Angelo Giordimaina tells how he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, and how COVID-19 is affecting his quality of life
It was at the end of May 2019, a day like all the others that preceded it but a day that would change the course of my life forever. I noticed blood in my urine. I did not give it much thought and decided to keep it to myself. My wife and I were going for a short break and I did not want to worry her unnecessarily. A week later I decided to go and see our GP.
After a routine examination and a urine test, I was diagnosed with an infection. An ultrasound of the renal system prompted a visit to a urology consultant who found an inflamed prostate gland, and I was booked for a biopsy, MRI, CT scan and bone scan. Things began to fall into place. For more than a year previously, I used to wake up about five times a night to pass urine. I had always brushed away my wife’s concerns, saying it was because I used to drink a lot of water and coffee.
After this first visit to the consultant urologist everything shifted. After my digital rectum examination (DRE), I started to be more aware of aches and pains down my right side and in my back, which I had previously attributed to my work (I am now a retired electrician and plumber). I also started to have excruciating pain when passing urine and had problems with defecation. I tried to regulate pain with painkillers, but I couldn’t get comfortable in bed and used to stay awake for several hours. Feelings of hopelessness and despair set in and I wished for death.
On 22nd January 2020 I was given the results of the biopsies. I was diagnosed with Gleason 7+ prostate cancer. I had had annual PSA tests, and in December 2018 my GP had told me everything was ok with my prostate. But with hindsight I could see now that something was wrong and should have done something. I did not think that prostate cancer could grow in a few months. I reckon that at least I lost four months or more from knowing that I had prostate cancer.
On 31st January I saw my urologist again. This time my daughter, who is a qualified nurse, came with me because she understands the medical jargon better than me. The urologist confirmed that I had prostate cancer and that it had spread to the nearby bone. Further therapy, but no chemotherapy, would be needed. Then he told me that my life would be different from now on. I took this in my stride.
He prescribed hormone therapy, which gave me side effects – mainly mood swings and hot flushes. I also lost significant weight – 6kgs in a few months. At first I attributed this to my rather hectic lifestyle, but my body was undergoing several changes and I was caught unaware. I had to take it day by day and try to be positive during such a terrible time. This was my new life from now on – a series of investigative procedures and hospital appointments. In February, I had another appointment but the urologist assured me that I was doing well. The only glitch was that my cancer spread to my tail bone and that I might need radiotherapy treatment.
By the end of February 2020 I was getting my strength back and was feeling physically better. But then the pandemic added to the turmoil. n Malta we had a partial lockdown and vulnerable were asked to stay at home. The first few weeks were insane. I was still trying to come to terms with cancer, now this? In four months I had crossed the divide from a healthy person with an active lifestyle to a vulnerable and ill person. Going for early morning walks kept me physically fit and healthy. The rest of the day passed slowly and often left me feeling depressed and depleted.
However, I fought this too and by time I was feeling infinitely better. As Robert H.Schuller says, “Tough times never last, but tough people do”.
In April I was referred to an oncologist and a navigation nurse, who were supportive and helpful in this tough ordeal. I was started on Abiraterone and Dexamethasone and I was scheduled for five days of radiotherapy in May. For two weeks after the radiotherapy I had mild diarrhea and frequent urination.
Almost a year after my diagnosis I feel much better. Had it not been for COVID-19, my life would have resumed at a steady pace. However, with Malta experiencing another surge with daily cases, there is nothing I can do but to stay away from everybody including my family. It is very hard and emotionally draining. Perhaps a COVID-19 vaccine will bring better times. In the meantime, I am upping my daily walks from 45 minutes to 60 minutes a day. I also do hand exercises to keep my muscles toned, eat a healthy diet and try take care of my mental health by playing a lot of computer chess, Sudoku and other games that requires fast thought. I also follow the weekly email from Europa Uomo which keeps me well informed of new developments.