"There are cancer cells in your biopsy." These words still ring in my ear. It is now nearly seven years since I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The urologist naturally wanted to perform a radical prostatectomy. My wife and I felt he was pushing me to make an immediate decision. The percentages he gave to me of being potent after surgery were frightening, not to mention the continence factor. Like everybody else who has been diagnosed with cancer, I was in a state of shock. We went home and I immediately phoned my brother-in-law in London.
Paul is a pathologist who has many connections in the medical world there. He asked that I send him the slides of the biopsy. It took some time to get the slides and for them to reach Paul. In the mean time I started reading everything I could about prostate cancer and the side effects of the available treatments.
I soon realized that for me death was far down the line, but impotency and incontinence were definitely a possibility. My marriage was one of highs and lows, as was my life. During the low periods I found an escape in sex. Sex was a very important aspect in my life and over the years I had a number of affairs. Looking back I can see how I used sex as an escape from the tough realities that I might otherwise have faced. I knew that I was good in bed. Many times I felt that my sexual powers were one of my few achievements in life.
Could I live being impotent? I was not sure, but was reassured by my wife that she could cope with the impotence.
My brother-law suggested that as my cancer was a very low grade one, I should not undergo any invasive treatment at that time. From my reading and corresponding with various lists on the net I learned about Watchful Waiting. I changed my eating habits and took vitamins and food supplements. Within three months my PSA dropped by thirty percent. It remained low for another three and half years, then rose dramatically. I then considered I had no options but to undergo surgery.
The surgeon who would do the operation was one of the best in Israel with a high percentage of nerve saving. That is, saving the nerves that control one's erection. I resigned myself to the surgeon's skill hoping to come out potent and continent.
Surgery was no problem for me. Soon after the catheter was removed I had control of my bladder. A few weeks later I tried Viagra. Much to my relief and delight I had a response. By now I knew a lot about erectile dysfunction and post surgery nerve healing. What a relief it was to feel those first stirrings. My next fear was penile shrinkage. Quite commonly, the penis does shrink after surgery. This does not happen in all cases, but the possibility was there. Neither the surgeon nor my urologist warned me about it. After six months my penis was noticeably shorter. On the upside, my erections were getting stronger and lasting for a longer time.
One year after surgery my wife and I separated. Prior to the separation I felt that we were coping well. I had some difficulties sexually, mainly with not being sure when I would maintain or lose an erection. At the time of the separation I was managing to complete the act some of the time, although occasionally my appendage would get tired and droop.
Initially after the operation I learned to enjoy contact without the sexual aspect creeping in. I recognized that my days of being a sexual athlete were past. If and when I managed to hold an erection long enough to climax, it was an added bonus.
At the time of the separation my PSA started climbing dramatically. The cancer had reared its ugly head. On top of the rising PSA and financial problems, I would now have to cope with starting a new life on my own. Hopefully, meeting new women. To go courting at the age of 62 is frightening enough, but with these problems of mine I started feeling very sorry for myself.
I make friends easily and soon found that the women whom I was seeing liked me. A relationship developed with one in particular. One evening she made it very clear that she wanted to sleep with me. I felt my stomach going into knots. What would her reaction be to the penile shrinkage? Would I get an erection and, if so, could I hold it?
I took the bull by its horns and explained my post RP complications. She smiled and shared her own fears of not having had sex for a couple of years. For obvious reasons she thought that a dry orgasm (my lack of seminal fluid since the RP) sounded like a good idea. We went to bed and sure enough at the time of entry my penis went limp. Too much foreplay, over worked, all sorts of possibilities, who knows?
We laughed. I felt proud of myself for having shared my fears and for my choice of a partner who showed understanding of my position. Moreover, I had no problems of bringing her to a number climaxes. This was an awakening call to me. I did not need an erect and big penis to satisfy a woman. I also came to the realization how good and rewarding the sexual act could be without penetration or an orgasm. I know that my manly image was not impaired by not being able to maintain an erection. Another myth goes out the window!
There have been changes in my life since our separation. I have relocated to a small agricultural village. I'm making ends meet and have come to accept the fact that not being an sexual athlete with a big penis is OK.
I am sure that there are others in the same position that I am in, making a new start in life together with carrying the extra load of erectile dysfunction, penile shrinkage and possible incontinence.
I have found that the women I am seeing are understanding and pleased that that I share my fears with them. Casual relationships have taken on a new meaning to me. The objective is no longer to " bed the wench" but rather to have fun together. I have developed a relationship with a woman based on mutual attraction and acceptance of one another. Sex is an important part of our relationship, but not the most important.
Looking back over the last year has made me realize that a person can change his outlook and his expectations of himself and of others. Life is very good for me today and I know that it will be good tomorrow.
Lenny Hirsch All rights reserved.
Northern Israel, July 2003
Israel has two support groups for prostate cancer so far,
one in Tel Aviv and the other, which Lenny organized, the Haifa support group:
You Are Not Alone (YANA).
Meetings 6 PM, last Thursday of every month, companions invited
Meetings in Hebrew and in English if required.
Israeli Cancer Association, Bldg. 5, Haifa
Contact: Lenny Hirsch,
phone Tel Aviv: 0528300467
Haifa and the north 0544570595
For support groups around the world
check PSA Rising Support links
prostate cancer activist news
PO Box 1114, IN 47933