What It’s Like to Have Prostate Cancer

The author was diagnosed in his early 50s. The ensuing ordeal—in his words.

What It’s Like to Have Prostate Cancer

The author was diagnosed in his early 50s. The ensuing ordeal—in his words.


After I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, my doctor said I had two options: radiation therapy or what he called “the gold standard,” which is to surgically cut it out. It didn’t take long to decide. I wanted my prostate sitting in a jar on someone’s shelf—not in my body.

One of the best urologic surgeons in the country works in Boston, not far from my home in Concord, New Hampshire. I read about his “nerve-sparing techniques” that supposedly preserve sexual functioning, so I visited him. He wasn’t the most personable guy, but he told me he cuts prostates out of 200 men with prostate cancer a year.

I thought to myself, I’m not looking to make a friend—I want a guy who is really good at what he does and gets paid well for it. I want a guy who lives on the North Shore in the most expensive house and drives the most expensive car and is the best technician.

This was my guy.

The operation took 6 hours. He opened me up right below the belly button. I remember waking up in the hospital with a catheter, not feeling great. I was hungry, and they were feeding me intravenously. They wouldn’t let me have solid food until I farted. Fart and you can eat, I kept thinking. Fart and you can go home.

When my catheter finally came out, I was totally incontinent. I had to wear a diaper for the next 5 months. That was miserable. I’m a lawyer; some days I’d be in court making an argument, and I could feel myself leaking. It was horribly distracting.

My sexual functioning suffered, too. I took Viagra for 4 or 5 months, and it didn’t work. I went back to the surgeon and told his physician’s assistant, “I’m ready to get back in the saddle,” and he said, “Let’s see if this stuff works.”

He pulled out a vial of a potent vasodilating medicine and showed me how to give myself an injection in the shaft of my penis. Now that’s a scary moment—standing over Mr. Happy with a hypodermic needle in your hand. It wasn’t painful, and it worked astonishingly well. I was 18 years-old all over again. The downside is that your erection lasts 4 hours. So it’s not as if you can work in your wood shop after you’ve had sex.

I’m much older now and back to my old self. My brother Mark also had a prostatectomy. Our doctors have told us that our sons are at increased risk for prostate cancer. So I, for one, will encourage them to have the PSA. I’ve never second-guessed my decision. It means that I’ll get to see my kids get on with their lives. From my vantage point, there’s no reason not to have a PSA test.

For more on the importance of PSA testing and prostate cancer, read about the non-routine tests you should always demand from your doctor.

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