It takes a real man to admit he struggles with incontinence, impotence and some of the other side effects that can accompany prostate cancer treatment.
And a lot of you are real men, confident enough in yourselves, your manliness and your bodies to recount for others the paths you've traveled.
In response to the last "Low Blow" installment, where MSNBC.com reporter Mike Stuckey revealed that he "pees his pants" following surgery, many readers wrote to tell him he's not alone — and not to be ashamed. The brotherhood understands, even if others don't always, one man wrote.
Some offered practical tips on dealing with incontinence and while others wrote about how its changed how they feel about themselves.
"I do not think doctors have a clue as to the discomfort, and emotional issues we have to deal with after prostate treatment," a survivor said.
Read on for more reader comments:
Except for a few details, the story could have been about me. Only it took over three years for me to go without a diaper. Even now I have an occasional squirt or drip, mostly when I do heavy lifting. Too much coffee seems to affect the frequency and amount of pee. On the plus side, I'm retired and can easily stop what I'm doing to go change. But more than anything I now feel confident that I can control it. I even took a three-hour flight a few weeks ago and my "precautionary" diaper was dry as a bone when I arrived. With my PSAs showing "No measurable amount," I'm pleased with my decision to have the surgery.
Leroy, Spring, Texas
Many of the guys in my Malecare prostate cancer support group deal with pee. Some for a year, as your surgeon told you, and a few, probably forever. What all tend to say after a few months passes from surgery is they have no regrets. They are alive and hope to die from something other than prostate cancer. So, do know, you are not alone, and guys you do not know are thinking of you.
Mike, you are not alone in this situation. I went through the pads and wetness, uncertainty, anger and doubt about my selection for my choice of procedures. I also had an episode at a restaurant that caused me great discomfort and embarrassment but before you know it, it is just a passing memory. Mine didn't take long — about a month or so — and by following the doctor's directions it was back to dry days and nights. You will be fine.
Mike is so right! I have had metastasized prostate cancer for nearly 10 years. Because the cancer had already spread to my bones before it was discovered, I never had surgery or radiation of my prostate. Almost a year ago I had a TURP (transurethral resection of the prostate) because the prostate cancer was plugging up my urethra (the little hose that is urine's pathway from the bladder to daylight). In the process of removing the wayward cancer tissue, the urologist, in effect, also removed the shutoff valve. I've been on a Foley catheter ever since. It's nice when it works but for most of the day it doesn't; I pee around the catheter tube instead of through it. So I'm wearing Depends AND a man pad besides. I've worked out a system whereby I carry a half dozen "emergency kits" in the car. Each kit is a fresh man pad and a Wet One disposable washcloth in a plastic sack from the grocery. The rolled up bag and contents fit into my pants pocket.
Truth of the matter is that neither the prostate cancer, the chemo treatments, the radiation therapy nor the kidney cancer that preceded the prostate cancer was as vexing or as destructive of my self esteem as the incontinence (there, I said it). I don't like what's happening but I'm glad to still be around to have it happen.
Warren, Lakewood, Pa.
Mr. Stuckey, you have done all men and women an incredible favor by sharing your story. To begin with, it is very inspiring, and full of glorious hope. But what meant so very much to me is your description of what it feels like: That you were embarrassed and humiliated when you neared the mall, that you wanted to cry and turn around, and then that you went anyway. Our society does an excellent job of training men to stuff their emotions, with terrible consequences for the men themselves, the women who love them, and their children. You boldly discussed the "I" word with openness and honesty, and in so doing, by admitting your humanness and deep self, have given us a huge step towards a recovery that I wish more attention was paid to — the need for emotional recovery. Thank you so very much for your strength and courage — and sense of humor!
I feel your pain. I have often wished that I had considered radiation over surgery as it has been 14 months since my surgery and I am nowhere near where I had hoped to be by now. Thankfully, I haven't bought any men's Depends lately. For awhile, I feared the worse as I would leak at night or when I would bend down or lift anything heavier than the lawnmower's gas can. I seem to be finally over the leaking stage of my recovery. My absolute #1 problem (with no close second) is my inability to make love to my wife. I have always been a very sexual person and enjoyed the fact that I was very well endowed to boot. I once asked my urologist to give me a sample of Viagra just for fun after I had kidney stones blasted and things got back to normal. They were great and I felt like I was in my 20s again with the staying power they provided. Now they are no longer a novelty. In fact, they don't seem to help much at all. My doctor said to be patient and the nerves will begin to re-attach in damaged areas. He said it could take a couple of years! Furthermore, not only is it not working, I have also been experiencing "shrinkage"! I thank God for my wife who is very understanding about this and deals with it well. Good luck to both of us; at least we are still alive although quality of life can be pretty subjective.
W. Mark, Chesapeake, Va.
Mike, you opted for the right thing to do, the radical prostatectomy; you are a very bright young man! It gets better faster than you can imagine when it comes to the incontinence process, I am already two months and a week past mine and I am almost in a full and complete control of my bladder and also in full control of my own self-erections when necessary.
Felix, Victoria, Texas
The "seeds" or radiation therapy that I received was no picnic. For six months after the seeds were implanted, I did not know how many times a day I would have some type of reactive colon issue usually with some discomfort, irritation and pain. I still get up three times each night to pee, sometimes with burning sensation. I do not think doctors have a clue as to the discomfort, and emotional issues we have to deal with after prostate treatment.
George, Mount Vernon, Ark.
Go get em' Mike! Recovery is not as easy as it seems. Having had the surgery four years ago at age 50, I am reliving the not-so-happy experience through you again. I can assure you it will get better, maybe not ALL better, but better. I still have little dribbles now and then, like when I squat down or bend over. No need for pads, you just get used to it and move on. Like Charlie Brown once said, "Thanks, Mom, for dark pants." Your next hurdle no doubt is the use of man's best friend. Will you be part of the 85 percent who recover 85 percent use of your buddy, or the other 15 percent? I truly hope for the best for you. Four years later, I am still waiting to join the 85 percent club. I keep telling myself that maybe someday I will be admitted to that exclusive club. As I wait for my membership to be accepted, I keep telling myself that my life is not dependent upon the use of my buddy, but easier said than done my therapist tells me.
Manhood is an odd fellow. You spend the better part of your life wondering if you are using it correctly and the rest bragging about how you do. Should your membership get lost by life's review committee, do not fret. I can assure you that you should have a long and almost complete life ahead of you.
Tom, Arnold, Md.
My father-in-law suffered from incontinence for many years, after prostate surgery. He was diagnosed in his early 70s and his physician emphasized surgery as the "best method" of treatment indicating that even though it was a more invasive approach, it was the most successful. He claimed that the doctor had swayed his decision to proceed with surgery over radiation therapy and the surgery caused extensive nerve damage that rendered him incontinent for the remaining 12 years of his life. Our entire family did everything we could to make him feel like his condition was as normal as any other daily routine and never let him feel like it got in the way of anything. I am sure that he hated the hassle and embarrassment of this condition and it was the most difficult thing he had to deal with in his entire life.
David, Portland, Ore.
I had my prostate removed five years ago because of cancer. I had bladder control problems for the first three months. But with proper exercise I was able to control my bladder. As far as my sex life was concerned the first year sucked. But as time went by I am now about 85 percent back to normal. Of course a understanding partner sure helps. So you guys, hang on. It gets better as time goes by.
David, Santa Barbara, Calif.
I had it 15 years ago, but a series of radiation therapy put it in remission. I am 86, so it leaks a little occasionally, no big deal. Mike should just change his underwear and stop being a cry baby.
What we men don't know about diseases and medical stuff could fill volumes. Thanks for the insight of a problem that is not spoken of at this level of experience. More courage and healing to you!