A cancer diagnosis affects the partner and the marriage about as much as the patient. Big thanks to my wife Colleen for sharing her side of the story. Here is Part One:
This journey started for me with Mish complaining of his penis not feeling quite right. Perhaps it was thrush which we’d both had previously, passing it back and forth before getting rid of it. But this time I had no corresponding itch. As he has described, he went to a GP who felt something not right in his prostate and sent him to a urologist.
Being fit, healthy and active is no guarantee
I wasn’t worried at this stage, although my own experiences have made me aware that random things happen. Being fit, healthy and active doesn’t always protect us from serious medical issues. When the MRI results showed a possible cancer, it still didn’t seem real or serious. The urologist encouraged Mish to go on a planned holiday and come back for a biopsy in a month’s time.
Our trip to China in December 2019 was wonderful. We barely mentioned the upcoming biopsy or discussed any possibilities or what-ifs. Instead, we were so engaged in experiencing what we could of a fascinating country. (We were lucky that we kept well away from Wuhan as Covid-19 was born just at that time!)
In it together: include partner in cancer treatment process
The biopsy results confirmed cancer. Both urologist and surgeon were fairly confident in assuring us that robotic surgery to remove the whole prostate would very likely remove all the cancer successfully. Both doctors were welcoming of me being in on the appointments and ensuring we both could ask questions. Although I wasn’t entirely aware at the time, they were making sure we both understood the consequences of the cancer and the treatment. It mattered that we were in it together.
For a few weeks before the surgery, we discussed possible outcomes and effects. There was a lot about the possibilities of the loss of erectile function and incontinence. I didn’t really let myself think about the possibilities of more extensive cancer than had been seen on the tests. We also steered away from the possibility of long-term issues. I was fairly sure we would manage the aftereffects, including sexual changes. It seemed best not to engage in too many what-ifs.
Surgery day was tough and intense. I’d been able to reschedule and cancel commitments from the day before until several days after. I was sure I’d find focus and concentration on work difficult during this time. Mish left home very early in the morning by Uber. The surgeon told me that the surgery would probably finish by 10 am or so. There should be a chance to catch a glimpse of Mish as they wheeled him from recovery into the ICU. I would be able to visit again at midday visiting hour.
We were lucky this was done a week before the first Covid-19 case in South Africa, four weeks before our first lockdown.
At about 8:15 am, I was really touched to get a text message from the anaesthetist telling me the procedure was underway and all was well. Nonetheless I had a racing heart and couldn’t sit still at all. I got to the hospital by 10 am – a new private hospital with many comfortable waiting areas. Indeed I did say hello to Mish as he was taken from recovery room into ICU, and the doctor assured me all was well.
Everybody wants to know what’s happening
I spent the time until visiting was allowed answering innumerable messages from friends and family. We had a visit and he was in distress, until the nurse said he must sleep, not have more medication. Once I had spoken to him I could relax a little.
Our son Temba arrived in the afternoon which was a great relief and support to me. We had a good visit at 4 pm, then walked across the road to a shopping mall, wandered aimlessly and had dinner until 7 pm visiting time. I was so glad to have Temba able to take me home, and the next morning to go back together for midday visiting.
And what a delight for us to be there when the surgeon came round and said we could take Mish home! This photo was taken as we were about to leave the High Care Unit, barely 24 hours after they brought him in from theatre.
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Read part two of my story here: the first two months after surgery