Four years ago, when journalist and screenwriter Don Truckey found out he was among the approximately 24,000 Canadian men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, he did what all cancer patients do: He started fighting for his life. It would be a tough climb to reclaim his sex life, too.
Depending on the extent of the cancer and type of treatment, full sexual recovery can take up to four years for prostate-cancer patients – and some men older than 58-year-old Truckey may never regain erectile function. While it only took Truckey a few months to get lucky again, he wrote an e-book called My Prostate Cancer (Sex) Diary: The Story of a Young Survivor Who Didn’t Go Limp, to give comfort and personal information to other prostate-cancer patients and their spouses who likely feel as lost as he did at the time. The Torontonian tells The Globe and Mail that his 50-page story – released appropriately in Movember – is very much a “book of experience … and one I would very much have liked to read.”
Describe some of the challenges you faced post-surgery?
When you have surgery, you have a catheter, which is never comfortable, and then later you struggle for urinary control. I was lucky that the erectile nerves that go right around the prostate gland were not affected by cancer (for men whose nerves are affected, their recovery is much more arduous). But because of the trauma to the body, it can take a very long time for these erectile nerves to begin refiring. My recovery was pretty fast. But I always felt I was just kind of feeling my way forward because very few yardsticks are presented to you. But in broad statistical terms, fully 50 per cent of men with prostate cancer don’t have any sexual recovery until nine months out.
You write that, even during group-therapy sessions, men hesitated to talk about the impact cancer could have on their sex lives. Women are rarely so reserved. Why the difference?
It’s not exclusive to prostate-cancer support groups; it’s simply the way men are. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation with men socially where we ask each other what’s happening sexually. People sometimes offer up stories, but usually you don’t want to hear them. It’s just an extension of that. It’s not exclusive to this disease. Men just don’t talk as openly about their sex lives as women.
You talk very openly about your journey of sexual recovery with your partner, who goes by a pseudonym, Nicole. And yet you identify yourself. Did your partner support your going public?
I think there was a bit of uneasiness there, but when it became apparent I could not hide behind a pseudonym, she agreed with me that people need to know this stuff. We’re not kids, you know. And many of our friends see this book as a service. This kind of frank talk needs to be out there.
You found the support groups very helpful. Why?
These groups are all about support, so it’s not really surprising that sexual discussions didn’t come up very much. But I would absolutely recommend any man get to one right away because they are the voice of experience. Everything else you’re getting is information, science. These are the guys who have been through it. The overriding feeling going in to these sessions is this is serious stuff. It’s like, okay, here we are.
Do doctors give you a timeline for sexual recovery post-treatment?
It’s not so much in terms of timing. It’s more in terms of where you should be able to get to eventually. Dr. K. laid it out that I should be able to have a soft erection with aids like Viagra. He just said eventually. … And to be honest, you’re not worried about the sexual component as you’re going through it. You’re mostly thinking cancer, and you have to deal with that first. Then you have to go back in for the revisits [to make sure the cancer has not returned] and there is fear that goes with that. I’ve now had eight [revisits] and they’ve gotten easier. But they just keep coming and I will have them the rest of my life. I don’t expect the cancer will come back, but – knock on wood – you don’t really know.
You opted for surgery instead of radiation. Why?
I was only 54 when I was diagnosed. They tell you nine out of 10 cases are slow progressing, and about 10 per cent are more aggressive prostate cancer. I figured I was young enough, and pretty healthy and could take a surgery. The reason older people tend to have radiation more than surgery is statistically more will be told they’re not physically healthy enough for surgery.
This interview has been edited and condensed.