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by Chris Hartley   |   October 15, 2018

The Road to Recovery

I had my radical prostatectomy on February 21, 2018 at the age of 43, just three days after completing the Austin Marathon. It was important for me to run this race at least one more time uncertain of what I would face on the other side of surgery. I crossed the finish line just under the four-hour mark and was greeted by family and friends.

I spent the days leading up to my radical prostatectomy resting and getting my body ready for surgery. I also spent as much time as I could with my husband and two children. I was as ready physically and emotionally as I could be for my prostate surgery, and it was time to give up control and put my life in the hands of my surgeon.

I don’t remember much about my surgery, which I am very thankful to report. My husband and I drove to the surgical center in the early morning hours. It was a quick check-in process and then off to pre-op. I can remember how nervous I felt laying in the pre-op room as nurses came by take vitals and ask a few questions. The last nurse that came in instructed me to say my goodbyes and that she was giving me something for my nerves. I thought it was just a sedative but within a couple of minutes I was out and that is the last thing that I remember before waking up in my room after the surgery was over.

My surgery went well and after a night in the surgical center, I was released. The first few days were difficult both physically and mentally. My stomach was extended from the gas that is pumped into you for surgery, and I struggled to just get in and out of bed, so I spent the first few days sleeping on the couch. The doctor had encouraged me to walk as much as possible, so I started by doing laps inside the house and within a few days made it around the block. My very first time I ventured outside, a neighbor stopped and asked if I needed any help getting home. This struck me funny, as I had just run a full marathon a few days earlier and now I could not even walk a few hundred feet without a neighbor stopping to offer assistance.

Leading up to the surgery, I was really concerned about the catheter that would be necessary after the procedure, but found it was fairly easy to manage. In fact, the catheter was the easy part and it was the days following its removal that proved to be the challenge. With less than two months from diagnosis to surgery, I did not have much time to prepare my body with any Kegel exercises. Kegels are key in strengthening the muscle that will replace the urinary valve function of the prostate, so in the early weeks I struggled with urinary incontinence. It was so bad that I didn’t want to leave the house for weeks following my surgery.

In addition to the incontinence, I also fell into a deep depression afterward. I felt betrayed by my own body that now felt weaker than I could ever remember. Following just a short walk around the block, I would have to change my adult diaper, which felt humiliating. Outside of my short walks, I wasn’t getting any physical activity. For someone who had been working out five or more times a week, this only made my depression worse.

Then there was the lack of intimacy between my husband and I. He could not have been more supportive, but my body was still very weak. This made me feel less like the man he fell in love with. I also had physical symptoms, like night sweats that soaked through the sheets and exhaustion that would come out of nowhere.

I kept my depression to myself for weeks, pretending that I was getting better and feeling more like myself every day. The reality was I felt like I would never get back to the Chris I was before my surgery. I don’t remember how or why, but one day I just broke down and told my husband the truth about how I was feeling. With his help, I pulled myself out of this depression and started my road to recovery.

I want you to know that if you are facing prostate cancer or are yourself in recovery, there are going to be hard times. But you can get through them. I hit some very low lows and with the support of family and friends got through to the other side. It is now seven months since my surgery and I am fully continent, I am able to achieve and maintain an erection, and have started training for the 2019 Austin Marathon.

I am proof that overcoming prostate cancer does not have to define or limit you. I hope my story can inspire you to keep fighting.

Check out the first post in Chris’ series on his prostate cancer journey.