I am currently in that place between having a treatment plan and waiting for it to start so while I wait I’ll continue my story. Last time I threatened you with the details of my biopsy.
You don’t want to know but in case this is going to be read by a man needing to have a biopsy I shall share some of the details. The only way to know for sure you have prostate cancer is to take a sample of the prostate tissue and put it under a microscope. A pathologist can then determine if any of the cells are cancerous and what is the stage of the cancer.
The question is how to get a few cells to check out. The prostate isn’t that easy to get to. It is located roughly in the center of the pelvis just below the bladder. In a wiring diagram it would be on the same wire between the bladder and the outside world.
and no they don’t stick tubes and needles up the penis to get to it.
The doctor approaches from the rear using an ultra sound probe and a spring-loaded needle. The probe goes up the rectum and using the ultra sound to locate the prostate they fire the needle about 12 times to get enough tissue from various parts to ensure that they have a complete picture.
Yes, it is every bit as, annoying, embarrassing, uncomfortable and undignified as it sounds. Then there are the after effects and the dire warnings of what you need to watch out for. Yes you do feel the needle when it hits – a little bit like getting punched from the inside out. And that was after the local anesthetic.
They started drilling me on the side effects of the procedure a few days before with an information sheet and a helpful call from the medical assistant. Turns out that infection is the thing they worry the most about – after all they’re firing a needle through one of the least clean parts of the body. And then there is the bleeding. After the procedure you bleed from every opening below the waist and you’re told you’ll have blood in your urine, stool and semen (the last word is not a typo) for a few days, weeks and/or months in the case of that last thing.
To fight off a possible infection they give you cipro before the procedure and a three-day supply to take home along with this instruction, “take your temperature three times a day for three days. Go to the emergency room if you have a reading over 101.” They also spend a lot of time trying to reassure you that everything will be all right and that most men have no problems – except for the bleeding and the fact that for two weeks you’ll be wondering if you need to call the doctor every time you pee.
Now I did just fine. The trick is to have an out-of-body experience while they’re shoving things up your back side and afterwards pretend to be a strong brave, manly man and just ‘suck it up’ and quit your complaining. Or afterwards you can pretend to be a scientist and be observant, “I wonder what the blood to urine ratio was in that last sample?” Or you can embrace your inner wimp and complain a lot. Your choice.
Of course it’s kind of easy to be the strong silent type about the whole thing because you’ll find very few people outside the hospital who will want to have conversations with you about which bodily fluid has the most blood in it. Almost no one will want to sit with you over coffee and discuss how much water you should drink to flush out the prostate.
Perhaps the most difficult part of prostate cancer is the isolation you can feel. Cancer is a loaded word and even with modern treatments there still is the smell of death about the word – I’ve noticed that my co-workers have stopped asking how I feel or complain about their health in my presence. The prostate is still hard for most men to talk about – even in this enlightened and open age. I grew up in a time and a family when these things weren’t openly talked about and I have to admit to being a bit shy about talking about my – stuff.
I am fortunate to have a very supportive wife, family, friends and church community. There are many people who are supportive and I know that no matter what there are people who will listen to me and help me get through all this. It is that support that makes it possible for me to even consider going ahead with the treatment – which is likely to be more annoying than the biopsy.
I have had the chance to talk to a few fellow biopsy survivors and trade horror stories. You can instantly tell if a man has had a prostate biopsy by merely mentioning the word “biopsy” and observing the pain that flashes over his face – there is the grimace and the instinctive bending over in pain.
Still while I like to complain it wasn’t that bad. I’ve had much more painful medical procedures and injuries but I am hoping that I’ll never have to do that again.
Next time – “The call”