All Woman

Prostate cancer and SEX

The issue not many couples are comfortable discussing

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer

Monday, February 10, 2014    

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WHEN *Carlene Robinson found out her husband had prostate cancer last February, she had to make a decision to briefly put aside her own needs to support her partner of 24 years.

Robinson said she encouraged her hubby to undergo surgery to remove his prostate, even while cognisant of the fact that the surgery may have impacted the ability to maintain a healthy sex life after.

The majority of treatments for prostate cancer can result in some dysfunction. Some degree of dysfunction occurs right after surgery to remove the prostate, regardless of whether the technique is performed that tries to spare the nerve that controls erections. The severity of the erectile dysfunction depends on the type of surgery and the stage of cancer.

"I said I would rather have him here alive and we lie in the bed and talk and we have fun, rather than it being a case where we are going to have sex for a season and he is gone," Robinson said.

The couple had been high school sweethearts and have a 17-year-old daughter together. Being diagnosed with the condition was stressful enough for her husband, and so Robinson tried not to fuel the flames of his despair by making him feel less of a man.

"I was thinking to myself that until death do us part, so why am I going to make him not being able to perform tear us apart? My relationship and my marriage are not based on sex," she said.

Robinson describes herself as being very health-conscious, and explained that she had encouraged her husband to go and do his prostate cancer screening in keeping with her thrust to keep her family physically fit.

"I have always been doing my pap smears and other tests like those, and so when my husband reached 40, I said, 'It is time for you to do a thing call PSA', (prostate-specific antigen). Even though I wasn't clear what it was, I knew it was a test that all men should do. So I said to him, 'The same way I do my pap smear every year, this is the pap smear for men'."

Heeding her request, her husband, who is now 44, went and did his prostate cancer screening. Although the results from his examinations would fluctuate, his doctor didn't think of it as a major issue and in fact prescribed medication for a urinary tract infection when he started urinating frequently.

"Even at night he would be going to the bathroom five or six times," said Robinson.

Concerned about her husband's frequent trips to the bathroom, she encouraged him to go to her doctor for a check-up. She said when the doctor reviewed his previous tests, she realised it was far too high for a man of his age. Given the fact that prostate cancer was not her area of speciality, she referred the couple to local urologist Dr Belinda Morrison who reviewed his medical reports and ordered a biopsy.

"When it came back, it was inconclusive, so Dr Morrison said we have to do another one and then when that one came back we realised he had it," recounted Robinson.

She said the urologist spent some time discussing the pros and cons and educating them about the cancer and the available treatment options. She also advised the couple to go home and discuss it and then come back and see her.

"I said to him, 'I don't think there is a need for us to talk about it. If it is there, you need to get rid of it'," Robinson told All Woman.

"I said to him, 'would you rather have a normal life that is cancer-free, or have an erection? You are still going to lose it once you have the cancer anyway. With this (surgery) you can get back your erection over time'."

She said she did everything possible to help her husband adjust to the idea of the surgery, including changing the family's eating habits so that they consumed more fish and vegetables prior to his doing the surgery. Robinson said she was fearful for her husband's life, but she tried to remain hopeful and do her part to help him recuperate, although she hates hospitals.

"Life is not what you want it to be all the time; sometimes you have got to pick up some pieces and move on again," she said.

Robinson had to keep the nature of her husband's surgery a secret from her daughter, because she said her daughter was preparing to do her CSEC examinations and she didn't want the news of her dad's pending surgery to take her focus away from her studies.

The wife also had to do all she could to reassure her husband that he was still special to her. She now encourages other wives to lend their support to their husbands when they have to deal with life-changing medical issues like prostate cancer.

"Erection and sex is a man's life and so we as spouses have to give our support," she said.

She said in order to help her husband be at ease, she would often tease him or downplay her need for sex. Fortunately for her, within just a few months, she and her husband were able to enjoy sex again as everything returned to normal.

"It got to the point where my husband and I were lying in bed and I said to him, 'You know that I don't know if I want to have sex again'. That's how much I had blocked it from my mind. I had ruled that part out of life for a while, saying to myself that if it comes back, then it comes back. I am still going to live, I am still going to love him. So it didn't impact me that much negatively, because I was more thinking of him being alive," she said.

Dr Morrison noted that prostate cancer is the leading cancer affecting men in Jamaica and the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Last week, the doctor partnered with the Jamaica Urological Society, National Commercial Bank as well as Professor Arthur Burnett from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute in Maryland to place the focus on prostate cancer by educating men about the issue and conducting free screenings.

*Name changed.

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