3 December 2019: The first signs of prostate cancer were not at all obvious. I am so lucky the problem was picked up in time. When I went to see a GP in mid-November 2019 my issue was apparently unrelated to my prostate. I was 61 and I felt as fit and healthy as I had ever been.
Today, as I prepare for an MRI scan of my prostate, I look back on the apparently random first steps towards my cancer diagnosis.
Doctor’s hunch, without any cancer symptoms
Back in November, somehow, on a hunch, my doctor started asking me about my prostate. Do you have difficulty urinating? Do you find you need to empty your bladder frequently? Up many times a night to pee? My answers to all the diagnostic questions were “no.” I remember feeling supremely confident and a bit scornful of all these “unnecessary” questions.
I’ve been having annual prostate screening checks since I turned 50. However, I wavered about exactly when the last checks had been. I admitted vaguely that it was “maybe a bit more than a year.” My PSA (prostate specific antigen – a notoriously unreliable indicator of budding prostate cancer) is still well below the standard danger threshold of 4. Mine is only 3.3 and only rising at 20% a year.
First signs of prostate cancer
Thank goodness this smart GP went with her hunch and said “let’s check your prostate now.” She did the finger-up-the-bum test known as Digital Rectal Examination. It’s not a big deal! It only takes a minute or two and only the mildest discomfort. There is nothing unmanly about having your body tested in service of your health.
Within minutes the doctor said “your prostate doesn’t feel right – you should see a urologist right away.” She also sent me for an up to date Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test. That also took only a minute and was basically painless.
Urologist and ultrasound
Within a few days my urologist had confirmed via ultrasound scan that there was an irregular area in the prostate. He assured me that many such irregularities turn out to be benign. There would be no treatment until we had further data. Even then, the best option might be to “watch and wait” – known as Active Surveillance. He told me to book an MRI scan to get the best data possible.
MRI scan of my prostate
Today is the day of my MRI scan. The preparation has been quite an unpleasant experience – mainly because I had to both fast overnight and then take quite a strong laxative. Also, the MRI machine is a loud and scary thing. At least I am not completely enclosed in the machine, since only my pelvic area was being scanned.
All my practice with mindfulness is super helpful during the long time I am encased up to my eyebrows in this massive, pulsating, noisy MRI machine. I repeat, over and over, my visualisation of a calm and restful place, my spiritual home. And in less than an hour, it’s all over and I can go home.
Living in hope – and getting the data
I am sure the results will come out negative. I feel so well, so strong, so fit, so young. Surely somehow I will be given the all clear. I live in hope as I prepare to see my urologist to get the data that must guide my decisions.
Editor’s note: For post-op pathology results confirming what a close shave I went through, please see Cancer close to spreading beyond the prostate