Frankly, my dear, I’m shagged out

We just had a great couple of weeks in Spain, on the beach and in the sea every day. It was warm to hot, mostly dry, very sunny and, as always, full of friendly people, both locals and tourists, especially our mates who we now regularly meet up with. As you’ve probably gathered, we like the place.

The only downside was nothing to do with the actual holiday but everything to do with my energy levels, which were noticeably down on a year ago. Last September’s short break doesn’t count as I was in the midst of chemo then but, whereas in June last year we walked everywhere, this year I needed to take several cabs and I just wasn’t up to much after eating in the evening. I could easily have slumped into bed as soon as the sun went down. If I was in any doubt about feeling more tired before before I went away, those doubts are now gone.

Now, I don’t know if this is all down to the post-chemo malaise that I’ve been told can last for ages or if it’s something more permanent but it’s yet one more chip away from the “old normal” that existed until not that long ago.

I’ve had it suggested to me that this could all be down to getting older (bloody cheek!). OK, it could be, but does such age-related change come so suddenly? When I look at others my age and a little older I don’t see them flaking out but I do see them walking, partying and, if not full of energy, certainly not totally depleted of it.

Since getting back home a week ago I’ve felt even more drained. I think I’ve got a virus added to the already present fatigue but I’m plodding on making sure I keep active although I’ve had to cut out the gym. I find myself wondering what idiot said holidays are good for you? 

As if all that were not enough, my PSA blood test was due. As anybody who has to have regular PSA tests knows there’s something called PSA Anxiety. It goes hand in hand with Scanxiety and both can drive you mad. I managed not to think about it while we were in Spain but it’s been on my mind ever since the plane home touched down with me swinging from being convinced that the cancer is dormant and will be so for some time to the PSA result coming back sky high and the cancer being rampant everywhere – not just once have I gone through this but a hundred times in the last few days. I know it’s daft, but there you go. 

I finally had my bloods done yesterday and today I got the results. The bad news is the PSA has gone up but the good news is it’s still very low and now stands at 0.074 compared to the even lower 0.044 that it was 3 months ago. I’d hoped it wouldn’t rise again for a bit longer but it could be worse I suppose. 

The other thing that my bloods threw up was my neutrophils level, which is low at 1.5. I don’t altogether understand neutrophils but I think they’ve got something to do with the body’s immune system and help to fight infections and they should be higher than 1.5, so maybe that could account for me feeling like crap? 

To paraphrase Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind: Frankly, my dear, I’m shagged out – but not, unfortunately, in the way I used to be pre-surgery.  Nevertheless I have plans for the next few days that I intend sticking to. An elderly friend of ours who we all affectionately call Uncle Albert reaches a milestone birthday on Thursday and is having a celebration get together. As befits his advanced years there’ll be plenty of seats available so I should be OK. In fact, sitting next to him I will appear positively youthful. 

Where’s all my chest hair gone?

I looked in the mirror recently and there, looking back at me, was a 60 year old bloke with adolescent girl boobs and a bikini line to be proud of. I had been noticing the gradual changes happening to my body but they now all seem to have come together in a crescendo after creeping up gradually since I started taking Bicalutamide 10 months ago. 

I suppose gradual change is easier to get your head round than sudden and maybe everything’s come to the fore now because of the adverts all over the place about getting fit after Christmas. Whatever the reason, all the changes are playing on my mind more now than they were. 

The fuller boobs and the loss of most of my body hair are change enough, but there are also the rounder hips, sore nipples, a wider midriff bulge, feeling tired and taking ten times longer to write this than it should take because I can’t concentrate as well as a year ago. 

If I’d been asked before the cancer happened what would be a really bad side effect, a shortening of my “manhood” would have been near the top of the list. Now that the shortening has happened, due to the surgery not Bicalutamide, I’m amazed to find that I’m more pee’ed off with losing most of my body hair than any of the other things.

In fairness I had been warned about the changes that could happen to me but nothing I’d been told explained how the changes might actually make me feel. Everything is very matter of fact – you might lose your libido, you might gain weight, you might lose body hair, you might be moody, you might grow boobs – nothing that really explained how self conscious I might feel in intimate situations or that I’d feel like a plonker at the swimming pool or on the beach.

There are cancer information booklets on “body image” but the vast majority of information doesn’t strike me as being geared up for men, as though we wouldn’t be bothered about such things. Maybe the implication is that we shouldn’t be bothered, or am I being paranoid? Is paranoia another side effect of hormone treatment?

If having something about body image to refer to is helpful to women with cancer doesn’t it follow it might also be helpful to men? Having it there in front of me in black and white would be a validation and acknowledgement of what I’m feeling. Maybe a few pointers on how to handle the psychological side of changes to my body written from a male perspective with a male audience in mind would be supportive. 

If nothing else I think all men affected by cancer are worth more than a couple of paragraphs as an afterthought, which is what it feels like we’ve got at the moment.

Radiotherapy 2015 – 10 down, 5 to go

This year’s zapping is surprisingly bearable. I had expected something similar to last year’s side effects, which came on fast, were quite hard going and got worse throughout the 32 sessions and carried on for months after.

Comparatively speaking, I’m getting off lightly this time with just slight irritation when I pee, a mild upset stomach and slightly increased fatigue on top of what I already have from the hormone tablets that I take, meaning I now have to sleep for a couple of hours every afternoon. The one alarm bell that started ringing on Day 10 was an increase in my peeing frequency, especially during the night, but if it gets no worse it’s nothing I can’t live with for a while. I’m hoping that my weekend break from treatment will calm things down before I go into the final week. 

I live about 30 miles from where the radiotherapy takes place and after two weeks the daily journey becomes a bit tedious. I suppose that contributes to the tiredness I feel, but at least the route we take is picturesque through stereotypical English country lanes in full leaf at the height of summer. We pass through a couple of little villages that could have been plucked out of a brochure from Visit England. From the first day I’ve tried to pretend I’m on holiday and am going out for the day every day, which has involved wearing gaudy clothes whenever possible – by “whenever possible” I really mean weather permitting. That has extended even to socks and underpants. They are revealed in all their “where’s-me-sunglasses” glory when I remove my hospital gown and lay on the slab. Well, if you’ve got it, flaunt it or, in my case, if you used to have it, flaunt it.

By this time next week the radiotherapy will be over but the daily pill taking remains. With luck all my cancer will have been fried sufficiently to kill it, there won’t be any more anywhere else that’s too small to see on a scan, and I’ll be cured. I won’t know if that’s the case for quite a while, maybe 18 months or two years until I do, but I’m optimistic. I wouldn’t be in this positive and hopeful position were it not for our fantastic NHS but particularly my current medical team, all of whom have gone all out to get me to where I am. Whatever happens (!) I will always be thankful for what they’ve done.

Until I find out one way or the other, life goes on and we’re planning to get away again before the end of the summer. I might not be allowed to sit in the sun but I sure can sit under a beach umbrella and enjoy watching everybody else strutting their stuff (I thought the hormone pills were supposed to stop lustful thoughts). If prostate cancer’s effects on sexual function have had one positive consequence, it’s that no matter what’s going on in my mind I no longer have any embarrassing man-moments on the naturist beach, so I suppose it’s not all bad.