Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking Time to Heal

I have truly missed blogging for these last few months although I have been keeping a private journal just for my own sanity I guess.

I owe it to my readers to 'splain.

About May of last year, with health insurance costs rising and services provided diminishing, I opted to switch my insurance to Kaiser. I was a healthy guy after all, in reasonable shape for my age and no history of smoking or abusing my body otherwise.

I made a special effort to find a gay-friendly physician within the network, whom I decided to see for a routine physical, as a way of getting to know him and setting a baseline.

I really like how Kaiser uses email and online communication to get you your results by the way. Love being able to email my doctors whenever I want and they personally respond, usually within 24 hours.

I see the doctor who does the typical exam, lab work, etc. and within a week, my cholesterol and electrolytes results were posted in my online account and everything looked just peachy keen.

So a week goes by, and I think it's all good, and as I'm walking in the door from work, the phone is ringing. It's my doc who says that one of my blood tests has come back with an elevation, the PSA. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I had no idea what a PSA test was and that I had even had one done. He explains that PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen test and can be elevated with benign prostate enlargement, a prostate infection, or it can indicate the presence of prostate cancer. He tells me not to worry because it would be unusual at my age (under 50) for it to be cancer, but that he's referring me to the urology department for followup exam.

Two weeks later, I see the urologist who does a manual exam and who also reassures me that she doesn't feel any abnormal growths or enlargement, but maybe just a little "firmness". When she hears that my mother had a fairly aggressive form of breast cancer, she prods me a little to go ahead with a biopsy in another couple of weeks. I agree, but I'm still thinking that this is all just a bunch of excitement over what will be nothing.

The biopsy, scheduled as a separate appointment is not pleasant but not horrible, basically involving an ultrasound and then a series of about 12 quick bee stings, which aren't too bad after the local anesthetic injection. All done and I go home. There is some mild discomfort and blood later, which goes away eventually.

I go about my life again, barely even thinking about what I've just been through.

A week later, my phone rings at work and it's the urologist. "We have the results" she says, "and they came back positive for cancer."

As is my pattern for facing big stressors, I go numb. I remember vaguely that she tries to reassure me that it "looks like it's very early stage" and "the cure rates are excellent". She tells me to take a few days to absorb it all, talk to Brad and then come in for a face to face appointment with her to discuss the options.

As we hang up, I pinch myself in my brain. "She just said I have cancer," I remember thinking, still stunned.

I call Brad and haltingly repeat what she said. He's quiet for a moment and just says, "I'm sorry honey, but we'll get through this." My rock.

Over the next few months, I visit five different specialists. I find out that I have a range of options, which is great. I can have external radiation everyday for two months, or radioactive "seeds" implanted once. Or, I can have the thing removed through open traditional surgery or with the newer robot-assisted surgery. After weeks of advice, research and discussion, I decide on the robotic prostatectomy and on the surgeon I like the most. The research suggests that surgeons with more experience have better outcomes and I find one that I like personally. He's done 150 of them and he has a sense of humor. I think I'll need that.

February 9th this year, I entered the hospital and on February 10th I leave the hospital, sans prostate and sans cancer.

I am at home now recovering. My body is healing. The postop report was excellent.

Removing the prostate is a little more complicated than say, removing the appendix. The nerves in the area serve multiple functions and in some people the nerves never return to normal again. I'm sending good thoughts to my nerves everyday.

Now I face the future and I wait and I try to be patient.

There has to be meaning in this experience and I want to discern it.

For now, there are deep breaths and taking one day at a time.


Jim said...

Dr. Kim, wishing you the best recovery! Your blog came up in search alert I have for topics related to my novel "Benediction", which is based on my own experience with PCa - also set in San Francisco, and the fictional doctor who treats my protagonist is... Dr. Kim. Odd coincidence! Again, my best wishes for your total recovery. Look forward to reading more of your blog posts. Jim Arnold

Renato Moura said...

Hi, Dr. Kim. I am a brazilian reader from Rio de Janeiro city area. Your words have always been very meaningful to me. We may even be distant in space and ages (20 here), but every new post in your blog delivered me new reflections about my life and behavior. First time I heard about you on ALEX AND DEAN's podcast and then followed you throughout other podcasts you've been interviewed in.

Then you come up after long time gone with news about your cancer, that made me want to express my (formerly quiet) empathy for you and wish you a best recovery. Sending you the best vibrations from overseas.

Keep up with nice words and thoughts. get better soon and don't stop posting regularly.