Prostate Cancer

My name is Steve. Five years ago, when I was 58 years old. I was partnered, I had been partnered for 20 years, we lived in mid-town Manhattan. I did my homework and realized that two best on this end of the world were Sloan Kettering and Johns Hopkins. I opted for Sloan Kettering because it’s right here. I had it done, I went home, two days later I lost the use of my left leg. So I went back to the hospital, they think maybe they nicked a nerve or something. In time, it was fine. I was just starting going back to school. I had my MSW, I was going back to school to get a degree in contemporary psychotherapy to become a psycho-analyst. I spent the first week in classes with a colostomy bag stuck to my leg, limping all the way, but I did it. And 5 years later I’m cancer free. I had the best doctor there, Scardino was his name. Really a rockstar. I’m healthy 5 years later. My younger brother has just been diagnosed and he’s going to have the surgery in the Spring.
I was out to my doctor, big time. I just told Scardino, “I’m a gay man. I’m partnered and I don’t want to lose my ability to have sexual relations if at all possible.” He said, “Yeah, they’d do everything they could.” It just depended on when they got in there because I had the prostatectomy. I had the full deal. When they got in there and could see what was going on, indeed he did, he did that. It hadn’t metastasized, it hadn’t gone anyplace else, and he was able to give me that function post-operative. I was very thankful for that.
I don’t know if I was to the nurses. Usually you just say hi to them and go into the doctor.
I think you have to be completely honest with the doctor. Although, I suppose in terms of prostate cancer it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight, everybody wants to come out and be able to have sex again. I did, because I had just been out for a long time. I wanted him to know that I was partnered and da-da-da-da. Honesty is always the best policy I think with doctors, right? The more they know about you, the better they have an idea of what they can do for you. I would urge, as a psychotherapist, honesty with all sorts of doctors because they’ll get you a better bang for your buck.
Here in Manhattan, HIV and the law have a long history, right? You read about GMHC is beginning to have funding problems because everybody considers it now a livable disease. It doesn’t have the kind of urgency that it had in the 80’s when all of our friends were dying.
But I think when somebody has cancer, I think they know. As a matter of fact, I think now with cancer, there is no guarantee right? You hope you get better, but you get whatever radiation or whatever you do and you hope you get better. With AIDS now, if you take the cocktail, you know, you have a very good chance, a pretty wonderful chance of living a long life. So I think it’s a lot better to and I don’t hear any discrimination.
I’m partnered. I’ve been partnered. We’re actually married here in New York now. For 20 years we’ve been together.
I had wonderful insurance. It paid for everything. I was working for a shoe company, Rockport Shoes, and had marvelous insurance and it paid for everything. I had no problem at all. As a matter of fact, Sloan Kettering set up the whole thing. I really had to do nothing but go in and have the examination and they did the facilitating of the insurance and everything. I think I signed papers once and that was it. I never saw a bill.
No. It doesn’t matter. The thing that matters is that guys should do their homework and they get a second opinion and they go to a teaching hospital, which always has the best of the best. Gay or straight, I don’t care, I want the best surgeon or the best radiologist that I can get. When I did my homework and realized it was Scardino here and some other guy in Baltimore, that was done. I knew who I was going to get to and get to them fast. Maybe in rural America, it might be more important, right? But in New York City anyway, I just wanted the best and I got him.
Side effects wise, I have no incontinence whatsoever. I do my kegel exercises faithfully. So, I don’t. I don’t, of course, get as hard as I used to, right? But there is a form of climaxing, it’s just different. It’s more subtle actually. I’m 64 now, so it’s kind of a little later in life, and I did, believe me, plenty of gay sex when I came here in 1972 right up until, really, the AIDS epidemic. I’ve had a good, full sexual life and this needed to happen in order for me to be able to grow old in Manhattan with my husband. It wasn’t really a choice and I don’t really miss it.
You have to stay on top of prostate cancer. Before I was diagnosed, I was having my PSA done every 6 months because it’s a family disease and I knew I was up for it. I was really assertive, if not aggressive, in looking at this and waiting for the signs. The minute it showed up, and the minute my PSA started to rise, I took real action. Don’t wait. That’s for sure. That’s the message. Don’t wait. Get to a doctor. Get help. Because the sooner you do, the better chance you have.
Before my biopsy, my PSA was 3 and then it jumped to 7, which at that point sent me to Memorial Sloan Kettering, and actually, my own doctor should’ve re-tested me, right? Because it wasn’t 7 at all, it was back down to 4. What I learned is that there are a variety of factors that can temporarily raise your PSA, including sex, right? When he did the 2nd, he said, “Well, it’s not as high as they said. But you do have it, we can see it in the x-rays. It’s your choice of what to do.” And I said, “Well, let’s get it out now. I wanted it out for as long as I can remember and I have great insurance and I’m 58. It’s not going to get any easier for me to have major surgery. Let’s do it now.”
Early surveillance and acting fast is an important message.
Get the best doctor you can and talk to more than one. 2nd, 3rd, 4th opinions until you’re sure. Because there are options and you want to be sure that post-operatively or post-radiology, you’re going to be happy that you made that choice, satisfied or content with the choice, with the decision you made on how to deal with it.