When I tell people I suffered almost no pain before, during, and after my prostatectomy, they invariably look at me skeptically, mentally chalking me up as another testosterone-drenched male trying to act like a tough guy.
Well, it just so happens that I am a tough guy. But I don’t think that’s why I enjoyed – if you can call it that – a mostly pain-free experience in my successful bout with prostate cancer. It was a combination of things, including the nature of the disease itself, advances in surgical techniques, and – to a much lesser degree – my body’s particular pain threshold.
An interesting aspect of prostate cancer is that it exhibits no discernable symptoms. No persistent cough, no lumps in the breast, pain in the bones, blood in the stool. None of the other harbingers of danger the Big C creates in its other incarnations. That’s why it frequently goes undetected with no detrimental effects on a man’s quality of life. Medical experts say a lot of men die with the disease – from other causes. Luckily, prostate cancer is a relatively slow-growing malignancy, or its lack of warning signs could make it a real killer.
In the interests of full disclosure, I call your attention to the phrase I used above – “a mostly pain-free experience.” The most pain and discomfort I experienced during the whole affair came before my diagnosis ever emerged – during the several rounds of biopsies I underwent to determine why my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) rate was skyrocketing. I have ulcerative colitis and undergo regular colonoscopies to look for signs of colon cancer. As a result, I approached my first prostate biopsy with the insouciant air of an old pro accustomed to having medical instruments shoved up his posterior.
I learned quickly enough that there’s a big difference between the two procedures, the chief one being that no anesthetic is administered before the biopsy. And oh my, what a difference that makes! During my first biopsy, my urologist was maneuvering the examining rod around my prostate, periodically activating a device at its tip that removed small chunks of the gland for testing. Every time he triggered the device, a painful jolt shot through my lower body.
At one point, he said, “Now, you’re going to feel this one in your penis.” Before I could even process that alarming bit of info, the jolt rocketed through me and left me gasping. He was right. I felt it. Right where he said I would.
In the end, I had three biopsies, each one more unpleasant than the previous. Advances in noninvasive medical imaging probably will someday replace the procedures that left me weak and panting. That day can’t come soon enough.
Probably the most important reason why I never had to deal with pain management during my battle with prostate cancer is the nature of the surgery I chose. I was told that robotic surgery is less invasive and causes less blood loss, thus allowing for a more rapid recovery period. It also means that post-surgery pain is lessened in most cases. All true in my case.
In fact, I had so little pain when I was released from the hospital the day after the surgery, I might have believed the whole procedure was a crazy dream, except for the urine-retrieval bag I wore at my waist that connected to my bladder by a tube through my abdomen. But it caused me no pain, and I was entertained the first couple of days by watching it slowly fill with urine. I felt nary a twinge.
It was there because the urethra – which carries urine from the bladder to the penis – has to be severed in order to remove the prostate that surrounds it. It then is reattached. The urine bag and tube are there to give the urethra time to heal. I wore the bag for 10 days. On the day it was scheduled to be removed, I disconnected the tube from the bag – as instructed – and prepared to urinate in the regular way. I veered between worry that normal flow wouldn’t occur and fear that, if it did, it would be accompanied by stinging pain. In the event, neither concern materialized. In an hour, I was functioning normally with no hint of pain or discomfort.
I never want to repeat the experience, mind you. But considering the scenarios that flickered through my head in the days and weeks before the surgery, it ended up being Not Awful.
But then, of course, I am (ahem) a Tough Guy.
Photo Credit: kupicoo / E+ via Getty Images
Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.
Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.