connected as many of the nerves around the prostate as possible.
Major surgery never is fun, but mine worked. For the past 12 years, my tests have come back cancer free. No more doctors need to put on that rubber glove. I don’t need to wear adult diapers. I’ll never be a father again (no prostate, no sperm), but I wasn’t planning to be. And all my important other equipment still works, although it occasionally takes a nudge from Levitra. Never thought I’d be paying for sex, pill by pill, but it’s worth it.
My major take-away from this is the importance of those yearly checkups, no matter your gender. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, they scare me. I don’t want to hear any bad news.” Believe me, the scarier news would be to hear, “Yes, you have cancer but it’s too late to fix. If only we’d caught it earlier.”
Cancer isn’t a death sentence if discovered in time. Take the Bad Stuff seriously.