Heard It Through the Gripe-Vine: Our New Abnormal
At this juncture, beyond the lingering COVID pandemic, if there’s something I’ll remember 2021 for, it’ll be as the year I was diagnosed with Stage 1 prostate cancer. And I’ve heard all there is to hear about how it’s a slow-growing cancer, how it’s eminently curable, or that if left alone and ignored, it’s more likely you’ll die of something else than prostate cancer. But the fact remains that being told you have it leaves strong intimations of one’s mortality. And while yes, it is slow-growing, there is the medical fact that it can spread from the prostate, and ‘invade’ your bones and other parts of your body, to complicate matters.
Deciding to be aggressive and treat it while still at Stage 1; I was all ready to undergo sessions of IGRT (Image Guided Radiation Technology). This would entail some 22 sessions of around an hour each at the hospital, five times a week, for four weeks. The least invasive of treatments that enjoys a high success ratio; I was declared an unsuitable candidate because anatomically, my bladder was small, it’s water retention poor. So short of doing elective surgery to have my prostate removed; the other form of radiation treatment was HDR (High Dose Radiation) Brachytherapy.
What HDR Brachytherapy entails is that under general anesthesia, I had 13 thin, long, hollow needles piercing my prostate, all the needles inserted in the area between my anus and my penis. For four sessions over some 24 hours, specific doses of radiation are coursed through the needles, so it’s a very targeted therapy treatment. So yes, those needles are left overnight, and you’re left anesthetized from the waist down, asked to sleep with your legs spread apart, and a catheter inserted so you stay immobile until all the radiation treatments are completed.
Honestly, it’s not so much the needles but the extreme discomfort that turns the protracted procedure into a ‘petit mort’ – and I don’t use that in its poetic sense. You can’t stand up, walk around, or cross your legs, while waiting for the next round of radiation. These are things you take for granted, and being deprived of them is harder than one imagines. I literally couldn’t sleep the night I had the needles left in me. The doctors will call this procedure ‘minimally invasive’; but honestly, it’s minimally invasive to the doctors. I look back on the days in the hospital with relief; as while it was happening, it was torture.
And post procedure hasn’t been a bed of roses – or perhaps it is roses, but with the thorns left on them. For a few days, you’ll pee blood, your urge to pee is uncontrolled, your balls hurt when you’re seated, you’re prescribed bed rest to let the area heal, and while it doesn’t happen to all, I’ve suffered from hematoma in my penile area. All super-uncomfortable. And I’ll only know if the treatment is successful after 90 days, when I have a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test.
Before I stop writing about my stay at St Luke’s BGC, can I just ask who designs the hospital gowns of the world? It is the most impractical of designs – like how easy is it to tie several knots behind one’s back? Or is that just a ‘man thing’? Each time I’ve visited the hospital, whether for the parametric MRI, the prostate biopsy, or the actual Brachytherapy, I’m always cursing these Best in Design gowns. Just saying.
I’d like to thank the doctors who guided me through this journey, Urologists Dr. Steve Lim and Dr. Mark Cellona, Radiation Oncologists Dr. Kenneth Sy and Dr. Marti Magsanoc, and the one who helped me survive this all, my anesthesiologist, Dr. Joyce Lim. Along with the doctors, nurses, technicians, & private duty nurses, they all helped me face this dreaded C. And a shout out to AXA – I have a Global Health Access plan with them, and they moved really quickly to be of invaluable service.
So please please, take your annual executive check-up’s seriously and religiously. There’s nothing like catching these things early. As I’ve written before, Modern Medicine and Technology today are marvels, but one has to have base marks and data to allow them to perform their ‘miracles’, or attempt their best trying.
And what sort of world have I emerged to? We’re back to ECQ, with new COVID cases jumping off the charts. Nowadays, it’s literally ‘Thank God, I have pneumonia, or influenza, or a severe flu.’ As long as it’s not COVID, and ironically, we’re thankful to the nth degree. Unlike 2020, the unfortunate fact is that COVID this year seems much closer, with friends or family members succumbing to the virus. Let’s just be thankful that the year has taught our doctors how better to handle the virus and their patients – and now, the issue may be whether you find a hospital that can take you.
It’s a world with a lot of crazy when it comes to living here in the Philippines – lockdown our knee-jerk, and seemingly, only response to any rise in cases. So as I turn 66 this 12th of April, I know I still have much to be thankful for – but somehow, I strongly feel that celebrating a second birthday under the shadow of COVID isn’t one of them.