**Update October 23, 2023**
Another seven months have passed and I'm really overdue for an update. I will give a brief update and expect to have more to say after this upcoming Friday. Shortly after my last update in March, I had a quarterly PSA test. To my surprise, my PSA reading was elevated. I re-tested a week later and it was still up. In July 2023, I had my next quarterly PSA and it doubled. Now - what could this mean? It really too early to say, but it's possible that my prostate cancer could be back. Unfortunately, as the readings are still very low, and because the PSA test is very sensitive, it becomes a waiting game. My PSA must rise even more before I'm eligible for further testing and treatment. I will know my next results on Friday night and I will have much more to say.
**Update - March 24, 2023**
Hi everyone! Almost another year has passed since my last update, and as of January 19, 2023 I am happy to report that I'm still NED. Although my cancer has not returned, I still live with the daily and expected mental health struggles of living with Lynch Syndrome and being an already three time cancer fighter by the age of 51. Thankfully, I continue to be heavily involved with online communities that include The PC Tribe for men with prostate cancer and Man Up to Cancer for men with all types of cancer. This has helped me avoid isolation and has helped me connect with over 2,500 other men dealing with cancer.
In September 2022, I attended and helped plan the inaugural MUTC Gathering of Wolves in Buffalo, New York. During the retreat, MUTC Founder Trevor Maxwell selected me to be a member of the six person MUTC Leadership Team. In this role, I will help organize the 2023 Gathering of Wolves taking place once again in Buffalo, New York in September 2023, and I will also serve as the MUTC Wolfpack Meetup Coordinator. There are over 2000 men in MUTC, and meetups are starting to happen all over the world including a group that I manage here on Vancouver Island.
Additionally, I am helping plan the first annual PC Tribe Rendezvous that will take place in Kansas City in June 2023. I'm looking forward to meeting the other Admins from The PC Tribe and many others from our group that is over 550 men strong now.
In September 2022, fellow local prostate cancer warrior Greg Brown and I teamed up with Wolf Brewing Company here in Nanaimo to raise funds to purchase and produce twenty chemotherapy backpacks and to organize a cancer retreat for men living on Vancouver Island. Man Up to Cancer is also known as "The Wolfpack" and the partnership was a match made in heaven. We raised over $20,000 and Greg and I are now in the planning stages for the retreat.
Retirement from the RCMP is going well and on February 15, 2023 I celebrated two years of retirement. I appreciate the extra time that I get to spend with Lisa, my friends and my family. Our granddaughter Georgia is six now and she is attending kindergarten at the same school as our step-grandson Logan who is in grade 5. I drive them to/from school two times a week and get to spoil them with the odd treat from Tim Hortons. We also listen to all kinds of cool music while we drive!
Overall life is amazing and I try to live my life with the acronym I've stolen from members of Man Up to Cancer - BDP (Best Day Possible). No matter what's thrown at you, have your Best Day Possible.
Thanks for reading everyone. If you are a man dealing with a cancer diagnosis, or you know a man dealing with a cancer diagnosis, please send him my way.
**Update - May 15, 2022**
I‘m proud to announce that I was recently interviewed by the BC Cancer Foundation and I was featured in the Spring 2022 Breakthrough Magazine. The link is below.
Additionally, I wanted to share that since originally telling my story in August 2021, I have successfully won the battle against E.D. and incontinence. It wasn’t easy, but remaining healthy (physically and mentally) along with taking medication, I have almost returned to normal. If anyone has any questions about this, please do not hesitate to contact me. I expect further updates soon including an interview on the Man Up To Cancer Podcast that should be released soon.
My name is Don Helgeson. I am a retired member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police living in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada.
In 2020, I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer at age 51 while living with Lynch Syndrome - a genetic defect that increases the odds of developing certain cancers during one's lifetime.
Below is a short memoir of my 10 month journey and the struggles I faced as a young man who had to make treatment decisions normally made by older men.
Although I chose surgery, this page is not intended to promote any particular treatment option. It is simply here to assist men during the decision making process - especially younger men.
Several men helped me along the way. I want to thank each and every one of them. I am also here to help by sharing my story, or just to simply be a part of someone's support network.
Please contact me with questions or comments.
Written by Don Helgeson: A son, husband, father, step-father, Papa, friend, retired Mountie, and a prostate cancer survivor.
Remembrance Day 2020 - Don’s last official appearance as a Mountie in red serge after 28 years of service
In a span of just over 18 months during 2019 and 2020, two events changed my world.
These events – a severe ankle injury and a cancer diagnosis – led to my retirement from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at the age of 51, after 28 years of service. The cancer diagnosis in particular forced me to question what my future held as a son, brother, father, stepfather, husband, grandfather and friend. I had already beaten the disease twice in my lifetime. This time I had a really bad feeling.
Both events were so life-altering that I will never forget the exact dates and times. On December 9, 2020 at 2:47 p.m. at my home in Nanaimo, British Columbia, I found out during a phone conversation with my urologist that I had cancer. It was intermediate-grade prostate cancer, to be exact. My life was already somewhat upside down after breaking my ankle while making an arrest on duty on April 18, 2019 at 9:20 a.m. in the neighbouring community of Parksville. I had broken my right tibia and fibula on that fateful day and was still having trouble walking 18 months later.
In October 2020, my orthopaedic surgeon determined I was suffering from a secondary injury that occurred during my rehabilitation. A piece of bone and cartilage was breaking free in my ankle (an osteochondral lesion), and surgery was going to be required to stop excruciating pain anytime I was walking downhill, and to stop my ankle from unexpectedly giving out. Unfortunately, one week before the new ankle diagnosis, routine blood work from the lab showed that I could have an issue with my prostate. And as far as surgeries go, prostate surgery – if it was for cancer – would trump anything else.
To put my cancer journey in full context, I need to travel back about 28 years. Specifically, one week prior to joining the RCMP in April of 1993.
My mother, then 42, had been diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery at the end of March 1993. Fortunately, her surgery was a success. We didn’t know it at the time, but she carried a genetic defect called Lynch Syndrome, which leads to high rates of several cancers, including colon cancer. Lynch Syndrome was being passed from generation to generation on my mother’s side of the family. Not only did my mother have it, so did one of her two brothers and her only sister. Incredibly, all three of them were diagnosed with colon cancer in the mid 1990s. They all eventually became part of a medical study that confirmed each of them had Lynch Syndrome. Coincidentally, their mother died from colon cancer when she was in her 50s and there’s little doubt she also carried the gene.
I knew I had a 50 per cent chance of inheriting this gene, and in 2011 it was confirmed through a blood test that I also had Lynch Syndrome. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised with this diagnosis as I had a portion of my colon removed in 2007 after being diagnosed at age 37 with early colon cancer. As well, I had malignant melanoma when I was 27. The surgeon who performed my colon surgery informed me that Lynch Syndrome patients have an 80 per cent chance of developing colon cancer. I would learn in 2020 that there is also an increased risk of developing prostate cancer while living with Lynch Syndrome.
Once I learned I had prostate cancer at 51, I was devastated. Considering I already survived colon cancer at 37 and melanoma at 27, how much time did I really have left? Also, would my remaining time be spent constantly fighting this disease?
My prostate cancer survival story started in Calgary in the spring of 2019. My mom’s brother, my Uncle Richard, died from prostate cancer in April 2019 when he was 65. He was the same uncle living with Lynch Syndrome who was also a colon cancer survivor. I visited with him on April 2, 2019, a few days before he passed away and we had a frank conversation about his cancer journey. Like me, he had colon cancer and subsequent bowel surgery while he was a young man and thought he had beaten this horrible disease. He told me that his prostate cancer diagnosis came years afterwards, after he had gotten behind with his blood work. By the time he learned he had prostate cancer, it had already metastasized and he was told he was terminal.
He had a simple message for me: don’t get behind with blood work.
I didn’t know it at the time, but some of Uncle Richard’s last words to me would save my life. He made sure he told me that he loved me that day. I always knew he did, and those were the last words he ever spoke to me. I told him I loved him too as I said goodbye for the last time.
Two months prior to breaking my ankle while chasing down an offender on that April day in 2019, I had what would be my last Periodic Health Assessment (PHA) with the RCMP while I was 49 years old. These ‘medicals’ took place an average of every 18 months during my career, as I was an RCMP firearms instructor. Typically, RCMP members have a PHA every three years, except for members who are assigned certain duties. I learned later that the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test that is conducted in B.C. during blood work isn’t usually triggered until a person is aged 50 or older, so it wasn’t included during my 2019 PHA. Prostate-specific antigen is a protein produced by the prostate that enters the bloodstream. High levels of this protein can indicate that there is a problem.
Staying true to the promise I gave my Uncle Richard, I asked my family doctor to give me a requisition for blood work during an appointment in the summer of 2020. I knew that while I was recovering from my broken ankle, the RCMP didn’t expect me to get a full medical at the normal 18-month interval. That September, I went to a lab in Nanaimo and gave a blood and urine sample.
A few days later, while I was at home alone while my wife Lisa was at work, I decided to go online and review my test results. I was initially very happy with what I saw when it came to cholesterol and blood sugar results. I’ve struggled with these categories over the years and I had worked hard since my broken ankle to lower my numbers.
Then I saw it. A large exclamation mark warning beside a category labelled PSA. What was this? I had never seen anything like this before. I had a reading of 12.2. According to the form, normal readings should be under 3. My heart raced. I proceeded to do something I shouldn’t have, especially while I was alone. I checked ‘Doctor Google’ and found out it was very likely that I had prostate cancer.
I felt like I was going to faint. When I regained some composure, I cried. Lisa still had to work for a couple more hours and I decided not to call her as I felt the conversation needed to be in person. I sat on the couch with my mind spinning. I decided I needed to talk to someone, and that a very close friend who lived in Newfoundland would be home from work due to the four-and-a-half-hour time difference. So I called him. I’m glad I did. Derek answered after the first ring as he always does, and listened to my tearful story and put me at ease with his calm demeanour and simple compassion. Our phone call helped me get through the next couple hours until Lisa got home.
Getting ready to face the biggest challenge of my life!
Lisa arrived home from work in the best mood – she usually did, as that’s her nature and it’s one of the things I love most about her. Anyone who knows Lisa would tell you that she’s a loving, calm and caring person who doesn’t let much get her down. She would tell me later that she knew something was wrong long before I broke the news to her as she knew me so well. Lisa and I met each other just over 10 years ago and got married in 2014. We were both in our second marriages and we knew together after our first date that we would spend the rest of our lives together as best friends.
We had purchased our dream home in Nanaimo two months prior and we were still in the process of decorating and furnishing our family room. Earlier in the day, Lisa made arrangements to look at a used accent chair after dinner. I decided that I would break the news to her when we were alone and on our way to the seller’s residence. My step-daughter Michelle had other plans that evening and I knew my news would be absorbed easier without any other distractions. We would tell the rest of the family in due course.
During the drive, I told Lisa about my test results. As a supervisor in the RCMP, I thought it would be useful to use my good news / bad news technique in an effort to make the seriousness of what we were facing easier to digest. I told her that I received my lab results earlier in the day and how happy I was about my cholesterol and blood sugar levels. My recent efforts at improving my fitness level and eating habits were paying off. But there was also a problem. Once I explained the PSA results, and what they possibly represented, we shed a few tears together. When it was said and done, Lisa took the news like a champ. I explained that the PSA test was a good indicator of a diseased prostate, however many men also receive false-positive results that make them worry unnecessarily. As scared as we were, we agreed that we would take this one step at a time. Lisa asked if I wanted to skip looking at the chair. I told her that I wanted things to remain as normal as possible and working together decorating our dream home was part of the process.
We didn’t buy the chair.
The next day, my family doctor referred me to Dr. Carlson, a local urologist with whom I already had some history back in 2013 when I suffered from a kidney stone. I really liked him and I knew that I would be in good hands. Based on my high PSA number, my appointment was booked for October 1, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this would be the first of many appointments over the next three months that I would have to attend on my own. Lisa was always there in spirit and waiting by her phone to hear the latest news. It was never the same and I wished many times that she had been there with me as some of the testing was difficult.
Dr. Carlson has an exceptional bedside manner and he comes highly recommended. He knew that I was scared and he took a few minutes to put me at ease. After some small talk, his messages were simple: let’s take this one step at a time, and you’re not alone. He told me that he needed to perform a digital rectal exam (DRE) of my prostate before he would even consider breaking down my PSA result or talk about future testing.
At this exact moment, I had regret. When I joined the RCMP in 1993, I had my only other DRE. Why didn’t I keep it up over the years? Like most men, I avoided it. The exam only lasts a few seconds, and isn’t painful. This time wasn’t any different. Unfortunately, this exam – almost twenty-eight years later – had a much different result. Dr. Carlson felt something hard on the right side of my prostate. My cancer journey got real at this exact moment. He confirmed my PSA was very high for someone my age, and more testing would be required in a timely fashion. This would include another PSA test and an MRI of the prostate.
I had my PSA re-tested at the end of October 2020 while I waited for an MRI appointment. Dr. Carlson gave me strict instructions to stay off a bike, refrain from sexual activity and to avoid having anything up my rectum for seventy-two hours. All three of these activities could lead to a false-positive PSA reading. I laughed and told him I was confident I could easily follow these instructions. Considering how emotional I had been over the past month, it felt good to laugh.
Two days later, my new PSA reading was 14.6. The odds of having two false-positive high PSA readings were remote. I needed to start preparing for the inevitable. It was around this time that I decided to start telling my family and my closest friends about the struggle Lisa and I were about to face. We would need the support. Little did I know how much we were cared for and loved by people far and wide.
On November 10, 2020, I had my MRI. Two days later, Dr. Carlson phoned me at home with the results. Lisa took the afternoon off work to be there with me when we got the news, knowing how important this test result would be. I’m thankful that she did, as we didn’t get the best news. I had a “concerning spot” on the right side of my prostate, at the same location detected during the DRE. Dr. Carlson immediately ordered a biopsy of my prostate.
Proudly displaying my Man Up to Cancer hat during a recent trip to Victoria, BC
Before attending my biopsy appointment, I decided it was time to step up my research on prostate cancer. In the spring of 2020 I joined a Facebook page created by two male cancer patients in the United States. The page, Man Up to Cancer - The Howling Place was created for male cancer patients, cancer caregivers and survivors to provide support for one another and to help prevent self-isolation – something that is common with men with cancer.
I had learned about this group on a friend’s Facebook page and, as a two-time survivor, decided to join. I felt that I could give support to others and also thought it would be good to have a support network while living with Lynch Syndrome.
Little did I know at the time how important this decision was. I quickly met two men on this site who had been dealing with prostate disease. David walked me through the prostate biopsy process and Brent told me his story about also being diagnosed with prostate cancer in his 50s.
I found throughout the process that I always did better keeping myself informed.
Getting ready for my prostate biopsy at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital
As had been the case since my first high PSA reading, my prostate biopsy was also scheduled on a rush basis on November 25, 2020. There were some sleepless nights but I was always more anxious with the unknown. Needless to say, the biopsy wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined it would be.
Anytime a doctor inserts a medical apparatus into your anus and shoots 10 biopsy needles through your rectum and into your prostate, there will be some level of discomfort. I joked to myself that now wouldn’t be a good time to get a third PSA test - imagine what the reading would be! I was also happy that I agreed to taking an Ativan before the procedure.
As uncomfortable as the test was, the aftereffects were a bit tougher to deal with. I had the common side effects of blood in my stool and urine for a few days. I also had a dull ache in the rectal area for two days, and for three weeks my ejaculate was bloody, with a consistency of chocolate syrup. Fortunately, none of this was very painful and it was just more of an inconvenience than anything else.
December 9, 2020 arrived after a sleepless night. I’d been losing quite a bit of sleep over the past two and a half months, and the two weeks after the biopsy were especially hard. Lisa took the day off again to be by my side. The phone call from Dr. Carlson came at 2:47 p.m. After exchanging some obligatory greetings, he got right down to business.
“Don, we found some trouble on the right side of your prostate,” he said.
I could feel myself tearing up. As I tried to hold back my tears, he explained my diagnosis with the most calming, yet confident demeanour. I listened intently as he explained that my cancer was graded as an intermediate-grade cancer with a Gleason score of 7. He went on to explain that the Gleason scale was a measuring system that rated prostate cancer between 2 and 10.
A score of 7 was considered quite high, but in most cases, the cancer would remain confined to the prostate and it was rare to see it metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body. Dr. Carlson said that generally there were three main courses of action to take when diagnosed with prostate cancer: active surveillance, radiation treatment or surgery. He encouraged me to do some research with respect to all three options but said he recommended surgery based on my age and the advanced state of my cancer. If I opted for surgery, it would happen within two months and he would be my surgeon.
Dr. Carlson told me that there was a 100 per cent chance that I would be incontinent after surgery and that I would benefit from performing Kegel exercises immediately to strengthen my pelvic floor muscles which would support my bladder after surgery and hopefully reduce leakage.
It became evident that my age, 51, would complicate the decision-making process. I spent the following two weeks after my diagnosis scouring the Internet, reading books and speaking to prostate cancer survivors. The common theme was that prostate cancer was a slow-growing cancer, and that men in their 70s or 80s who were diagnosed with prostate cancer would typically die from other causes.
Urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction (ED) were consistently two of the major side effects after radiation treatment or surgery.
I knew right away Active Surveillance wasn’t an option for me. My decision deciding between radiation and a radical prostatectomy wouldn’t be easy.
My rock - My beautiful wife Lisa
This was going to be a huge decision. I had cancer! It was obvious that it would be the biggest decision of my life. I also knew that any decision that I made would be made with Lisa’s blessing.
I knew from early research that radiation or surgery would be life-altering while dealing with incontinence and erectile dysfunction as side effects. There was a strong likelihood that my mental health would also be impacted while dealing with both – especially because of my age. I also had to consider how this would impact my wife, Lisa.
In addition to what I found on reputable websites and from literature supplied by my surgeon, I made my final decision regarding my treatment choice after speaking with two men who also belonged to the Man Up to Cancer Facebook page who underwent radical prostatectomies. Just like me, both faced prostate cancer in their 50s. As mentioned earlier, Brent had been 51 at the time of his diagnosis and Gogs was 57. Both men had chosen surgery over all other treatment options. Coincidentally, Gogs Gagnon was from a neighbouring community on Vancouver Island. He had been misdiagnosed for several years and likely had the beginning stages of prostate cancer in his early 50s as well. With respect to radiation treatment, I spoke with Tom, also a member of Man Up to Cancer, about his experience while also in his 50s.
I was thrilled that I had an opportunity to speak with these men as I had many questions about their decision-making process with regards to choosing surgery or radiation treatments. I also learned that Gogs had written a book about his journey – Prostate Cancer Strikes: Navigating the Storm.
As luck would have it, after this book was published it was included in a BC Cancer Agency information package that was available for all newly-diagnosed prostate cancer patients. This book hadn’t been included in my initial literature package so I obtained a copy from the BC Cancer Agency and read it in one day.
It wasn’t too long after speaking with my new online friends and after reading Gogs’ book that I made my decision about treatment. As I had Lynch Syndrome, I simply wanted the cancer removed as quickly as possible. As someone who obviously ‘grew cancer’ quite easily due to Lynch, I would opt for surgery in lieu of introducing radiation to my body. I talked about my decision with Lisa and she agreed that this was our best option.
I had two tests in mid-December 2020 to see if there were any signs that my cancer had spread. I had a CT scan and a bone scan. The CT scan focussed on organs and tissue surrounding my prostate and the bone scan focused on my pelvis. If the cancer had spread, these were the most common areas of concern.
On December 22, 2020, Lisa and I spoke with Dr. Carlson over the phone to get these results. Fortunately, both tests suggested that the cancer was confined to my prostate. I informed Dr. Carlson that I was confident that I would elect to have the surgery. He said he would call me again after the Christmas break on January 6, 2021 to confirm if surgery was still my choice.
Over the next two and a half weeks I never wavered about my decision. On January 6, 2021, Lisa and I advised Dr. Carlson that surgery was our first choice. A few minutes after this call, I was booked for surgery on January 19, 2021 in Nanaimo.
The next 13 days were anxiety-filled and there were many sleepless nights. Many nights I sat in bed in silence performing my Kegel exercises.
This t-shirt gave me strength
My alarm sounded at 5 a.m. on January 19, 2021. I didn’t need it as I had already been awake for several hours. I was terrified and my mind was racing. As scared as I was about the procedure, I was more afraid of the side-effects. I was only 51 and wasn’t excited about becoming incontinent and having ED. Somehow, I managed to pull myself out of bed to have a shower and to get dressed in my recently purchased extra-large track pants and my new Man Up To Cancer t-shirt – my new so-called ’security blanket’. I would need the track pants with extra space in my mid-section when I exited the hospital while still wearing a catheter two days later.
Lisa and I drove to the Nanaimo hospital. It was a dark and rainy morning and it coincided with exactly how I was feeling. After Lisa and I had a good cry together, she drove away and I checked myself into the hospital as scheduled at 6 a.m. I learned that I was the first patient of the day and surgery would be at 8 a.m. After being fully checked in, I met several members of my surgical team in the hallway outside the operating room, including my anesthesiologist. She could see that I was very anxious and I told her that I was scared. She had the kindest eyes and calmly explained what to expect while she inserted an IV into my arm. A few minutes later, a nurse walked me into the operating room and asked me to lay down on the operating table.
Just before entering the room, I joked to myself that I should proclaim “I’m here for my prostate transplant” to lighten the mood. Dr. Carlson walked into the room and I completely forgot my lame attempt at humour while I listened to the medical banter taking place all around me. Dr. Carlson approached me and, as usual, he put me at ease. He said “See you in a couple of hours Don, we’ve got this.” I was given a little something in my IV that made me feel totally calm, and within a few seconds I was out.
My radical prostatectomy over the next three or four hours would be ’open surgery’ and would leave me with a five-inch scar between my belly button and pubic bone. During radical prostatectomies, the urethra is detached from the bladder as it runs directly through the prostate. Once the prostate is removed, the urethra is reconnected and a catheter is inserted. I can say now that having a catheter was the most difficult part of my recovery. Once it was removed just over two weeks later, I felt like a new person. Most prostate cancer patients are released within two to three days when there aren’t any complications.
I woke up in the recovery room three and a half hours later and was greeted by a young nurse who said I would be with her for an hour or two. I was quite groggy and my throat was dry and sore. Dr. Carlson arrived shortly afterward and told me that the surgery had been a success.
He was able to remove my prostate and he managed to salvage all the nerves that assisted with erectile function. Prior to surgery, he had cautioned me that some of the nerves were very close to my tumour and they were at risk of being removed. Needless to say, keeping all of these nerves was very welcoming news so I let out a little cheer. He also confirmed that the lymph nodes and surrounding tissue appeared to be healthy upon visual inspection. This led to another little celebration. Dr. Carlson advised he would send the samples off for testing and that I would get the pathology report when he removed my catheter. Dr. Carlson explained that I would need the catheter for just over two weeks while my urethra healed.
I spent the next two days recovering at the hospital. Aside from some cramping and a couple of catheter blockages due to blood clots, I was passing gas and urinating. I was also able to eat some food. These were all signs that I was on the mend. I can laugh now thinking about my humbling conversation with a very young female nurse about my ability to pass flatulence with ease; but doing so was my ticket out of there!
Due to COVID-19, Lisa was unable to visit in person, but we managed to FaceTime several times each day. I really missed her. I missed my entire family.
As professional as the entire hospital staff was, it became clear to me within a few hours that the hospital was not a place to be when it came to recovering from this surgery. I shared a room with three other people and there was a considerable amount of noise 24/7. The floor directly above me had a COVID-19 outbreak during my stay and I didn’t want any part of that.
Lisa arrived at the hospital during the afternoon of January 21 and I was beyond happy to see her smiling face. After being wheeled down to the parking lot in a wheelchair by a nursing student, I walked the final ten steps and pulled myself into our vehicle with Lisa’s help. I was quite surprised at how mobile I was, considering I had a catheter in and because I had the five-inch incision being held together with 25 staples in my abdomen.
The extra-large track pants were also doing their job as the catheter tube exiting from my private area and the drainage bag attached to my leg stuck out quite a bit.
It was time to heal. The road ahead was going to be a challenge.
Part 5 - Recovery and what's next?
One day at a time with Lisa
As I write this part of my story, I am six months post-surgery and celebrating my six-month cancer-free ‘cancerversary’. Ten months ago, I didn’t even know if I would be alive, let alone cancer free. Tomorrow, I will have my second PSA test since that fateful day last September. My first PSA test 90 days after surgery was negative. Lisa and I reviewed my results online together and we both burst into tears when we saw that my PSA was virtually undetectable.
Physically I am doing well. I worked out five days a week prior to surgery and I returned to my same routine eight weeks after surgery. I’ve always believed that being healthy and physically fit is the first line of defence against any unexpected health issues thrown at a person. Emotionally, I still have some very difficult days while dealing with the side effects commonly encountered by cancer patients after a radical prostatectomy. I knew they could happen but I felt that due to my age and level of health and fitness, I would have totally recovered by now. I was wrong.
When I arrived home on January 21, 2021, I was incredibly happy to be there. My first challenge was the 14-step walk upstairs to the main part of our new house.
I took my time and managed without any issues. I would remain up there for the next nine days, eventually leaving in an ambulance with what would later be diagnosed as severe constipation and a stubborn kidney stone.
Georgia and I made the FB Banner on MUTC with this photo
My recovery at home was quite unremarkable at first. I was able to get in and out of my recliner chair and my bed quite easily and I didn’t need to use anything more than Tylenol and Advil to manage my pain. I’d also like to add that throughout my recovery, we frequently cared for my granddaughter Georgia. Without question, she made the days, hours and minutes more bearable while recovering.
Two years earlier when I broke my ankle, I avoided opiates by also managing my pain with Tylenol and Advil. I knew I could do it again. As a police officer, I saw the damage that opiates had done to people and society and I wasn’t taking any chances.
I was able to shower every day and was able to walk around the house with very little discomfort. I had lost some weight after surgery and my appetite roared back. I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling.
Then I made the mistake of eating foods that contributed to becoming constipated. Two days of dilaudid painkillers during my hospital stay didn’t help either, as it's a common side effect. I also knew after day two at home that something wasn’t quite right with my catheter. Although it was draining, I had this non-stop urge to urinate. It wasn’t painful, but it reminded me of the feeling I used to get when travelling with my parents as a child and needing them to stop at the next gas station. It got so bad that I broke down a few times knowing that I had another 10-plus days with the catheter. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had a five-millimeter kidney stone starting to travel from my left kidney toward my bladder. It wasn’t until day nine after surgery that the excruciating pain started and Lisa decided to call an ambulance.
I have had some long waits in emergency over the years. Not this time. Arriving in an ambulance while wearing a drainage bag attached to a catheter seemed to get me attention right away. I had never experienced this much pain in my life. I was given another dilaudid and medication to assist with constipation. An MRI confirmed that I was passing a large kidney stone and since I was also recovering from recent surgery, they decided to keep me overnight.
By morning, I managed to go to the bathroom and the stone successfully passed. I felt like a new person!
Once I returned home, I adjusted my diet and my recovery returned to normal. I had my staples removed by my GP two weeks post-surgery and two days later Lisa and I attended Dr. Carlson’s office. I had my catheter removed and learned that my pathology report was negative for cancer. Although the cancer hadn’t spread, Dr. Carlson advised that my Gleason score for my tumour was 9. My biopsy had initially shown a score of 7 in November, but it was actually much worse than they had first believed. Dr. Carlson told us that in most cases of a Gleason 9, cancer has spread to other parts of the body. I was very lucky. This was all I needed to hear to know that I made the right choice to have surgery right away. Waiting another month or two could have had led to catastrophic consequences.
I would leave Dr. Carlson’s office wearing my first pair of Depends adult underwear. A few days before surgery, I bought a large box of them because I would need to wear them for the foreseeable future. I started to leak immediately. I was suffering from urinary incontinence. I was able to return to performing my Kegel exercises now that the catheter was out. I was going to beat this side effect as quickly as possible.
Staying fit and healthy just in case
Over the next two months, I could feel my health improve almost on a daily basis. I started going for walks the day after my catheter was removed and within a week I was walking up to 45 minutes at a time. I wanted to be as fit and healthy as possible for my first PSA test in late May 2021. By mid-March, I was almost totally dry and it was obvious that my age, health and Kegel exercises were paying off. I still have minor leakage to this day, and it’s been described to me as similar to what women deal with after having given birth. Watch out for unexpected sneezes and coughs!
As I mentioned earlier, my first PSA test post-surgery showed levels that were undetectable. I had a phone appointment with Dr. Carlson a few days later and he confirmed that I was “cancer free.” Those were the best two words I could have possibly heard. As there is a 40 per cent chance of recurrence of cancer in my lifetime, I will continue to have my PSA tested every three months for the foreseeable future.
During this same meeting with Dr. Carlson, I advised him that I was still suffering from ED. Dr. Carlson sent a prescription for Viagra and Cialis to my pharmacy. He cautioned me to be patient, as men commonly wait one to two years before seeing an erection close to what they had pre-surgery. The next day I went to the pharmacy with nervous anticipation. Lisa and I booked a weekend away at a nearby resort and hoped that some alone-time, along with some medication, would allow us to see if I was recovering from this unfortunate side effect. The medication did not work and, unfortunately, I get a headache every time I take either one of the drugs. The best way to describe the feeling is like suffering from a slight hangover.
As of today, my ED prescriptions have not led to any type of success. I have seen some results in the past month, but nothing to brag about. It has been very challenging for me emotionally and, unfortunately, Lisa is also impacted by this.
I haven’t slept properly in months and it’s difficult to keep my mind off it. I heard early on in my research that prostate cancer is a couples disease and this is 100 per cent correct.
Fortunately Lisa and I are very close, and our friendship and love for each other ‘for better or for worse’ is getting us through this part of the journey. I am thankful for that. To my friends and family who I’ve been a bit short with of late, I apologize.
I knew early on that I wanted to be an advocate for men dealing with prostate cancer. There isn’t much information available for someone my age when it comes to deciding the appropriate course of action to take when diagnosed with cancer.
I was lucky that I found Man Up to Cancer and the people on this site who were willing to share their stories. Gogs’ book, Prostate Cancer Strikes: Navigating the Storm, was also a game-changer for me. It’s a must-read.
This memoir is quite detailed and I have decided to share some very private details of my life and to share my vulnerable side. This is not a common thing for a police officer to do – especially a red-serge-wearing member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I just hope that my story will give young men hope, and a chance to see the options that are possibly available.
Earlier this spring, I met a man my age who was just diagnosed with prostate cancer. Our stories were eerily similar and I believe that sharing my journey and offering support helped him make decisions that were right for him. I want to continue to do this for anyone who asks.
I also met another young man from Nanaimo who has stage four colorectal cancer. He is also a member of Man Up to Cancer. Rob and I have become good friends and meet monthly for coffee or breakfast. He is an inspiration to me and there were many days that his personal fight and encouragement gave me the courage to go on. I thank him for that.
I am still waiting for my ankle surgery but recently learned it should be completed by the end of this summer.
I have an annual colonoscopy to prevent any surprises and I wear copious amounts of sunscreen to fight off skin damage. In addition to my PSA tests, I know I can’t take any chances where I’m most vulnerable.
Lauren, Raegan and Lyndsay at our wedding in 2014 - Lynch free and it ends with me!
All three of my biological children have now been tested for Lynch Syndrome. All three had a 50 per cent chance of inheriting this terrible genetic defect. All three tested negative. As each of my daughters called me with their results, I cried tears of absolute joy. It ends with me.
In February 2021, during my recovery, I retired from the RCMP. Now I can focus on me, my family, my friends and the rest of my life.
Living life to the fullest. Going camping with my step-daughter Michelle
To all of the males out there, please make sure you get tested – even at a young age. It could save your life. It saved mine.
For more information, I can be contacted at: