Our Experience with Prostate Cancer


Courtesy of ClkerAt forty-eight, my husband appears the picture of health. He jogs an average of ten miles a week, lifts weights, eats healthy, and has an incredible amount of energy.

Things aren’t always what they seem.

Six years ago, my superman spouse was diagnosed with prostate cancer. To say we were shocked would be an understatement. One day we’re planning our next getaway to Key West and the next we’re fighting for his life. We had assumed this was an older man’s disease.

We researched all the treatments, including a wait-and-see approach that made us both leery. He elected to have the cancerous organ removed via nerve-sparing robotic radical prostatectomy. As I’d expected, he tolerated the procedure very well with minimal side effects. His greatest issues physically were regaining urinary control (That concern cleared up within months.) and ED (You’ve seen the commercials. There are pills for that.). The post-surgery test results all pointed to a healthy future. He just needed to follow up with yearly PSA tests in the rare case stray cancer cells returned to cause trouble.

We viewed this experience as a bump in the road.

Yes, it changed us, but mostly for the better. Life is even more precious, our enjoyment of the little things greater. If you’re curious about intimacy after such surgery, from my perspective it’s been better too. Different in some ways, but still incredible.

Life has been good.  

Trouble arrived this past October, with an annual blood test showing my husband’s PSA count had risen. Our belief is that cancer cells must have escaped during the initial biopsy, lying dormant for years in the lower pelvis before growing again. Our earlier experience with this cancer taught us it’s unpredictable, but with many treatment options and many possible quality-of-life side effects. As you may know from your experiences with cancer, the days after diagnosis are the most frightening. We cried, we worried, and we waited for test results, including a full-body bone scan, there being a possibility of the cancer traveling into the bones. Apparently, that’s where bored prostate cancers like to migrate. There’s not yet a cure for that kind of prostate cancer, it’s painful, and the treatments compromise a person’s quality-of-life. The results were negative.

We could breathe again.

After more research, my husband chose an aggressive, two-pronged attack of his disease. He is undergoing six months of hormone therapy, which temporarily halts his testosterone production and in turn starves the cancer cells. Testosterone levels is a factor why a younger man’s battle with prostate cancer can be more challenging than that of an older man. In addition, my honey is being treated with radiation, fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, for thirty-five sessions, with the ultimate goal of eradicating those weakened, stunned cells. There are possible side effects to radiation, of course, including fatigue and interference with urinary and bowel function. These concerns are more likely to occur late in treatment and up to months afterward as the body heals.

What’s the prognosis?

Our goal is a complete cure, a miracle if you will, and the reason we’ve willingly sacrificed six months of physical intimacy and our family’s routine. The prognosis from the doctors is that his cancer is very treatable and manageable–whatever that means.

“Life is all about the experiences.”

Shortly after we learned the cancer had returned, my husband shared the above quote and added that this must his obstacle to live with or overcome. He didn’t exhibit self-pity. When he learned that part of his treatment would chemically castrate him for a half-year, steal his muscle mass and strength for up to eighteen months or more, and add hot and cold flashes and mood swings to his daily reality, he didn’t blink twice. I haven’t once heard him complain about being tired (although I know he must be). To me, this man epitomizes the saying, “No Excuses.”

Lessons I’ve learned from this experience:

  1. We are very blessed. My husband’s disease is treatable, with the potential for success. Many people diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses aren’t as fortunate. I pray for them to receive grace and dignity through their trials.
  2. Intimacy is the love shared between souls. The physical act can be an extension of that emotion, but it doesn’t define it.
  3. Don’t wait! Take a risk! I’ve been writing seriously just shy of three years. I’m as of yet unpublished, part of the reason is I haven’t risked putting my work out there enough. At my husband’s urging (and my writer friends), I’m preparing to submit my romantic suspence short novel to three ebook publishers next month.
  4. Love the people in your life. I always knew this, but this health scare has reinforced my commitment to nurturing relationships despite my shy nature.

Why share this now?

Months ago, my husband asked that I bring awareness to prostate cancer and to encourage men his age and younger to be as proactive about their health as many older men are by getting annual physical exams.

I’m a romance writer. Cancer ain’t sexy. This blog is about forgetting your worries. Life-threatening illnesses are one of the heavier topics a writer can broach. I’ve tiptoed around the subject, but I struggled divulging such private, sad information to the world.  Lately though, I haven’t been able to concentrate when writing my weekly blog post. How can I lose myself for hours a day writing and revising novels, but be stumped by a 500-word article? That’s when I realized I was holding back from you, avoiding my secret pain, because then that would make it real. No going back.

Today I take a risk (Lesson #3) and share with you the silent battle my family has fought for the past six months. It’s part of us now. We’ve adjusted. We are doing well, dealing with what comes and enjoying each day. We look forward to the future. We’ve booked our family vacation with the kids for the summer, I’m attending the RWA convention in Atlanta in July, and my husband and I are headed back to Key West in October. Life goes on, and for that I’m very thankful.

I’m hopeful this story encourages you to make the most of each moment with your loved ones. If you don’t get annual physicals, please start. Maybe this post really does fit this blog’s theme. I look forward to bringing you a Margarita Moment on Monday.

xoxo

Jolyse

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30 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Patty Blount
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 13:29:55

    What a gut-wrenchingly honest post. Thank you both for sharing it. I’ll be sure to share with my husband who’s already 50 because I also thought we didn’t have to worry about this yet.

  2. Jolyse Barnett
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 13:46:06

    Thanks, Patty. If this post can save a life, then foregoing our privacy as a couple is well worth the price. Most men won’t ever go through our experience, and they will be reassured to learn they are healthy. My husband’s first symptoms were fatigue and more bathroom trips during the night. He followed up with blood tests. The PSA was within normal limits. He returned to the doctor a few months later with the same complaints. The PSA was still within normal limits but had risen. He knew something wasn’t right, and followed up with a urologist. No symptoms upon the physical exam but the doctor listened to my husband’s concerns, retested the PSA–which had risen again–and agreed a biopsy was in order. The biopsy showed an early, moderately aggressive cancer. Surgery was performed within weeks.

    Part of the lesson is to be your own health advocate, and follow up as needed.

  3. jeff
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 15:56:48

    God bless you and your family. Our families experience with cancer was different but had many of the same effects. Cherishing the people and memories of every day is much more important and made the quality of our life better for it.
    Thank you for sharing, I am going to schedule an appointment to get checked and thank you and your husband for it.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 16:36:25

      Thanks for the kind words, Jeff. I’ll tell my husband of your plan to have a prostate screening. I know he’ll be pleased. He doesn’t want anyone to suffer or die needlessly when this condition can often be treated and controlled if caught early.

      God bless your family too. We look forward to KW this fall. 🙂

  4. Christine Ashworth
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 16:17:29

    Good for you for taking the risk. I’ve found, especially with health issues related to sexuality, that we Americans don’t talk about them. Which is stupid, and sad. We need to bring awareness to everyone. Thanks to the Internet, we now have a global village to draw upon for advice, experience, and caring.

    Congratulations for taking this risk, and for putting your work out there. You deserve success.

    Hugs!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 16:46:04

      You make an excellent point, Christine. I often feel very alone, not knowing any other men and women in our age bracket fighting or living with prostate cancer. I believe there must be some out there, and I want them to know there are other people going through this. Yes, it puts a strain on a marriage–as any illness would–but there’s the additional emotional component when it impacts a person’s sexuality.

      This may seem odd, but my greatest fear when my husband began the hormone therapy was that he wouldn’t like me any more (without that underlying attraction we’ve always had). I’ve learned a lot about myself and our relationship these past months. Some may view what we’ve gone through as a curse, but there have been unexpected blessings too. I now know he loves me for my mind, heart, and soul, and not because of the package it comes in. Phew! LOL

      Oh, and a sense of humor is KEY!!

  5. Jeannie Moon
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 16:53:07

    Your honesty and courage are inspiring, my dear friend. And isn’t this just like you to want to help others. I will keep saying my prayers for all of you, but that Grace your talk about in your post, it sounds like you have it in abundance.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 17:04:20

      Awww, Jeannie. Thanks for always being there for me. My greatest blessings are my family and friends. I pray that I have the strength and grace you hear in my words for whatever the future holds.

      I’m soooo excited about your debut novel! Your life and your writing journey has inspired me as well. Here’s to wonderful book sales and reviews for you and April submissions and pitches/networking at the luncheon and RWA for me. 🙂

  6. Jill Weatherholt
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 17:45:00

    Oh Jolyse, what a beautiful post. Thank you to you and your husband for sharing your journey with prostate cancer. My prayers are with him, you and your entire family. Real love goes beyond the physical relationship; some couples never realize this. I’m so happy you have! Wishing you a blessed Easter.

  7. Muffintopmommy
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 18:12:35

    Raising my beer to you and your hubs right now—-to your hubs for being such a fighter and for you for loving him through it and putting yourself out there and having the courage to write this. I hope and pray this is the last nasty bout you will have to face in your lives and that you will enjoy many, many trips to the Keys! You rock, lady!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 18:18:22

      I like your style, Janet, and the idea of many more getaways to the Keys with my honey. Enjoy your next DIY project. Are you seriously setting up a blog for it? I would so follow it. 🙂

  8. Catie Rhodes
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 19:28:30

    I found this incredibly moving. I even got misty eyed. You’re tough, lady. Being able to speak with such eloquence about something so scary and painful takes style. (((hugs)))

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 20:02:24

      Thanks, Catie. Please mention prostate screening to the men in your life. I know it’s a sensitive topic, but I hate to think of any men dying as a result of machismo or embarassment.

      Give precious Cosmo a hug from us. 🙂

  9. Rhonda Hopkins
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 20:15:31

    I am so sorry you and your family are going through this. But bless you for taking a risk and bringing awareness to such a sensitive and scary topic. You all are in my prayers. Hugs!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 20:52:26

      Hi Rhonda! We are doing well overall. I have to credit my husband’s focus on normalcy and his matter-of-fact approach to the treatment and it’s effects. I have had moments when I’ve had trouble keeping it all together, and I know it’s shown in my lack of focus in some areas of my writing platform these past number of months, but if he can push through this, I can too. Our love has been tested at times these past twenty-five years…but we’ve always prevailed.

      Thanks for your kind thoughts. Hugs to you!!

  10. CC MacKenzie
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 20:35:19

    What an amazingly brave post, Jolyse.

    Not only from you, but from your husband. The power of the word Cancer, is such that it cuts the legs from under a person. I know this because I’m a breast cancer survivor.

    Cancer is not sexy, you’re right. And writers and publishers avoid handling the subject. But it’s real and it’s happening to thousands of men and women every single day. We need to be aware and we need to act when signs appear. Men are notoriously stubborn about seeking medical help and that’s where we (wives, partners, girlfriends, come in). When people write true love conquers all, they’re right. Love does overcome everything. I read the wondrous love you have for your husband in the words you’ve used above. You have a love we write about, dream about, and hope we find.

    I wish you and your husband and your family every success in overcoming this hurdle. And know that many, many people wish you well.

    Christine

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 21:30:15

      Thanks for your kind words, Christine. I know it can be difficult to hear of other people’s trials when you’ve traveled the road yourself. Personally, I have great difficulty thinking about anything related to infertility, even though I dealt with it more than fifteen years ago. You’re incredibly brave for visiting and sharing today. I will be thinking of you and praying that you’ve beat it for good.

      You make many excellent points, and yes, we writers avoid certain topics, thinking they’ll drag down our readers. That’s why I struggled for so long before sharing this news. I’ve considered writing a non-fiction article but hadn’t thought about writing a romance with a main character overcoming such a difficult obstacle as disease.

      Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

  11. Gwen Hernandez
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 11:07:00

    Jolyse: I’m so sorry you and your family are having to deal with this, but thank you for bringing it to our awareness.

    I love your husband’s attitude toward what he’s going through. I think that will help him a lot on his journey to recovery. Wishing you both the strength you need to get through this, and nothing but good news from here on out.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Apr 01, 2013 @ 17:28:32

      Hi Gwen! Thanks for your kind words. I’ve shared the comments on this post with my husband. he appreciates everyone getting the word out. We’re hopeful that he’ll beat this disease with minimal side effects. We look forward to being able to say this was just another bump in the road. 🙂

  12. Gwen Hernandez
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 11:07:28

    And good luck with your submissions!

  13. Julie Glover
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 09:45:10

    Saying a prayer for your family. I appreciate your courage in speaking up and helping others who might face similar circumstances. I also think it’s particularly hard to watch your spouse suffer and be unable to do much about it. My heart goes out to you both. Hang in there!

    Best wishes with your submissions as well!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Apr 01, 2013 @ 17:32:42

      Thanks, Julie. The most difficult part for me has definitely been watching him deal with everything. He’s been a trooper, though. Have a beautiful spring! Have you been to the beach yet?

  14. lorddavidprosser
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 12:45:53

    Dearest Jolyse, now I understand why you’ve been able to comment on my blog with such empathy..You’ve also taught me the reason I started sharing my story on the blog instead of keeping life private, and that’s because I ceased writing books the day of the diagnosis and the blog was all I could write.
    You’ve written about this subject with such sensitivity and dignity despite the losing of intimacy for six months, proving that the relationship is much more the important component of marriage.
    I’m grateful for your friendship and your extraordinary kindness. I wish your husband good health and success with the treatment. I’ll be thinking of you both.
    Huge Hugs and Best Wishes
    David

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Apr 07, 2013 @ 18:29:04

      Thank you in return for your kindness and friendship, Lord David. You’ve been one of my inspirations as we’ve moved through this difficult phase and I’ve tried to emulate your courage and sense of humor. xxx

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