Unanticipated Medical Adventure

Life is never what you expect and after a medical check-up in Chiang Mai in 2014 for health insurance there were some results that indicated further testing was needed.  Hey what – I am healthy! A long journey of testing, some procrastination on my part, then follow ups and double checking resulted in a finding – which did not please me!

Those who know me would probably say that I am usually forthright, open and – generally matter of fact. I have chosen to share this life challenging event – because I can but more importantly I am hopeful it provides other men with an awareness of this disease – to consider prostate check-ups important!

Prostate cancer (PCa) managed to take a liking to me and my prostate. I expect it has been lurking down there for some years and seems an increasing popular disease in men. Lots of facts and figures around about this disease and treatment options but it is very much an individual prognosis and treatment plan for each man. I had a number of visits to doctors in both Chiang Mai, Bangkok and even Sydney.  We initially found a surgeon I was happy with at Siriraj Private – it was like the Hilton Hotel.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men worldwide and even when successful, treatment can take a toll on your physical and mental health.I took a step back from the diagnosis to approach this calmly and logically knowing that this disease can have varied outcomes.

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So my facts!  Not that there is good news, but my prognosis was not too bad. Initially it was graded an intermediate (unfavorable) cancer stage that did not appear to have spread. So curability through aggressive treatment was recommended and was the way ahead for me. I recognised that managing PCa is a battle and I invested the time and energy necessary to empower myself with the knowledge to make informed choices about my path of treatment.

I decided a strategy, found the best medical team and fought back with the support of everyone. I made a judgment that it is better to get this thing out of me, to be free, to get the cancer out. It was rather upsetting time personally and in many ways has been life-changing.

People question the Thailand health system.  From my experiences so far and depending on your choice of doctors and treatment centers it is very comparable to the west and at times better at less cost. I used a very qualified surgeon with years of experience and the largest and most up to date hospital in Bangkok to deal with this. He undertook a robotic radical prostatectomy in Bangkok on the 25 April – Australian Anzac Day – as it turns out, so this will be a “day to remember – for battles fought and won”.

I tried to take a positive outlook on a positive future that has a prognosis for a curable outcome and full steam ahead – to cure the beast. I vividly remember being wheeled from my room to the theatre with apprehension.  My anxiety level increased when the surgeon just before being taken into the theater asked me to sign a form indicated I was fully aware that their was the possibility of continence problems as well as erectile issues.  Now I am really worried – but let’s go for it.

Through a foggy consciousness I was slowly awakening from my sedation – it was over and I was still here.  It didn’t seem painful and I was relatively comfortable.  Eventually I was recovered enough for my trip back to the room.

That night and the next few days were long and tedious with challenges to move about – oh so slowly.  I was sporting a catheter and accompanying bag.  While I could move about it was awkward and exhaustion was easy to come by.  Short trips around the room and down the corridor followed.  My food was fairly bland but sufficient to satisfy. My initial recovery was in hospital for 4 days and then we went to an apartment complex for 2 weeks until I could have “things” removed.

My motto: “cancer is my bitch and I am going to beat it”.

My son from Australia came to visit at to be with me during my surgery – very nice of him to represent the family.  Ace, Shawn and I enjoying the Annantara Riverside Resort, Bangkok for 3 days in the lead up to surgery at Siriraj Hospital. A few nice meals, some Bangkok site seeing, relaxation time by the pool and cultural history and a transvestite show were a few of the activities along with a river boat ride. It all helped to stall the nervousness of surgery.

After surgery there was a need to remain in Bangkok until my catheter was removed.  So for the recovery period we managed to find a nice service apartment to while away the days doing some walking exercise in the gym, enjoying breakfast and getting rest – very tired I was.  It turned out through some drama that the catheter remained in for 2 weeks so the stay was longer than anticipated.

The results from surgery and pathology indicated that the cancer was removed. Unfortunately it turned out to be a high risk grade of cancer but was confined to the prostate.  The doctors indicate I need to monitor myself every 3 months for any signs of recurrence.

We flew back to Chiangmai on the 9th May for recovery over the weeks that followed. So medical treatments in Thailand are great.  No worries to be taken care of here. I have never been a quitter and don’t intend to start now – so onward with this battle. This PCa was only a temporary hobby.

A lot of men don’t seem to discuss their disease and treatment openly for some reason? It’s not something to be shy or secret about our ashamed of from my perspective. Many men – both every day and famous – have survived this disease and the journey through curative treatment. I intend to follow them. The treatment side-effects are understood (and are gross) and I think the worst part of this whole mess because of the potential impact on the quality of life. But better crappy side effects than the other option – live for today as they say….!

My partner Ace and my kids were tremendous to me on this private journey and without their help it would be a far greater struggle. I am sure the on-going recovery phase will also be interesting! To date the recovery after 3 months is going well with almost complete control of the bladder.  Other things are a work in progress.  December 2016 and routine blood tests are monitoring my PSA – another trip to the Urologist is due in January 2017 for progress review.

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I decided to write about this so my friends and others have an awareness of this challenge and speaking about it is also an awareness piece and my attempt to highlight it for other men out there – one just never knows without screening tests.

Living in Chiangmai and spending a few years building our new home and garden, getting pet friendly and trying to figure out life that did not involve working from 9 -5 was, and still is, the only plan I have in mind. Now with a new casual function as an Honorary Consul of Australia I am very determined to soldier on…for years to come.

Cheers to life ……good luck with my future. …from here on!

Progress Updates

13/01/17 (10 Months post op) – Like most thinks in life there is always change, so after the operation and recovery road, there was the reality of how certain body parts now functioned and the ongoing routine check ups. The former was simply how it was and time may improve some things – it is a management strategy. The later involves going for quarterly blood tests and seeing the original surgeon for follow ups.

After the removal of a prostate the cancer marker (PSA) is meant to undetectable.  For some patients that doesn’t happen and close monitoring is necessary to ensure that cancer has not spread or that consideration of follow-up treatment is reviewed in a timely manner.

In my case I didn’t return to undetectable PSA and it has been slowly rising.  Nothing yet to be concerned about according to the medical team.  3 monthly testing will continued to monitor the PSA.  It often rises and then stabilises.  All good for now with on going medical reviews – so living as much a normal life as one can….