By Michael Murray, PhD, JD Lesson from a Patient:

Making the Recovery Work Better

Categories: Spring 2005

mMurray 1

When I first learned I had prostate cancer, I heard from people about the “numbers game,” the odds related to prostate cancer: how many men get it; how long they live after diagnosis; how many stay continent; how many stay potent.

The conversations, many of which contained incorrect information, did more to raise my anxiety than anything else.

Instead, what I wished I had heard was information to help me prepare for the pre and post surgery experiences.

Those lessons are what I want to share.

Pre-surgery Conversation
Pre-surgery is a critical time for creating options. When I first learned about my diagnosis, I was tempted to talk to everyone. But I learned it was best to keep the news to myself, at least for a few days.

And I advise the same for everyone else. Think through everything first with your wife, partner or trusted friend. Don’t get in a situation where you are answering phone calls or e-mails constantly; meeting and explaining things to friends; or putting on your best face when you don’t feel like it.

At the same time that you want to minimize unnecessary involvements, you do want to reach out to those who have been through the experience or who are knowledgeable about prostate cancer.

You have important decisions to make about treatment, about surgery, about who will do it, when, where and other concerns that will affect the rest of your life.

You need to get information, see doctors, read recommended material. Do reach out to those who have been through this ordeal. Above all get a second opinion.

Preparing for the Hospital
I didn’t have control over the surgical site, but I had control over my emotional site.

I joined a yoga class. I gathered reading materials for post-surgery, at-home recuperation.

I made frequent visits to the hospital to familiarize myself with not only corridors and rooms but with staff, smells and sounds. I made the environment familiar.

On the morning of surgery, I did not go to a strange place.

Preparing Post Surgery
For most men, the hospital stay is short. A good deal of the recovery happens at home.

Wherever you recover, the place should be arranged beforehand. The bed mats and catheter container should be ready. Clean sheets and fresh pillows are nice. I used Eucalyptus branches to create a fresh, healthy aroma.

I needed things around me to be calm and relaxing. I reduced noise levels and eliminated TV and radio, especially news.

Life right after surgery takes some getting used to; but what you do, and your attitude, can make a lot of difference in how fast you get back to normal.

First, and most important, I learned to obey my doctor.

If your doctor recommends that you walk as soon as possible after surgery, do it.

The advantages of walking early and often cannot be over stressed. Blood flow, headache reduction, muscle control and bowel movements all will be enhanced if you get up and walk.

Everyone I talked to dreaded the catheter. I decided it was my friend. It let me sleep and move about while I was convalescing.

And, I advise treating it like a friend. Clean it-everyday. Make it smell nice (with vinegar). Put antibiotic cream on it.

Also, I found it was helpful to keep a detailed diary the first couple of weeks I was home. And it wasn’t just for an emotional outlet.

I tracked specific activities so I could see the progress everyday in writing: Pill intake: Pain pills, stool softeners, etc; 3x daily walks: when, how far, where; Urine frequency (after catheter removed); Bowel movements; Naps per day.

Helping and Not Hurting Yourself
When the doctor tells you not to lift or strain for at least six weeks, follow the directions without exception.

It’s best to take a leave of absence from work even if you don’t have a physical job. Stress is physical and mental. All your energy should go towards healing.

Some actions are important but hardly anybody tells you about them.

For instance, carry a cane if you feel wobbly walking. You don’t want to fall or to make sudden moves to catch your balance.

Sneezing is really hard on the body. After a RRP, sneezing can put a lot of stress on the internal sutures. When I felt a sneeze or a cough coming on, one trick I learned was to bend at the knees if I was standing or pull my knees to my chest if I was lying down.

Letting Others Help
If you are fortunate, someone is in your life who can and will help and listen to you. While I emphasize independence and self-management; a trusted loving wife, partner, friend or relative is a blessing.

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