They say life happens when you’re busy making other plans. For Joel Shafer, that came with a cruel twist of timing. Two days before his birthday, and two days after his wedding anniversary, he got the unexpected news that he had prostate cancer. Faced with the reality of now what, Joel started doing his homework. Having recently settled into retirement, this certainly wasn’t what he’d hoped to be filling the hours with.
The statistics sound like background hum until you are the one in six affected (or the countless spouses and family members trying to steady the waters). Deciding on a course of treatment is different and difficult for every man, trying to weigh the balance between what can be both a deadly and slow growing cancer.
For Joel, after much consideration, surgery was his choice. So he embarked a treatment path that’s delivered to about 200 men a year here at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre: complete prostate removal, known in medical speak as radical prostatectomy.
Dr. Robert Nam is one of the top surgeons in Canada doing this procedure. I sat in on one of his surgeries last week, and watched him deliver what he calls the ‘Nam Deluxe’: a delicate sparing of nerves around the prostate, allowing the vast majority of men to recover with little to no impact on their urinary or erectile function over time. (There’s a reason the term “surgical precision” has made it into our vocabulary. Having witnessed it firsthand, I think Dr. Nam had a lot to do with it.)
Joel is now several months post-op, and doing very well. I met with him at his home in a well-established neighborhood. Family photos adorning the walls, he now hopes to get back to the business of being retired. For men facing the same diagnosis he did only months ago, he encourages them to read up and reach out to those who have been there. Understand you should take a little time before you make any decisions, he told me. And when all is said and done, you put your faith in the doctors and the process.
Did you know?
Men should have a PSA test done at age 50, or earlier if they have a family history of prostate cancer. Make sure to complete Sunnybrook’s Prostate Cancer Risk Calculator with your family doctor.