My Story: My Husband Has Prostate Cancer

In October 2010, FOF Linda Cohen’s husband of thirty years, Spencer, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the most common non-skin cancer in America. That day, Linda joined the ranks of millions of FOFs across America who have been forced to navigate the rules of this relatively new epidemic. “Spencer was young, athletic and healthy. This was a shock,” Linda says.

Prostate cancer affects 1 in 6 American men. It rarely affects men under 40, which means most FOF women are likely to have a husband, brother, father or friend with the disease.

Linda coped by tapping into her network of FOFriends, many of whom had supported their own husbands or boyfriends though prostate cancer. At each step of her husband’s six-month long battle, Linda found solace in their stories and advice. Linda’s FOFriends steered her and Spencer to the “right” surgeon and helped calm Linda’s nerves in the waiting room while he underwent surgery. They also listened to her most intimate concerns: “I asked them, ‘Will we have a normal sex life again? Will he regain control of his bladder?’” Linda remembers.

“Once you start confiding, you realize how strong women are,” says Linda. “Men don’t always talk to other men about these things. We are really the ones who get the information. I bonded with so many women over this.”

Thankful for all the support she received from her FOFriends, Linda wants to make sure every FOF who is supporting a man through prostate cancer, is supported herself. Here she shares her story:

  • Did your husband have any symptoms before his diagnosis?
    • He noticed a little blood in his sperm. He had been told this could be normal and overall he was feeling well. My husband is a very healthy person — he’s an athlete and eats well. So, the diagnosis was a shock.
  • Tell me about the diagnosis.
    • My husband is 57. Every year, for the past five years he has been going for a PSA, a test for prostate cancer. It’s like the male version of a mammogram. It went from 2.75 to 3.2 to 3.75. Then last year it went up to 4.35, a cause for concern.
  • Did the result of the PSA mean he had prostate cancer?
    • Not necessarily. But, it meant he had to have a biopsy. From that, they come up with something called a Gleason score. It’s a number that grades the biopsy based on the appearance of the cancer tissue. He had a Gleason score of 7. A Gleason score of 6 means they might not operate. But, he had a Gleason score of 7 — broken down to a 3 and a 4. Basically, when you get that score, you have cancer and you have to do something.
  • How was he feeling at the time of the diagnosis?
    • He was shocked and depressed even though he tried to keep his spirits and sense of humor up. I think he was angry, like, ‘how could this happen to me?’ He was also scared the cancer may have spread, which thankfully wasn’t the case.
  • What were his options for treatment?
    • The options were either radiation therapies or surgical removal. Due to his youth and good health, for his case they suggested robotic surgery. It’s less-invasive with a faster, more complete recovery rate. There’s also a better chance that the cancer won’t return.
  • What did you do?
    • I contacted about five different women I knew whose husbands had prostate cancer. They shared what they went through. The same name kept coming up in my conversations–Dr. Samadi. Dr. Samadi has treated thousands of patients using robotics and goes all over the world to teach this treatment. We got three different opinions, but when we met with Dr. Samadi, we knew we were going with him.
  • What are the risks of robotics?
    • After removal of the prostate, you can’t produce sperm. There’s a risk of sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence. The robotic surgery decreases the chance of incontinence and sexual dysfunction.
  • How long after his diagnosis was the treatment?
    • He was diagnosed in October and had surgery in January.
  • How did you support him during this time?
    • Before he went to the surgery he needed to do Kiegel exercises to control help strengthen his urinary sphincter. I would help by reminding him to do his exercises.
  • Tell me about the surgery.
    • Spencer took ten days off of work. He had just started a new job. The surgery lasts about three and a half hours and you can stay [in the hospital] one or two days. We stayed one day. They remove the prostate and lymph-nodes through fix or six quarter-sized holes incised in his abdomen. The waiting room where I stayed was like a hotel lobby. I was with about eight different women, and all their husbands were there going through the same thing. While he had the surgery, I bonded with them.
  • What happened after the surgery?
    • The surgery went well. The surgeon said that the cancer was more pronounced than the biopsy had showed but that they got it all. He will continue to have regular check ups to make sure his PSA remains at 0. You don’t immediately know if he will be incontinent or impotent.
    • He had a catheter for about a week and after that he wore Depends. During the day, he would leak. It was embarrassing to him, especially when he went back to work. He tried to minimize the amount of liquids he drank. He continued doing Kiegels to regain urinary control.
  • How did you support him through his recovery?
    • I’d ask him, ‘Did you do your Kiegels?’ and I’d say, ‘You’re doing great.’ I’d take walks with him because he couldn’t exercise during that time. I would take out a chess board even though we haven’t played chess in years, to get his mind off things. I’d make him laugh when he was embarrassed about leaking by saying, “You’re really packed down there.” He made fun of himself by telling me not to make him laugh because he’d squirt.
  • Did it help?
    • Sometimes. I tried not to take things personally. When he said he wanted to be left alone, I left him alone — he really needed his space through the recovery.
  • Did he ever regain control of his bladder?
    • Yes. He’d talk to other men who said, ‘I had control within two months’ or ‘I was back to work within a week.’ Everyone heals differently. For him, it took 6 months. He lived in Depends during that time and it progressively got better.
  • What about your sex life?
    • After the prostate removal, you can’t produce sperm but you may be able to have an erection and orgasms. . They prescribed him Viagra six weeks after the surgery to assist with an erection and an orgasm. Fortunately after about four weeks he was able to have an erection. It’s been six months and now we have a normal sex life again both with and without medication.
  • Did you pray?
    • Yes, of course. I prayed every day, but I always felt he would be fine. He started practicing meditation and yoga with me. We spoke to our Rabbi about it. Spiritually, it brought us together — it made us more aware that life is short and helped us learn where we want to put our priorities at this point.
  • What was the hardest part?
    • To see your husband or someone you love hurting is difficult in any situation. Seeing a man wearing what he felt was a diaper — I just felt such compassion for him. There was shame associated with it, and I really had to make him feel important in other ways.
  • How did you keep your own sanity through it all?
    • I kept busy. I kept balanced. I was there when he needed me but I gave him space and continued my life.
Author
Linda Cohen
Fashion merchandising consultant
FOF Linda Cohen is a fashion merchandising consultant from New York. Her husband, Spencer, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010.
  • dotbarry35

    Linda…. My brother in law age 60 (now single) was just diagnosed with prostate cancer and will be going to surgery soon…
    We read with interest about your first hand experience of what to expect during and after the surgery.
    Your story will certainly assist my husband and I in offering family support during this stressful time…
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and we wish you and your husband many happy years together….
    Regards

  • fblaustein

    My husband also has prostate cancer. He had radiation, 44 treatments, and the cancer is back. Now the doctor has him on female hormone treatments – one shot every three months. Has anyone heard of this and how successful is it?

    • Barbara p

      My husband is a prostate cancer survivor also and has had two series (2 years apart) of the hormone treatments, they really work, BUT be prepared for your husbands emotions to go all haywire! Mine went thru like a male menopause! Hot flashes, sweats, mood swings….really intense. But he stopped the advancing growth and had an almost non existant PSA. He has been involved inthe treatments for over 12 years now, he is 76 and healthy. Good luck, it will work, but it is a challenge emotionally for you both.

  • Linda Cohen

    I am so glad my experience has given you some guidance. My best wishes to you and your family when your brother in law goes through the surgery. I feel very fortunate that I can share my story and know how helpful it will be for other FOF women.

  • slbennetti

    Linda, you have grown wiser with your experience and I am so thankful for the both of you that your husband is a survivor. My husband also has prostrate cancer, however, because he was diagnosed at age 78, he could not have the surgery. He has had seed implants and radiation. His PSA remains at 0 after two years and he will always have cancer. It just does not grow at this time and is not fed by testosterone. My husband also had the injections to stop his body from producing that as the cancer would have fed and continued growing with that. Blessings to you both, the ordeal brought us closer together realizing just how great life is today and we share each day in a special way now instead of taking it for granted.

  • gwenr

    My husband is 62 and was diagnosed April 4, 2011 and had a robotic prostatectomy at MD Anderson in Houston May 25th. He goes back for his post op July 19, 2011. He is getting very discouraged because of the incontinence. He’s wearing Depends and doesn’t leave the house for fear of a leak that’s too great for the Depends. He has been doing the Kegels…so much so that he was up to 1000! Then he started to have even less control so we figured he was doing too many and the muscles were being overworked. He’s slacked way off…the doctors didn’t tell him exactly how many to do…does anyone have a good number in mind? I hate seeing what this is doing to his dignity. So hard on a Type A personality who’s always been in control. As far as sex, well, he can have an orgasm but no erection yet. I’m guessing the doctor will prescribe something when we go for his post-op. He’s got a mindset that he really doesn’t want to have to take a drug to get an erection but we’ll see what the doctor says. I’m so glad to have found this forum because I have no one to talk to who has gone through this. Thanks ladies!

  • hopesprings50

    Hi Linda…my husband went through this at age 55 when the robotic surgery was considered experimental by our insurance company. We did find a surgeon that did an amazing job and my DH didn’t experience any long term side effects. That said, we had a two year recovery period, and I say ‘we’ because as you know, it’s a couple’s problem. For those looking for a specific online support group, I recommend looking at http://www.prostatepointers.org. Not sure if we’re allowed to recommend other sites, but this one has a lot of great info.
    All the best to those traveling this road now.

  • fblaustein

    I wrote last evening, asking if anyone has heard of hormne therapy to treat prostate cancer. I’ve read a number of great responses from women whose husbands have gone through prostate cancer, and I am truly grateful that most of you are taking each day one at a time and have great hope for your families. This is a couple’s problem as hopesprings50 commented on 7/8/2011, and we are trying to cope with this in the best way we can, however, the oncologist says one thing and the urologist says another thing. I am told that the hormone shots can buy my husband between three to ten years, but that the cancer is in the bone now. I don’t understand this at all. Is there anyone out there who can help me or who has been given similar information. Please, I’m grasping at straws and emotionally holding on with my finger tips. I lost my first husband to cancer and I certainly don’t want this to happen to us again. Please, is there anyone who knows more than I do about this type of therapy? Thanks and all the best to all of you who are going through this. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of you.

  • lraci

    My father had prostate cancer it had already Spread to the bones when he was diagnosed. He had radiation to shrink the tumors that were in his spine. The hormone shots were given to him under his belly this extended his life by approximately 2 years. He passed away at the age of 68 his type of cancer was
    aggressive. He tried chemotherapy toward the end but it was very hard on his body and weakened him a lot. He lived with me and was able to die peacefully at home with the help of hospice care. My prayers go out to you. Do everything you can to build up his immune system there is a place called Hippocrates Health Center in West Palm Beach, Fl. they believe in alternative treatments sometimes in conjunction with traditional medicine . I wish I knew about this place for my Dad. A lot of people with terminal illness have been healed there. The author of the book Crazy Sexy Cancer went there and had great results.

  • fblaustein

    Thank you to Iraci who her comments regarding my husband and the way the doctors are treating his prostate cancer. Your kind words and advice have given me more positive information than anywhere I’ve asked for it before. From the bottom of my heart, “thank you”. Fran Blaustein

  • 1955nurse

    Thanks for the great post!!! Glad to see people getting the word out… let’s face it, Men just don’t like talking about “stuff” like this!!! This remains one of the Cancers that is totally curable, and life can be great afterwards….. let’s face it – we can’t deal w/what we don’t acknowledge!!! Best wishes to you & your Husband, Spencer – here’s hoping you both have many years of living, laughing & loving ahead!!!

  • KyleBrewer

    Hi, Fran,
    My husband, who is 71, had hormone treatments to reduce his prostate. He had 3 shots, one per month, and then he had seed implants. The shots didn’t reduce his prostate as much so he was given a 4th shot to make sure the prostate doesn’t get any larger. We have a doctor’s appt this week to see how things are going. My prayers go out to you.

  • Lea

    My husband just told me that he has some medical issues …. this is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you so much. Prayers and blessings. Lea