In January of 1992, we left home and family and moved to a completely new city. We knew no one and no one knew us. One year later, I sent my husband off to a free screening for Prostate Cancer. I have NO IDEA what put the idea into my head. I simply saw the ad in a local paper and I sent him off, "kicking and screaming." Like most men, my husband didn’t usually visit the doctor unless something was very wrong. He came home and I was lying on the couch feeling very sorry for myself because I had thrown my back out. He came in and said, "The doctors think I have cancer. I have an enlarged prostate and they need to do some tests." My reaction… "Okay. That sounds good." Thank God my husband is a patient man and he waited for the news to sink into my thick skull.
Well, lo and behold, he did have cancer of the prostate. His PSA readings were very high and his tests all showed he needed surgery. We started shopping for a surgeon. My husband liked the one that he had been dealing with but it so happened that I worked for a research doctor at University of Virginia. His speciality was women’s diseases but he knew every doctor in Charlottesville. He recommended a woman doctor at UVA and we both loved her! She recommended a radical prostatectomy (?) and we decided that was the best thing to do. My husband has a family history of long life and we wanted his quality of life to be as good as possible so we opted to get rid of the prostate. His doctor explained all the negative side effects that are possible when the prostate is removed including how hard it is to spare the nerves in and around the prostate. We moved ahead in spite of our fear of incontinence and erectile dysfunction.
The surgery was successful and all the cancer was caught. It had not spread outside the prostate and the doctor was able to get it all out. Now…the recovery and the waiting to see about the negative side effects.
I won’t lie. The waiting was brutal. In just a few weeks, we knew that incontinence would not be an issue…one down and one to go. I was only 44 years old and my husband was 55. Neither one of us was ready to have our sex lives be over forever. We waited…and waited…and finally discovered the answer that erectile dysfunction would be our cross to bear. But this is the best part of the story, in many ways.
We tried everything and the kind doctor who had performed the surgery was there every step of the way. This was before Viagra, Cialis and all those medical aids. The options were injections, vacuum pumps and other unpleasant and inconvenient contrivances. We tried every position, every surface, pillows, no pillows, tables, beds, anything to help him maintain an erection and achieve penetration. It was a long battle but along the way, we discovered an intimacy we had never experienced before and with love and patience, we eventually figured out ways for both to have a satisfactory sex life. Finally, along came Viagra and Cialis which helped, too.
A few words of wisdom I will pass along. Be patient with one another and keep trying. If you had a good sex life before the surgery you can have one after the surgery. It will just be different and you need to learn to accept that. Also, if you are a woman reading this…understand that your man’s identity is significantly intertwined in his ability to perform. It takes A LOT of reinforcement to convince him he’s still a man after this surgery and it’s particularly difficult if he’s experiencing erectile dysfunction.
I am 63 years old and my husband is 74, almost 75, and we still enjoy an active sex life and intend to for many years to come.