Relatively quick recovery from radiation therapy
The pain was quite intense for three or four days after my radiotherapy ended, quite raw. After that, the pain declined exponentially. I knew there was long term damage to my body, but actually I didn’t experience a lot of direct evidence of the damage. My anus and rectum have been OK ever since.
Most importantly, after the radiation therapy, my PSA went right down below 0.03 – what they call “undetectable.” I’ve had to go back for retesting every three months ever since. Sadly, I knew that with my diagnosis my PSA would be likely to start rising again within 8 to 10 years. The fact that it did is another part of my story. At that time, the great news was that my PSA was right down. I was also free of some of the other problems men can experience after radiation therapy – I had no bowel problems or incontinence. I think my overall fitness really helped.
Sexual recovery while still on ADT
After radiation therapy ended, I still had another two years of hormone suppression treatment (ADT) lined up. My oncologists had told me there are statistically better outcomes for men in my situation if they irradiate the prostatic bed and put you on two and a half years of hormone suppression treatment (ADT). Both of these treatments are designed to weaken any remaining cancer cells in the body and inhibit their growth. My treatment was radiotherapy with two and a half years of ADT. I started them both at the same time.
Once the radiation was over, I remember worrying about my own sexual needs and my then partner’s needs. “Oh my god he is going to find another man” was my fear. And for myself – “Oh my cock, it really wants men, but I can’t get it up.”
So I injected myself with Caverject a few times – I hate needles and I would have to mentally prepare myself to stick that needle into my most intimate body part. Needles freak me out. But I wanted sex enough that after nine months I did inject myself and we were able to be sexual again. Actually the injections don’t hurt that bad – it is just what’s going on in my head that makes me think it hurts.
The good news for me was that even while on ADT, and without enough erectile function for penetrative sex, my partner and I were able to be deliciously sexual and inventive. We’d go down to London together and have tons of fun. I was well into my 50s, but the momentum of my 40s seemed to still be driving my energy.
I also paid a lot of attention to my overall physical fitness. I have kept slim and fit ever since my treatment began. Even without erections, the rest of my body could still be pleasurable to me and attractive to partners.
Deep urges to give up ADT
I became quite distraught at the prospect of completing two and a half years on ADT. I remember “You’ve just got to take me off this ADT. I just can’t cope with it any more. It felt – Argh – you’re just going to have to stop right now.”
They said, “Martin, hang on in if you can. The statistics say you have a much better chance if you keep going for the whole two and a half years of ADT.” My body seemed to be saying “stop taking this poison.” But somehow I kept going back for my next dose of ADT. I heard of others who just gave up. What kept me going was my research. I asked questions and shook the tree “why do you want me to go on so long with this stuff?” And the oncologists gave me scientific information which eventually convinced me of the benefit of the treatment.
How did I hang in there through the panic and revulsion? There is something in me that just helps me get up in the morning, even when I don’t feel like it. It is the same energy that helped me persist with the horrible ADT.
Gift of life
Thirty months of ADT did eventually end, and I did start feeling better. The combination of radiotherapy and ADT did kick the cancer down the road for nearly ten good years.
I am sure one of the things that has helped me cope with all my treatments including Zoladex (that’s the basis of my ADT treatment) is committing to vigorous daily exercise, at minimum a 6 mile brisk walk every day. I always include some hills. My partner, who is younger than me, gets more tired than me!