Let’s call them “Dick and Jane” for purposes of privacy. When Dick, Jane’s beloved, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it was a shock to both of them. Although he’s the one with the prostate, they both had to make their adjustments. He had to decide on a treatment, the biggie, a decision determined largely by how much would be covered by his health insurance.
Prostate cancer is now the most common cancer in American men, besides skin cancers: “The American Cancer Society estimates that during 2008 about 186,320 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. About 1 man in 6 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, but only 1 man in 35 will die of it. More than 2 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today. … According to the most recent data, for all men with prostate cancer, the relative 10-year survival rate is 91 percent and the 15-year survival rate is 76 percent.”
Unfortunately, the “cutting edge” of prostate cancer treatment – the bloodless, vaguely sci-fi “gamma knife” you’ve seen advertised by some medical centers – is still considered too experimental to qualify for health-insurance reimbursement, so at this point it’s limited to wealthy patients not worried about their wallets.
Because Dick’s prostate cancer was discovered only in one sector at a relatively early stage with a moderately elevated PSA, he decided to have implantation of radioactive “seeds” – Brachytherapy – rather than radical surgery.
In Dick’s case, besides CAT scans and bone scans, he also needed to undergo several other preliminary minor surgical procedures first, culminating in the dreaded unpleasantness of catheterization accompanied by an extra added bonus of visiting nurses.
Wait – don’t forget to mention the hormones! Because testosterone has been implicated in possibly triggering prostate cancer, some treatments seek to neutralize that mechanism. And so Dick would also receive female hormone shots and female hormone pills – which, his urologist warned him, might bring hot flashes, enlarged breasts, weight gain, possible mood swings, and no interest in sex whatever. “It won’t even cross your mind,” the doctor declared, but Dick wasn’t convinced.
As for Jane, she jokes she was waiting for Dick to show up in a dress.
But what the doctor didn’t mention was Dick would become … a changed man. Suddenly, this tough, handsome guy started crying at happy-sad TV shows. He developed a craving for chocolate, going shopping and even chick flicks. Weird, huh? For Jane, it was almost like having a new girlfriend.
Amazingly enough, most hospitals really don’t seem to counsel men about what it will be like – what they’re actually facing emotionally, let alone physically. Ultimately, whatever the choice of treatment in prostate cancer, the upshot seems to be incontinence and impotence, one way or another. So, no matter which direction the treatment takes – coping with this situation even temporarily – a couple’s relationship will definitely change.
Jane knows theirs has.
Hey, she points out, has anyone else ever noticed something like this? As soon as Dick’s hormone treatment stops, within just a few weeks he’s back to being the cranky old man she knows and loves. Yet during the female hormone-bombardment phase, he was so sweet, even meek.
Pleased with his progress, Dick’s physician has given him a stash of “little blue pills” for special occasions when he’s back in the mood again, which Jane hopes will be soon! All he must do is remember not to take them within several hours of his blood-pressure meds. That is, if he remembers to take the herb gingko biloba for his memory first!
Meanwhile, Jane’s challenge is being totally supportive of Dick in his chosen treatment, whatever direction it takes. Thankfully, his prognosis is very positive. As the American Cancer Society says, “More than 9 out of 10 prostate cancers are found in the local and regional stages (local means it is still confined to the prostate; regional means it has spread from the prostate to nearby areas, but not to distant sites, such as bone). When compared to men the same age and race who do not have cancer (called relative survival), the five-year relative survival rate for these men is nearly 100 percent.”
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