8: We Didn’t Know

8: We Didn’t Know

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

We Didn’t Know

My cancer scare changed my life. I’m grateful for every new, healthy day I have. It has helped me prioritize my life.
~Olivia Newton-John

“When you feel up to it, we’ll get two claw-foot bathtubs, put them in the backyard, climb in and hold hands. Then we’ll give you a Cialis pill and see what happens,” I said, referring to that television commercial where the couple looks longingly into each other’s eyes.

“That’s not funny,” my husband deadpanned.

Throughout this whole thing, I’ve tried to maintain a sense of humor. Richard was now a cancer patient. And his cancer was in his prostate.

Before the diagnosis, Richard had endured tests that made him increasingly uncomfortable. “Why do they have to mess around down there?” he fumed. A few years ago, blood work indicated his PSA level was elevated. The doctor said he probably had an enlarged prostate. Then his PSA level spiked. “I need to have a biopsy,” Richard said. I could hear the trepidation in his voice.

“That doesn’t surprise me. You get up every few hours to go to the bathroom.” I had a feeling the doctor suspected something.

A week after the biopsy, Richard phoned. “The bad news is I have cancer, the good news is it’s treatable.”

I expected it, I think more than he did, but it was still a blow.

“I can’t have cancer,” he almost shouted through the phone. “I take good care of myself. I go for all my checkups. I get my blood work done. How can this happen to me?”

“Honey, we’ll deal with it. Don’t panic.” I put all the reassurance I could muster into my voice. “You’ll be fine.”

“You have to come with me to a consultation.”

“I’ll be right beside you.”

In the doctor’s office, my strong, 200-pound-plus husband looked like he was going to collapse. I asked most of the questions and cataloged in my mind all the answers. “Okay,” the doctor began, “this is what we’re dealing with.” He showed us a chart of Richard’s elevated levels. “The prostate is three times the size it should be and one quadrant shows an aggressive cell.”

Radiation was an option. That would zap the prostate and the cells but the downside was that it was so close to other tissues that could also be damaged. Surgery would remove the entire prostate with minimal chance of damaging surrounding tissue.

I asked the big question. “What’s the downside of surgery?”

The doctor looked directly at Richard. “You may have loss of manly function.”

Richard turned white as a piece of paper.

I thought I’d have to carry him out of the doctor’s office. “That’s not important to me.” I took his hand in mine. “Let’s get rid of the cancer. We’ll cross that bridge later.”

The doctor said to let him know what we decide.

“What’s happening to my body?” Richard asked when we were home. He was perfectly healthy, except for the cancer that he could not see and could not feel.

I tried to lighten the mood. “Honey, you can live without your prostate.”

A hangdog look accompanied his next words. “I won’t be a man anymore.”

“Yes, you will.” But I could tell he wasn’t convinced.

It was difficult to relate to Richard about a part of the body a woman doesn’t have. Girlfriends discuss details of childbirth, episiotomies, sitz baths, and those unsightly stretch marks. We talk to each other about heavy bleeding, hormone changes, mood swings and hot flashes. But ask a man about his nether-region and he’ll shut you down like a light switch. Heaven knows Richard wasn’t used to his private parts being probed and poked.

The next morning on the way to work I called my best friend. “It finally hit me that he has cancer,” I told her. “But for him, it’s not just that he has cancer—it’s where the cancer is.”

Richard opted for surgery. He came home from the hospital with a catheter to drain urine, a tube running from the incision to drain his wound, and staples from his groin to his belly button. We inched to the bathroom to empty the bag, then inched our way back to his comfy recliner. That’s when we looked at each other and said, “Where are we going to hang it?”

“I’ve got it!” I said, and grabbed the fireplace tools, removed them from their standing holder, and hung the bag on that. “Perfect.”

A few days later, the stomach tube was removed, a week later the staples, and two weeks after that the catheter. During all this, I was his nurse, trying to keep up his spirits, read the instructions for his care, and take him back and forth to doctor’s visits. We had lots of time to talk, and talk we did. About how blessed we were that they caught it early, and how much worse it could have been.

We feel a little bit stronger since the diagnosis, a lot wiser, and thankful for each and every day we have together. Richard will need to be tested periodically, now that he’s someone who has had cancer. But he came through the hard part. We both did. And the tests so far have shown no recurrence.

And those two claw-foot bathtubs? We didn’t need them; but if we ever do, I plan to crack open a bottle of wine and make a toast to the joy of life. We didn’t know fighting cancer would bring us closer, in ways we could have never imagined.

~Isabella Gianni as told to B.J. Taylor

More stories from our partners