This is something I have wanted to write for a very long time and to share with someone. It’s about prostate cancer and what it did to me and my wife. I write this because I find that most males don’t talk about their feelings and anxieties, especially when it involves sexual deficiencies and especially with other males. There are lots of men’s prostate cancer stories out there, but almost all focus only on the medical processes involved like surgery, radiation therapy, and coming to terms with the likelihood of an unpleasant death a little earlier than expected. There are lots of Youtube videos that cover it.
So here’s my story. I am 68 years old and have been (mostly) retired for 12 years. I was married young at 24 to my wife who was 22 and we beat the odds by still being together 45 years later. Life has been good to us. For the first 10 years of marriage we were totally free and easy. Dual income, no kids. Lots of travel. We have several great friendships, both together and individually. My wife teases me because most of my individual friends are women, who I see from time to time over coffee, lunch or dinner. We have 2 adult children who are both doing really well. My daughter is married and a mother. My son is in a long term relationship. They and their partners all have great jobs.
My wife and I have had a good sex life even after many years, although it has not been that imaginative. My wife enjoys sex and has the enviable skill of being able to orgasm just about any time she wants to during sex. Life was fun and fulfilling for both of us until 2010 – the worst year of my life when things came crashing down.
Early in that year I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Being young enough and in good shape, the medical establishment recommended that I have the surgery to remove my prostate, which I did. I needed to get rid of it and the cancer. The physicians went through the long list of consequences of the surgery, telling me I would be impotent for quite a while but erectile function should return eventually, but neglected to tell me I would lose an inch of penis length and some girth along with it. My wife is a health professional who helped me to be realistic about the future. She was so supportive. I barely had time to recover from the surgery when I found out my blood PSA level was not zero like it was supposed to be and it was rising. The surgery had failed to get all the cancer cells. Next stop – 37 bouts of radiation done daily. I knew then any hope of returning erectile function was probably gone. After several months of healing I tried some heavy doses of Viagra to no avail. My urologist told me I had to be patient. It can take 4 years for function to return if it ever does. I fell into a real funk. Not really a clinical depression, but I was definitely depressed.
My wife and I settled into a virtually sexless marriage for which I have myself to blame. I was not just depressed about my sexual function and afraid to fail, I was questioning my identity as a male. That was the worst. We remained close but gradually evolved into a “friends with almost no benefits” relationship. In the meantime, my PSA level was gradually increasing yet again. The radiation had also failed. My urologist and oncologist watched my PSA level rise to 10 over a period of almost 5 years, trying to delay more treatment as long as possible. When time ran out, it was on to the next step – hormone therapy. That’s a misnomer. It’s really called androgen deprivation therapy or ADT, taking drugs to stop the production of testosterone which is what the cancer cells feed on. Another kiss of death to penetrative sex. Today, my testosterone level is lower than my wife’s. At this point, I knew that my prostate cancer was manageable but not curable. ADT therapy only lasts for a certain amount of time, losing its effectiveness when the cancer cells learn how to no longer need testosterone to grow. I’m not afraid of dying as much as I am of getting sick. I saw a psychologist that specializes in therapy that helps men and their partners deal with prostate cancer. I saw her a half dozen times and she helped me put things in perspective. What does being a man mean to me? What do I want to do while I’m still feeling good? How can I have good sex, for me and my partner without penetration? I heard her, but I couldn’t give up. My wife is fine with me going down on her but she really enjoys penetration.
When I started ADT therapy back in 2015, I started going to monthly meetings of a prostate cancer support group of men who were either on ADT therapy or chemotherapy and incurable. They call themselves the Warriors, a name I hate. We’re not warriors. We’re not battling cancer. We’re just living with it and using the tools available to help us live with a reasonable quality of life. At each of these meetings, when we went around the table, each one of us was asked how we were doing. All I ever heard from the others was their PSA level, what drugs they were on, their oncologist reports, etc. Nobody ever talked about how they or their partners were doing emotionally or sexually. The last meeting I went to, I told the group about my most recent session with my psychologist and what we talked about. The room went silent. That’s what made it my last meeting.
Of all the bad side effects that ADT therapy can cause, I only get hot flashes for which I get no sympathy from my older female friends. The weird part is that having no testosterone was supposed to essentially kill my sex drive but the opposite happened. I really wanted sex and still do. Maybe my male identity issues continue to linger in my mind and I need to prove to myself that I am really a man in all respects. I am very lucky to have access to an incredible urologist who specializes in men’s sexual health. Guys like him are rare! He put me on the mother of all erectile drugs – Trimix. It’s injected into the penis which takes a bit of practice. It didn’t take long for me to get used to the idea of sticking a needle into my penis, although the first few times were pretty scary. It worked enough (not great) to give me a semi hard erection of 5 inches on a good day. It looked like enough for penetration with some lube. It does have the benefit of endurance. I stay (semi) hard for a good 2 to 3 hours. Advice: don’t use it if you have to go out anytime soon.
One night 2 years ago, my wife and I each grabbed a large scotch and sat down for a good hard talk about where our relationship was headed. We talked about the sex we weren’t having and how we were drifting apart. We decided on a weekly sex date every Sunday (with my need for Trimix, spontaneity is out of the question). This was my wife’s idea. Our sex dates have been great and have improved every aspect of our relationship amazingly. I had had many conversations with myself leading up to this night about how I would feel if my wife had sex with someone else. I knew I could handle it when I told her that I wanted her to feel free to experience a “normal” penis, and that it would be fine with me. She said she appreciated the gesture but didn’t think she would ever act on it. She also told me that if she did act on it, I may never know because she didn’t want it to risk changing our relationship in a bad way. I told her I could accept that. To make sure she knows I am serious, I bring it up every few months (I learned that too often is not good). I want her to do it if she finds she wants to. My wife and I have a mantra we both live by – “We are adults. We can do what we want”. A couple of months ago we were talking about bucket list items (something that becomes front burner when you have cancer) and I told her one item on my list is to have sex with another woman. She said I should go for it, even though it’s going to be challenging for me. I just might if the opportunity arises.
So, that’s my story. Not sure what the future holds. My message is to not give up. I am a worst case scenario, it’s most likely not this bad for others. See a therapist, it’s absolutely worth it. Open up to your partner long before I did and keep talking.