What’s It Like to Have Prostate Cancer Radiation Treatment, a Bursting Bladder AND What Does that Have To Do With the Price of a Cup of Coffee?


Mercy ScannerI chose radiation treatment for my prostate cancer because it allowed me to continue to work and because it has a 95% success rate.

On the first visit to the clinic with my wife, we were waiting in the lounge to have the process explained to us and for me to have a CT scan so that they knew the shape of my body. This was so that every time over the 8 weeks of my treatment they would be able to focus the radiation on the specific area to be nuked and minimise the risk of damaging my bodily organs.

My wife and I were sitting in the waiting room when a man rushed pass at a frantic pace, loosening his belt as he ran for the bathroom in a cold sweat. He was in so much of a hurry that he was sitting on the toilet before he had even got the door shut.

One of the things you can lose in this process is your modesty. I wouldn’t ever want to be that guy, when all the heads turn in his direction, embarrassed for him, turning away again as he comes out, hoping he didn’t see them.

The process is that roughly 45 minutes before you have your radiation  treatment you need to have drunk enough water to have a full bladder when you have your therapy. The reason is that this helps push your organs away from the prostate treatment area, thereby protecting them from harmful rays.

IMG_2086I was lucky because I was often able to get the first appointment of the day, meaning that on those days I didn’t have to wait in the lounge with my full to bursting bladder for too long.

So you arrive at the hospital and check in with your calendar schedule and they ask you how you’re doing. I always had a stock answer whenever anyone asked how I was, which was “GREAT!”, with a big smile. Here they would say, “Actually how are you really doing, because when you are having radiation treatment, we actually need to to know?” That was a mindshift for me and there were times when I felt a bit sorry for myself and when other people asked how I was, I told them as well. I wish I hadn’t, but then they did ask right?

So the next thing you do is go downstairs to a changing room where you collect your yellow daffodil bag which contains your lava lava which you will wear for the next wee while, holding on to the water in your bladder. Your clothes go into the bag and you put it back on the shelf with the others, realising just how many people are currently getting radiation treatment like yourself. It’s all sorts of cancers of course, not just prostate.

I met some great people while waiting for my treatment, both patients and their partners and we shared battle stories. Often the partner was feeling more stressed than the patient. I met people who were from out of town who had to stay at Domain Lodge, a facility provided free by the Auckland Cancer Society for cancer patients because the distance was too far to travel each day. This had all sorts of consequences. Children still had to be looked after, bills still had to be paid and some of them were running their own business and typically the treatment was every day during the working week. This is one of the reasons why I am a staunch supporter of Relay For Life which is next weekend, the 10th overnight through to the 11th of March at the Millenium Sorts Institute on Auckland’s North Shore.

lava lavaSo it comes your turn and you adjust your lava lava so it won’t fall off and wander down the corridor, past the control room where they are going to watch you on camera, put your valuables on a chair. Then you lie gingerly down on the scanner bed, hoping you can hold your water. IMG_2256

The friendly staff chat away with you and each other as you get settled, with your head under the scanner and your legs on a pair of moulded supports. They put a pillow under your knees and you focus on your bladder.

Then they adjust your lava lava and with a pen of some sort draw a mark at the point where the radiation will centre, which becomes less embarrassing after the 20th time; and they leave the room. Then the noise starts up and they talk to you through headphones as the treatment begins. It only takes a few minutes and as it finishes, you thank them and rush for the bathroom to empty your bursting bladder as quickly as you can as they tell you how well you have done once again.

IMG_3512Sometimes you have to wait longer than your booking time and it can get pretty uncomfortable. One morning they had to do maintenance on one of the scanners and I had to wait so long that I had to go to the bathroom, empty my bladder and then drink another bottle of water and wait the best part of an hour for my already stretched bladder to fill up again.

The worst day was when someone before me arrived late and I had to wait over half an hour longer than usual before I got my turn. They said if I wanted to I could empty my bladder and start again, but I had to go to a meeting at work and I didn’t want to be at the hospital any longer than I had to. So I gripped on to the edges of my chair, tightened and loosened, tightened and loosened (not a typo) my core muscles focussing on not losing control of my bladder.

IMG_3437I came very close to having to rush to the bathroom several times, but I didn’t want to blow my perfect record. My pride rode to my rescue.

The pain and pressure was getting worse and I persisted. Nurses came to me a few times and asked me if I wanted to start again, pointing to a nearby water fountain (not the imagery you want at that time but well meaning). I replied that I would soldier on.

Eventually after about an hour I got my turn and barely adjusting my lava lava, just acknowledging to myself that by the time I got to the room, it might be unraveling from my body, I waddled to the machine and gingerly got onboard, hoping for everything I was worth, that I could hold it in.

We got settled and barely aware of the daily x (actually a little line) marks the spot being drawn by the nurse just above my privates. I just focused all my energy on my now very full bladder which was telling me that I wasn’t responding to the messages it was sending me. I was determined to hold it in, but it was getting more difficult by the minute and I was just wishing they could speed it up. Time seemed to go into slow motion, but the discomfort got worse.

Finally the nurses left the room and I lay there pulling up on my core muscles for all I was worth, cringing with the pain and being told through my headphones that I needed to keep still. “Easy for you to say I thought”.

No, I needed to pee and I needed to not pee and I needed to hold those muscles in. What if wet myself? What if I peed on the machine bed? I still had a little dignity and I remembered that guy, rushing for the bathroom on my first induction visit.

I almost got off the machine 3 or 4 times, but I hung in there. Then the radiation treatment started and amidst the din of he rotors, I thought to myself, “I just can’t hold on anymore, I have to get off!” Then realisation set in, as I was being reminded to keep still, that if I got off while the radiation was beaming at me, I could potentially damage other parts of my body.

I clung on for dear life, cringing, counting the seconds, trying to keep still and then after the machine stopped, I was halfway off the bed as the nurses were coming back and there I was.

Now I was the guy rushing for the bathroom for all I was worth, not bothering to waste time locking the door, letting the lava lava unravel to the floor as I dived for the toilet. Oh the relief through the pain!

IMG_2150I picked up my body with my bruised dignity, got changed, went to the bathroom again and finally walked up the stairs to the nurses station to get a smiley face on my monthly chart, to say I had my treatment for the day. IMG_2105

This had been one of the days that I was hoping would never happen to me, but they did tell me that we all go through it.

Eventually after 8 weeks I had completed my treatment and eagerly awaited my visit to the oncologist who I anticipated would have good news for me.

Unfortunately he didn’t. He said that while 95% of people respond well to the treatment and find themselves in remission, I was in the 5% who didn’t.

So after 2 months of drinking water, driving each morning to treatment and then off to work, I was no better off than I had been before I started. That was a bit of a body blow and whilst I understand statistics, I had thought about the odds and as a keen poker player had thought to myself that if I had gone into a casino for a tournament and been told that I had a 95% chance of being in the money at the final table, I would have been really excited. The 5% seemed really unlikely.

IMG_3516The Coffee

After each radiation treatment I would go into the hospital cafe and treat myself to a flat white and a huge cheese scone. I couldn’t have breakfast before the treatment, so this was my little reward to myself and I came to look forward to it. When I went back to the hospital for specialist appointments I usually went back to the cafe for nostalgia’s sake, but it never had the same satisfaction as it did on the days I had radiation treatment. IMG_3418

So here’s where the coffee comes in. A cup of good coffee costs around $5. Coincidentally, that is the level where a donation to Relay For Life becomes tax deductible. That means your $5 donation only really costs you around $3.50. That’s peanuts right? But what if all my readers gave that?

I was going to say, if you know anyone who has cancer, how about making a small donation in their honor, but you know me don’t you? You now know me better than you did before, because I have shared some very personal experiences with you.

Next weekend when I spend the night walking around the track at Relay For Life with my friends and family, I am doing so to help raise funds for the Cancer Society to help fellow cancer patients with accommodation, psychological help, research and much more. It is all rather meaningless if I don’t get donations and I haven’t even got a third of my modest target so far.

So here is my plea. Can you find it in your heart to make a $5 donation for a good cause? 1 in 3 Kiwis will get cancer. I hope that will never be you, but it will probably be someone you care about. Will you please help? I would be so grateful.

RelayForLife17f

This guy must have been really hot. The purple sash denotes being a cancer patient and survivor

It’s been a real struggle this year to get donations. So I really thank you for paying it forward and also am very grateful to my friends and family who are in Team Early Birds, relaying for 18 hours to support me and also people who they have lost or are still fighting the good fight.

 

Prostate Cancer, Gory Details, Treatment Choices and Relay For Life, Can You Help?


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A sign we walk past during the night in Relay For Life

I’m writing this blog to ask for your help in raising awareness and fundraising for Relay For Life, to support the Cancer Society in raising funds they need both for cancer research and to support people who need help, from counseling to transport and even free accommodation when people have to travel out of town for treatment.

The Cancer Society is funding research amongst others in the area of treating cancer like a virus, which is showing a lot of promise and would mean that people like me in future might not have to go through the treatments and processes I went through.

IMG_4287Can you spare $5 in support or in memory of a friend or family member with cancer. You can do so here. You can do it with a message, you can leave your name or mention the person you are supporting, you can do it anonymously and if you are in New Zealand it is tax deductible. I’ll bet that you, dear reader, know at least one person who has cancer. Several of you of course know me, so there’s one.

Like my previous blog, if I get some donations, I will spare you some of the gory details that we prostate cancer patients have to deal with.

I would dearly welcome your donation, I’m struggling in receiving them this year. Where I am doing well, is that the number of people who have told me that they have been motivated to get tested for cancer has now risen to 20! Every single one of them is cancer free and more importantly know so and have baselines.

So in my last blog, I spared you the gory details of the first visits to the urologist and trading my dignity for hope.  Now I am going to offer to spare you details of some of the side effects of prostate cancer treatment, some of which I endured and some of which I chose not to risk. I had to make decisions based on choosing life (if possible) and the most suitable treatment for my lifestyle and work.

IMG_2184 (2)Some of those side effects included painful urination, short term or permanent erectile dysfunction, never producing seminal fluid again, the length of your penis being reduced, damage to other organs, chronic fatigue, loss of libido and depression. Some of these are experienced by most prostate patients and some depend on the choice of treatment, which of course depending on the seriousness of the condition may not be optional if you want to live. It’s also important to recognise that everyone responds differently to different treatment.

The next steps were a series of biopsies. I’ll spare you the details of how they do that for prostate cancer other than that they approach it from behind. Initially they found 3 tumors and confirmed that they were malignant. Then over the next few months, scans and 2 more biopsies confirmed that I had at least 5 and they were slow growing.

They gave me 3 options. One was to implant radioactive seeds into my prostate a treatment called Brachytherapy. Here’s more if you’d like to know more about how it works. I decided against it because it meant staying away from my granddaughter and pregnant women for about 6 months. Besides not wanting to change my relationship with my beautiful young granddaughter, how do you know if someone in your circle, or even randomly sitting next to you, say on a plane, is pregnant? They might not know themselves.on

IMG_4479Basically you are emitting radiation, which while not powerful, could have unintended side effects for others. The percentage likelihood, very slim, but percentages weren’t working well for me at this time and I wasn’t going to have on my conscience that I could be sitting next to a random stranger, potentially damaging a foetus she didn’t even know existed. Obviously some people do that. You can’t exactly hop on a flight and ask not to be seated next to a young girl going through puberty or a woman of an age that she could be pregnant and perhaps not know it.

The urologist was keen on this option. It would mean a quick procedure and a couple of days later I would be home. It would have minimal impact on my work, but given part of my work is reasonably frequent air travel and what I just told you, it wasn’t a great option. It was a treatment he would perform with my oncologist, who I had yet to meet. Specialists tend to favor opportunities for surgery or treatment that is their specialty of course and I respect that.

IMG_2061The next option was 8 weeks of almost daily radiation on this beast, which includes a CT scanner which would first make sure that every morning, after drinking enough water to fill my bladder and push my organs out of reach of the radiation (where possible), that I was lying in an identical position.

It would give me a 95% chance of killing the tumours. They could accomodate me so that I could go in first thing in the morning, if I got up early and have the treatment before work. They could do it over December and January as well so that would mean 3 weeks where it did not impact on my job.

The third option was to remove the prostate altogether, so if the tumours haven’t spread beyond the gland (pretty difficult to tell), they might get it altogether.

At this point I felt I needed to be informed. What were the risks, benefits and side effects? I thought back to watching Sir Paul Holmes on TV before he passed away from Prostate Cancer in 2013, saying that he wished he had never known he had cancer at all.

So how do you choose? I purchased a book called ‘Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer, Get The Treatment That is Right For You‘ by Dr Gerald Chodak. Oh how I wish I hadn’t bought the book, but I’m the sort of person who needs to understand.

It explained in gory detail how the different treatments worked (including some chemical treatments that we hadn’t discussed). Every treatment came with side effects and after effects. I hardly got any sleep for the week it took me to read this book. It scared the hell out of me and whilst you need to be positive, as stress has an impact on your body’s ability to fight cancer cells, it’s pretty hard to make an informed decision that WILL impact the rest of your Teamlife without being informed. I chose the book over Doctor Google, because it was recommended by cancer patient support groups.

So in the end I chose the 8 weeks of radiation and yes it had lots of side effects. Most of these are now over, 2 years later, but I’d be lying if I said it had been easy. If you’d like the gory details, please don’t pop $5 into my Early Bird account.

lava lava

Naked barring my socks, each morning I lay on the scanner, watching them mark with a pen, where the beam should go, trying to hold on to my dignity and my full bladder

Unfortunately soon after 2 months of treatment they told me that I wasn’t in the 95% of people who found themselves in remission after the treatment, but I felt very happy for those who were.

I had side effects from the treatment and scans showed the tumours were still there.

I did work on positivity and put my energy into starting my EP The Cancer Diaries following suppRelaort from my friends when I didn’t have the emotional strength to pick up my guitars or play them. I also took up the offer of free counselling from an Auckland Cancer Society specialist cancer psychologist, one of the services funded by your donations. If you haven’t heard the DEMO of the first song called If I Could Turn The Pages, you can listen to it here.

I hope you don’t want the gory details and will find $5 to shut me up although if you have prostate cancer, or want to know more about getting tested or the journey you are facing, I’m happy to share my experiences with any individuals on request.

Several people have found it helpful to speak to someone who has cancer rather than well meaning people, who haven’t had the experiences or had to make difficult decisions.

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly past who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March. The day after my birthday.

So instead of encouraging me to talk in more detail about the physical and emotional experiences I’ve been through in the last 2 years, please drop a couple of coins in the virtual bucket and lets celebrate life and hope and support Relay For Life 18 with my team. The Early Birds.