June of 2014, my 28-year marriage ended in divorce. What seemed to be a well-charted future started to unravel, and I was forced to rebuild my life as an almost 60-year old single man. With the start of a new job, I also moved into a beautifully renovated mill building populated with a nice mix of empty nesters, young professionals and the recently divorced.
Less than six months after my divorce, and just as I was gaining the confidence and the comfort level to jumpstart a social life, I had my annual physical. I had no complaints. My health was fine and I was more active than ever—hiking and running the occasional 5K. My pre-physical blood work looked fine and my PSA, something I rarely paid attention to, was normal. My doctor felt something abnormal during the DRE. He did not like what he felt. He shared that the normal protocol would be to wait one year and see if there are changes both physically and with my PSA. He strongly suggested we put normal protocols aside and see a urologist quickly. I agreed and in a matter of weeks I was faced with an aggressive prostate cancer diagnosis and a recommendation to act quickly.
A Single Man’s Journey
It was then that my ‘singleness’ became apparent and difficult. Every appointment, test, consultation, I did on my own. Without fail, I was asked, “Is your wife with you? Do you have someone to share this information and decision-process with?” There is a tremendous amount of good information on prostate cancer, the side effects, and the journey, but there is very little out there on facing the disease as a single male and how to cope with “life after prostate cancer” in the single world.
After battling New England’s worst winter in years, navigating through a seamlessly endless barrage of blizzards, in six short weeks, I had tests run, met with urologists, radiologists, surgeons, and oncologists, and opted to move forward with a robotic prostatectomy. My surgery was a success and included a hernia repair as well.
Now came the tough part. I had the usual side effects of incontinence and Erectile Dysfunction (ED), and both of those side effects took on huge psychological and emotional proportions, making me fearful, depressed, and unsure. There was plenty of literature on how couples can overcome the challenges prostate cancer throws at a relationship but almost nothing on being single with prostate cancer.
For the first year or so following the surgery, there were pills and gadgets, “exercises” and consults, Depends briefs and pads, but the only thing I could see ahead of me was a lonely and loveless life. During the spring of 2016, a co-worker and friend insisted I get out there and start dating. He helped with an online dating profile and I dove in. I felt like a thirteen-year old boy — self-conscious, only half a man and scared of intimacy.
Meeting Someone Special
After a few unsuccessful dates, I started to communicate with a woman in Boston and things started to click. We met for brunch at 11am one Sunday 18 months after my surgery. Our first date ended after a four hour non-stop conversation! I somehow mentioned my prostate cancer and she did not run out of the restaurant screaming—which is of course what I expected!
Our relationship developed slowly at first. We had dinners out and took in some cultural events. We both wanted more from the relationship and things were heading in a direction towards intimacy. My incontinence was largely under control but the ED was still something that worried me.
With patience and a new relationship based on trust, we took our first steps towards intimacy and things worked! My body had changed, part of me was missing, my body reacted differently, things took more time, and there were a greater variety of responses. We learned to pace ourselves and to really enjoy one another and our most intimate moments. We also learned to laugh and not to judge.
My prostate cancer taught me to take several steps as a single man hoping for love while dealing with and overcoming the side effects:
- You are still a man.
- Just say “Yes!” — yes to getting out, meeting people, and doing things.
- You are capable of loving and being loved.
- Trust yourself, practice patience, and have faith in the partners you may meet.
- Take it slow — get to know the other person and get comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings.
- If your cancer scares someone off, then that’s not the right person for you.
- Be open about sex — make her a priority and laugh about your successes and failures.
- Try, try and try again.
For me, things turned out better than I could have ever expected. I’m with a beautiful, intelligent, wonderful partner and, at 64, our social life and sex life rivals 20-somethings (or, at least we like to think that!) We now share our lives in a condo not far from all that Boston has to offer, and we spend our free time traveling in the US, Latin and South America, and back to my partner’s native France. We are both planning on retiring shortly and continuing to feed our mutual passion for travel.