Police officer details his experiences through prostate cancer recovery

Tom Wright is a veteran police officer with Brownstown Police Department and NASCAR
correspondent for The Jackson County Banner. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer
in January 2015 and underwent treatment.

The one-year anniversary of my surgery to remove my cancerous prostate came and went in early January, so now, I’m working on my second year.

I guess I should back up a little, as I have had follow-up visits in February and July 2015 and January and July of this year.

On Feb. 19, 2015, I finally got to complete the survey as it was intended. Blood test (no urine, and I saved a jug full) indicated a prostate-specific antigen of less than 0.40, which they say is a good sign. I ran into my recovery room roommate, there on a checkup. He looked fine.

My doctor asked how I was feeling. “Depends” was the reply. He said it would take time to gain full bladder control, and even then, there might be some leakage at times. He then said I might notice a difference in ability to urinate. That I do. I feel I can empty my bladder in about half the time as before, not to say I was having problems before.

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The other problem, erectile dysfunction, might not be as easy to cure. Cialis is not covered by insurance, and the cost is not worth the purchase.

I went upstairs to say “Hi” to Emily. I took Marion-Kay gift bags for her, Brent and Ded, the nurses who took care of me right after surgery.

I returned to work Feb. 24, 2015. I was planning to go on the day before, but the weather (bitter cold) kept the schools closed Monday. I told people I had always said it would be a cold day when I went back to work.

It felt good to get out and start moving around. Each day seemed a little better than the next. The dogs were tickled when the weather was good enough to go on longer walks than what Terri wanted to take them.

I made special trips to Columbus Regional Health, where I had my heart catheterization, and Indianapolis to see Jennifer at Columbus and Emily at IU Health, give them copies of my articles and tell them how I was doing. They were happy to see me and hear of the progress.

March was the first test of stamina as T.J., Richard and I headed to Martinsville, Virginia, for a NASCAR race. Thank goodness we didn’t have to walk to town as the previous year (TV had gone out), so to the track and back wasn’t a grueling task.

The next test would be Talladega with Richard and Jeff. That went well. Darlington was moved to Labor Day weekend, which Terri, Mickey, Mimi and I made with only a few problems (another story).

Martinsville this year with Terri and T.J., Talladega with Adam and a trip to Darlington.

I have settled into a routine and found the use of Depends and male guards were enough to stem the overflow. At first, I wished I had stock in those products because I believe I was keeping the local CVS stores’ profits in the black by our purchases. I make the purchases without complaint or being embarrassed as I know the alternative — catheter.

Friends who would ask how I was doing would be told that sometimes, I felt like the Energizer Bunny (I keep going and going) or I compared myself to a Kentucky county (sometimes dry, sometimes wet).

It all “Depended” on what and how much I drank and how active I was. When I go to races, I drink more water to keep from becoming dehydrated (happened once at Talladega), but I pay for it in the amount of fluid I release. You can’t stray too far from a bathroom.

Sometimes, a sudden movement would open the floodgates, whereas Terri and other women would be quick to remind me they experience the same problems after they have experienced childbirth. Yes, I understand, sympathize and don’t complain.

As summer progressed, the flow has stemmed some. I have gotten into a routine of going to the bathroom every two hours or so even if I don’t have the urge. It has helped in slowing the use of “Dependable” items.

The next checkup was July 2015. We arrived a little early for our appointment. I went to the bathroom on arrival expecting not to have to supply a urine sample. I didn’t need to give one nor did I get a survey to fill out. Darn, I was looking forward to it.

The first one I met with was Laura (aka Countess Dracula). She was well-versed in drawing blood in a first try with little discomfort (must not have attended Latrice’s Nurse Ratched’s School of Nursing).

Dr. Orr was the next visitor. I toyed a little with him and waited for Dr. Koch. PSA was good. They both said it could be a while before my bladder was under best control.

I gave Dr. Koch the article on my surgery and zipped the “Depends” joke on Dr. Orr. I think this interested him in wanting to read the article. Another appointment six months later was set for January 2016.

Rita assisted me with a supply of recreational meds (Cialis).

Before my next visit, I had to fill out a health insurance rate quote questionnaire in which I explained everything, including the total removal of the prostate.

A couple of weeks later, a female calls from the quoting company asking for more information in regards to the surgery and after-care.

One of her questions was concerning ongoing treatment, care and exams.

She asked during my checkups, “Does the doctor do a prostate exam?” I replied, “No,” and when she asked, “Why not?” I bit my lip for a second and said, “Because I don’t have a prostate anymore.”

Late January of this year was my next checkup — the one-year one.

I checked in and was handed another post-surgery survey. I just got that evil grin. Before I could start, I was called.

It was Laura.

We stepped into a room that was set up for a medical procedure, and I just stopped. She could tell I was a little concerned, but she said, “I’m just drawing blood for the PSA test.” She’s as quick and painless as before.

I returned to the lobby to wait and finish the survey. The first sections were about intimacy, bowel movements and bladder control in which you give ratings of 0 to 5. Zero meaning little or no ability to 5 meaning always.

Then there was a set of questions.

We went to an exam room, where we met Dr. Koch. He said the PSA was as low as before, which is a good sign. He said I would have six-month checkups until two years after surgery, and then I would have just annual checkups.

Terri asked if the PSA could go up, and he said it could and would indicate I had prostate cancer cells somewhere in my body. He said it would depend on how high the number was before treatment would be discussed.

He said he had just met with a patient who had his prostate removed 12 years ago, and his recent test indicated a PSA of 5.85.

For him, they said they were not going to do anything because he’s 80. He said if it was me, at my age, they would discuss some sort of treatment that could include radiation.

We discussed my minor leakage, which I describe in the survey as manageable and tolerable, a new “normal.” I understand that at the present time, my leakage has a couple of causes. The use of body armor, duty belt and getting in and out of a vehicle puts extra pressure on the area where my bladder is.

He said it could take up to two years for more control, and the other appendage usage might return to a more manageable stage. At home, I was going through some of my post-surgery paperwork, which stated that it could take two years or more to fully recover.

Until then, I guess I’ll just continue to “piddle” along (sorry, I couldn’t help it.) This past year has been one of adjustment/changes in routine that not only affects me but has had an impact on Terri and the rest of the family, as well. T.J. realized that on our trip to Martinsville and on family outings as I needed to find a bathroom much sooner than before.

Fast forward to July 2016 and follow-up No. 3. It has been six months since my last one, and I was looking forward to the survey. Did not get one. Darn.

Tia (that’s what I call her as she hid her nametag and it sounded like Tianna but spelled differently; she spelled it too quick for my mind to absorb) took us back to the exam room and said Rita would be in to draw blood.

Tia returned shortly saying she couldn’t find Rita and was going to do it herself. Tia appeared to be a graduate of the Laura (Countess Dracula) School of Blood Drawing. She was quick, efficient and as painless as you could be for that procedure.

Our next visitor was the nurse practitioner from my initial consultation. She had a new word — undetectable. That is how she described my PSA test, a very good sign.

We discussed bladder leakage and said there was a procedure with a sling for the bladder. Thoughts of some sort of jock strap went through my mind. After some discussion, I said I was comfortable with where I was. She said I am getting to the point where I will stabilize in my normalcy. Terri later said she thought about asking if I would have to have a catheter. If so, I know I will pass.

Dr. Koch came in and used the same word — undetectable. He said my next checkup in January 2017 will be the last of the six-month ones. I will go to yearly and can go to my regular physician. What? And miss all these nice people up here?

As we started to leave, we saw Rita. Another script for me. Tia showed up, and I joked about the Band-Aid on her neck. I asked if her boyfriend/hubby was Dracula. She said it was covering a tattoo. Yeah, right.

Salvador, the scheduler, heard us talking about my articles. I guess I need to print them up, put into a binder and leave for all to read.

As I reflect back over the past few years, I do not regret any part of it.

In fact, I’m glad Dr. Calhoun did the exam. It’s amazing how the sense of touch or feeling can be so important and lifesaving. I hope doctors in the future conduct this exam on all of their male patients and encourage their need for colonoscopy exams. They may seem unmanly to some and be of some discomfort and embarrassment, but the lack of doing these can be deadly. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones.

Once again, I wish to thank all (wife and family included) who said prayers (some still do), offered help and support and in general have asked how I was doing.

Thank you for your kindness and concern, as Terri and others will say that I’m, “as ‘sick’ as ever.”

As for me, when watching TV, I pay special attention to the commercials for Poise pads, Depends undergarments and the Huggies diapers that talk about the “Cowboy Walk” and say to myself, “I can relate to that.”

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