When your boyfriend becomes your girlfriend

Prostate cancer and radioactive love

3 minute read
Funny— Dick never liked chocolate before.
Funny— Dick never liked chocolate before.
Let's call them "Dick and Jane" for purposes of privacy.

When Dick, Jane's beloved, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it was a shock to both of them, although they were hardly alone: Prostate cancer is now the most common cancer in American men, after skin cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that about one man in six will have prostate cancer during his lifetime (although only one in 36 will die of it). More than 2.5 million men in the U.S. who've been diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive today.

Although Dick is the one with the prostate, both he and Jane had to make adjustments. Dick had to decide on a treatment, a decision determined largely by how much would be covered by his health insurance. Jane had to stand by her man, which turned out to be much more complicated than she thought.

In their case, unfortunately, the "cutting edge" of prostate cancer treatment"“ the bloodless, vaguely sci-fi "gamma knife" you may have seen advertised by some medical centers"“ was considered too experimental to qualify for Dick's health-insurance reimbursement, so at this point the procedure is mostly limited to wealthy patients.

Don't forget the hormones

Because Dick's prostate cancer was discovered only in one sector at a relatively early stage, with a moderately elevated PSA, he opted for implantation of radioactive "seeds"— Brachytherapy— rather than radical surgery.

In Dick's case, besides CAT scans and bone scans, he also needed to undergo several other preliminary minor surgical procedures first, culminating in the dreaded unpleasantness of catheterization accompanied by an extra added bonus of visiting nurses.

Wait— don't forget to mention the hormones!

Because testosterone has been implicated for possibly triggering prostate cancer, some treatments seek to neutralize that mechanism. And so Dick would also receive female hormone shots and female hormone pills— which, his urologist warned him, might bring hot flashes, enlarged breasts, weight gain, possible mood swings, and no interest in sex whatever.

"It won't even cross your mind," the doctor declared. But Dick wasn't convinced.

As for Jane, she jokes that she was waiting for Dick to show up in a dress.

Craving chocolate

But the doctor didn't mention that Dick would become… a changed man. Suddenly, this tough, handsome guy started crying at happy-sad TV shows. He developed a craving for chocolate, for shopping and even for chick flicks. For Jane, it was almost like having a new girlfriend.

Amazingly enough, hospitals don't seem to counsel men about what it will be like— what they actually face emotionally, let alone physically.

Ultimately, whatever the choice of treatment in prostate cancer, the upshot seems to be incontinence and impotence, one way or another. So no matter which direction the treatment takes to cope with this situation— even temporarily— a couple's relationship will definitely change.

Jane knows theirs has. Hey, she wonders, has anyone else ever noticed something like this?

Jane's challenge

As soon as Dick's hormone treatment stops, within just a few weeks he's back to being the cranky old man she knows and loves. Yet during the female hormone-bombardment phase, he was so sweet, even meek.

Meanwhile, Jane's challenge is to totally support Dick in his chosen treatment, whatever direction it takes. Happily, his prognosis— like that of most prostate cancer patients— is very positive. More than nine out ten prostate cancers are found before they can spread, and in such cases the five-year survival rate is nearly 100%.

Dick's physician, pleased with his progress, has given him a stash of "little blue pills" for special occasions, and Jane's glad Dick is back to his old self.♦

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