Good Bye Old Friend - Bob's Story
Goodbye Old Friend
It happened quickly, without any of the tears or emotion I had feared. After all, we had been talking about a separation for some time. Things had been a little rocky for a while and when the end arrived we were both ready for it. Let me see…. It all began seven years ago when I began to suspect that something was wrong, that I had been betrayed by something so close to me, so intimate and so integral to how I saw myself that at first I found it hard to believe. But the evidence began to mount. There were reports and consults with specialists and I was reduced to waiting for the inevitable – the final and conclusive evidence that it could be ignored no longer and that something had to be done.
Late on a February Friday the phone rang in the darkening room – waking me from a stolen nap. “Bob” said a measured and emotionless voice – the voice of a reasonable man – hoping to avoid a painful conversation.” I have some news. The tests are back and there’s some bad news- we’ll have to talk.” Although we had discussed it I never really thought the day would really come. I never thought it would be confirmed and I’d have to decide whether I held on, clinging to a relationship that just didn’t work anymore, or I did what I knew I had to do and severed our ties altogether. No more time to worry or deny or postpone. There was the evidence in black and white.
They had done my third biopsy – an unnecessary precaution I thought. 18 cores, each like the blast of a shotgun when you’re on the receiving end, but familiar, almost routine at this point. They found cancerous cells in only one core and scored my cancer as a 6 on the Gleason scale – a measurement of your potential for a cure or for future trouble. It was a marginal score – a pyrrhic victory – but it only made the fright factor a little lower. After all, I had been tracking my errant prostate for over six years. When my PSA first started to rise, I got on the every six month test program, and when it rose precipitously two years ago, I had my first biopsy. Negative!
But…. Better re-test in a year. And when that was negative - lets be extra safe – an abundance of caution – belt and suspenders stuff. The third biopsy confirmed what I knew but didn’t want to admit. I had prostate cancer. Whew. Now that I said it and knew it - I could do what I did best. Respond.
In all fairness I knew from the beginning that we had been tracking this for so long and so thoroughly that there was little chance that it had spread beyond my prostate. I wasn’t going to die and although I am proud to be a cancer survivor, I was never faced with the real possibility that this news meant a real end – only a diversion on what has been a pretty lucky journey so far. Nevertheless, it was my prostate and I knew enough to know that bad stuff lurked around every corner – stuff like incontinence and sexual side effects that I wanted to avoid like a subway mugging. I began to look at my options;
Watchful waiting: Hoping that it doesn’t get any worst and deal with this later. I hated this option – a limbo of tests and waiting for the phone to ring with more bad news. No, this was not for me. It sounded like getting a divorce then living in the same house with your ex-wife. Let’s deal with this and live with the results.
Radiation: Another half step. Leave the prostate in, radiate the area and hope that you get the critter. I was not interested in a compromise – even though the statistics are far from compelling that one approach is better than the next. Hey, radiation works, but to me it felt like I’d be playing it a little safe – and this felt like another version of living with the cancer for a lot longer than I wanted.
Surgery: Let’s get this thing out. There was traditional surgery or robotic surgery – variations on a theme. In some cases, robotic wouldn’t work and in some cases the doctor just preferred the traditional surgical approach. Big scars, lots of blood but a see it and touch it approach. Feel of the cloth. The young guys- the fighter pilots were all extolling the virtues of robotic surgery. Minimally invasive, fast recovery and good nerve sparing results. Sounded like a plan to me.
Robotic surgery it was. This seemed to be my best chance of a confident end to the cancer, fast recovery and hopefully, when it was all said and done, a functioning unit that didn’t drip
I was lying in the pre-op rotunda at Presbyterian Hospital waiting for the anesthesiologist to give me the relaxing drug when I said my final goodbye. When I woke up I’d be prostate free and hopefully cancer free as well. We’d had a long and pretty glorious relationship but we both knew it was time for a change. Time to put ego and performance aside for bigger considerations like longevity and peace of mind. I admit that I was a little nervous – but I was ready. Goodbye old friend.
Postscript: My six month post-surgery checkup had gone well. No incontinence, everything worked and a great PSA score of less than .01. I had done well from the day of surgery and was up on my feet and walking two miles a day within 24 hours. Lucky. All the stories about catheters and diapers and pumps seemed overblown and the sad result of some combination of conditions that didn’t apply to me. I was moving on with my life and this cancerous bump in the road barely stressed the suspension. Lucky but not stupid. I have checkups every three months for another year then twice a year for a while and after that back to intelligent observation. My old friend is not completely out of sight but he’s a good way off and I hope to keep him there. Not a huge price to pay to be able to say: I am a cancer survivor.