A month and a day after I was phoned and told cancer was present in my prostate, here I am, rocking up at the Royal Berkshire Hospital at 6am, ready to have said prostate removed by tiny robots. OK, the operation is actually called a robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy, but ‘tiny robots’ is much easier to remember.
After 15 minutes I am ushered in to see the consultant. His conversation opener: did I want to preserve my erection?
A number of answers rush into my head, and arguably the funniest was the response I thought of six days later, but what I actually say is: “Well, it’d be nice, I guess.” I hoped he took that as a yes.
After a few hours it is showtime. I am wheeled to surgery on a hospital bed. The anaesthetists relieve the tension with some hilarious banter … then a scary needle or two. The next thing I know, I am in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room with metal staples in a number of locations in my abdomen and a catheter in the place you put catheters.
After an hour or so, I was able to phone and reassure my loved ones that the tiny robots had done their stuff. The consultant later stopped by and told me everything had gone to plan and they were confident the cancer had been removed. I’d hoped he was going to let me have my prostate in a little jar as a memento, but it had been sent off for tests. Probably best.
I had been scheduled to spend two nights in hospital, but although still feeling tender, I began to feel stronger, so I texted my wife, who picked me up the following evening. The first couple of nights were a struggle, but as the days went by I got stronger, and within a week I was feeling more like my old self. Albeit minus a prostate, of course. I’d even pulled out a few of the staples. But the catheter was proving uncomfortable. So just over a week later we arranged to have it removed, a few days early.
The removal of a catheter brings a few seconds of exquisite pain, then glorious relief and then, oh my laws, we are talking spectacular incontinence. I found I had absolutely no control of my bladder. A nurse gave me a couple of pads and a pair of scrubs. I say ‘pads’ … they were essentially nappies for grown-ups. But they did the job. And continued to do the job for the next few months.
Six weeks later
The phone call from the consultant was due just after midday: the phone rang just before 10am. I warbled on to him about incontinence for a couple of minutes. Then he told me that the cancer had been confined to the prostate and, with that now removed, the cancer was gone.
Why had he let me warble on? He laughed. He also sounded quite pleased. It was nice to have his post-op prognosis confirmed. He told me the cancer had been quite large: 2cm in diameter. I think I said: “Wow!” in response. I couldn’t hide my delight. He seemed to think I was fairly on track regarding the incontinence and said he would recommend a drug similar to Viagra to encourage activity in that area.
I gave my wife, Mary, the news and then messaged friends and family. Lots of lovely messages back. Then a trip to the garden centre, where I was fit enough to load some bags of compost into the car. Back home I looked in on my teenage son. He reacted with delight. By which I mean, he grunted acknowledgement. Good enough.
So here I am, one year after the initial diagnosis: regular blood tests still confirming the cancer has gone. And the incontinence has all but dried up. Is that the worst pun ever? I’ve kept up with drinking two litres of water a day and, last June, stopped eating cakes and biscuits after my GP warned me to keep an eye on my cholesterol. I love cakes and biscuits, but I’ve shown surprising willpower and consequently lost a bit of weight, particularly off my tummy. Apparently ginger nuts don’t count as one of your five a day.
I think I got off lightly. I’ve no idea how long I had cancer, but more relevant is that, as soon as I discovered something was wrong, I went to the doctors about it. This was one of the few smart things I’ve done in my life. Within three months I was in hospital having my prostate, and the cancer, removed. Everyone in the NHS was brilliant throughout the whole process. I am forever in their debt. I am a lucky guy.