Thomas Driscoll describes his experience of recovery from a prostatectomy: stay positive, be patient, it can take time

“It all started with a urine infection. We were visiting our son and I found I couldn’t pass urine. Quite suddenly, I felt very ill and ended up in the casualty department of a hospital in London. The infection was treated successfully, but I had some follow up investigations which included a PSA test and a prostate examination.

The doctor said it felt fine, but at home in Solihull, I was advised to be checked again at my local hospital. After having a second examination, the doctor found a nodule and a biopsy was advised. The panic starts to set in at that stage. I was 55 and suddenly feeling extremely anxious about what the new year might bring.

My wife Berni, who is a nurse, went straight online to do some research. She quickly found out that best practice involves carrying out an MRI scan before a biopsy and identified the Birmingham Prostate Clinic as a service that offers this.

I had an MRI scan on New Year’s and received a letter a week later indicating abnormalities and advising that I will need a biopsy.

The assessments confirmed I did have prostate cancer and I discussed options with Mr Doherty. For Berni and I, once we knew the cancer was there, we were clear that the priority was dealing with it and taking the prostate out.

We talked about potential complications and after clearing the cancer, my second priority was maintaining continence. Erectile function would have been third on the list of priorities. It is difficult to appreciate how things will be in the longer term and when you are facing cancer, inevitably, that is what you focus on.

Mr Doherty explained that he classifies patients according to their likely outcome, so he can best guide patients and accurately assess his surgery.  I was classified as an ‘index’ case: the stage and location of my cancer, combined with my overall health, meant I was in the group of patients most likely to have the ideal outcome from surgery of cancer clearance, continence and full recovery of erectile function. I had my operation in March 2015.

I was continent from the start. We’d bought some pads and ended up taking them back to the shop because I didn’t need any of them. I’d done my pelvic floor exercises before surgery and carried on afterwards and I am sure that contributed to the outcome. Within two weeks, my wound was healing well, and I was starting to bounce back from surgery.

I felt a bit like I was ‘top of the class’ with continence returning so quickly, being an index case and being told that the nerve-sparing in my surgery had been very good. Consequently, I was expecting everything to progress in a linear way but at three months after surgery, nothing much was happening in terms of erectile recovery. You wonder – is this normal? Your confidence can feel quite low, you are probably trying too hard and romance goes out of the window.

Mr Doherty prescribed Aprosdadil cream initially and then I went onto Cialis. Towards the end of my first year, I would say I had about 70 per cent erectile recovery. I’d had one year as a marker in my mind and felt quite anxious because I expected everything to be back to normal at that stage, but it wasn’t.

What we found – and perhaps hadn’t really anticipated – is erectile recovery continues after that point. At eighteen months after surgery, it was much better; pretty much back to normal. It is now three and a half years since my operation and I’d say every year it has got better.

Berni and I are fortunate that we have always been able to share things, make decisions and work through challenges together. On reflection, nerve-sparing isn’t simply a science, it is a complex response that involves the body and the mind. My message to other people going through the same thing would be: be patient and persevere. Things will get better, but it may take a longer than you expect and don’t see the 12-month stage as a destination; it is only a marker in time.

Although it took a little time to get back to normal, I didn’t ever have any doubts about the decision to have surgery. I feel I dodged a bullet; if I hadn’t had the urine infection, I don’t know how long my prostate cancer would have remained undetected. I feel so lucky: I had a brilliant surgeon and incredibly supportive wife.”