Friday, December 31, 2010

End of Year Update

Entry for 31 December 2010:

I had been feeling very impatient with the slow pace of my recovery when I saw my surgeon at the beginning of December. Amusingly, when I disclosed my fear that perhaps my progress was being slowed by scar tissue, he said pridefully, “Impossible! The anastomosis was perfect!” Then he told me that my progress was in fact good and was encouraged by my gradual but continuing progress. He told me to give myself at least 6 or 7 months post surgery, and had me schedule a follow-up visit for another 3 months on.

Then they tested my blood for PSA. After a couple of days of anxious waiting, the nurse phoned to say that my 3-month follow-up PSA was undetectable, essentially zero, which was really, really good news, and actually quite a relief for me. This is another sign that the surgery was successful in removing all the cancer, and that it hadn’t spread elsewhere. I now feel like I have my life mostly back.

It is of course still possible that there are undetectable micrometastases floating around my body somewhere, which means that it is now my job to make sure that I live my life to make it less likely that these potential tiny loose cancer cells might take hold somewhere. This means eating healthily, continuing my micronutrient regime, getting plenty of sleep (at least 8 hours a night), keeping the stress down, and restarting my running.

I asked my surgeon if I could start running again and he said yes, so the next day I went out for a run. I am pretty out of shape in terms of strength and aerobic capacity, from the aftereffects of the surgery and the results of the sedentary life I’ve been living for the past 3-plus months. I tried to take it easy the first day, running about half the time on my usual 5k course over Clevedon Hill to the Canal, then down the River Kelvin to the Botanic Garden and home, but it was still a bit too much, so I backed off a bit from that. Since then I’ve been able to work up to running 3 times a week a week, running about half the distance, sometimes under rather appallingly icy conditions in Glasgow. It has felt very good to get out and run again, but I’ve noticed that I’m more tired afterwards than before the surgery. So, I will continue to slowly build my capacity.

The incontinence is another matter: After more than 3 months, I am fine as long as I am laying down or sitting, and am OK if I stand for a few minutes (the latter is a recent development); however, I have problems whenever I have to walk for more than a couple of minutes. This is called stress incontinence, but it certainly doesn’t take much stress for this to happen. This doesn’t sound like much but is in fact progress and makes me hopeful.

So I have settled in for the long haul, the long game. Mostly, I am philosophical about this, put it into perspective: Compared to dealing with metastatic prostate cancer and death, this is a Wonder, a miracle that has given me literally a new lease on life. Living with incontinence is annoying and sometimes pretty frustrating, but it beats dying of cancer by a mile, and I feel very grateful.

Moreover, the lifestyle changes I am now making and continue to forge as I phase back into work are things that I should have done ages ago. My project now is to negotiate with myself and the University a slower, less intense pace of work. A few weeks ago I wrote to my head of school that it was now clear to me that I am going to be able to work 40 hours a week without difficulty, but that the 50- 60 hrs/wk that I’ve been working for the past 30 years is going to be out of the question. She wrote back to remind me that in fact our work week is 35 hrs and that no one is asking me to do more than that. I appreciate this, but it strikes me that the volume of work that we are asked to do exceeds what can be done within 35 hrs/wk, so the real issue is going to be reducing the amount of work in order to fit into the available time. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next couple of months.

In the meantime, I've enjoying my time in the US, first touching base in Toledo to finish Christmas shopping before going on to visit my oldest son, Brendan, his partner Mayumi, and our 7-month old granddaughter for Christmas. Mizuki has inspired me these past months with her attempts to crawl, which have recently met with success. We’ve now flown down to Northern California, where we enjoyed a peaceful post-Christmas period with Diane’s family. We then drove up into the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento to stay at my sister Louisa’s and to celebrate New Year’s Eve with my mom, siblings and their partners. No Murray Creek this year, but still, Happy New Year, everyone!