The prostate cancer survival rate might be high in Canada, but at least one man from the Rural Municipality of Duck Lake continues to suffer from the harrowing side-effects of his successful treatment.
© Herald photo by Alex Di Pietro
Rick Markowsky is free of his prostate cancer but still suffers from side effects of the treatment.
Rick Markowski, 58, underwent treatment for prostate cancer in 2006. While he is now living cancer free, he claims to be having a horrid recovery. The side-effects alone have made him regret choosing the treatment that he did.
“This was not a good surgery for me,” he said. “And yet, it was a surgery they recommended and a surgery that was supposed to have no side-effects.”
Throughout his life, Markowsky regularly received physicals, was proactive and caught his cancer early. He was given a few treatment options, including brachytherapy.
Low-dose rate brachytherapy consists of placing between 70-150 radioactive seeds, comparable in size to grains of rice, in the prostate.
Before making his decision to go with brachytherapy, Markowsky consulted with another man who had received the treatment. He later went ahead with the procedure in Edmonton.
“My cancer was centered in one place. It wasn’t all around the prostate,” Markowsky said, noting he received about 125 seeds. “That’s probably where they put the seeds, or the majority of them, and I just think they put too many.”
Following the treatment, Markowsky found out he’d been suffering from radiation proctitis, which is inflammation of the colon as a result of radiation therapy. He was told that he would bleed from his backside for the rest of his life.
Urinating had also become increasingly difficult for Markowsky. He recalls the horror of having to place a stick in his mouth to keep him from biting off his tongue, because the pain was so unbearable when he had to use the toilet. On one occasion, he’d actually urinated out one of the seeds.
“I have to take medication for sex,” he said. “I have to keep having my urethra opened up, and after three years, I had to open it up because the scar tissue is so bad from the radiation, it keeps closing it.”
Markowsky said he was never told about such side-effects. It wasn’t until he was asked to fill out a survey that he discovered many more of the possible side-effects of brachytherapy.
“This thing was two pages long,” he said. “There are so many other things that I could have gotten but weren’t brought up.”
In recognizing Movember, Markowsky said he is not attempting to dissuade prostate cancer patients from opting for the treatment. Rather, he is imploring them to inquire about potential side-effects to make informed decisions.
“People have a right to know every side-effect,” he said. “I thought I asked every question that I had to ask ... They told me the best thing to do was to have these seeds implanted in me.”
He emphasized that while he sees the disease and treatment for it as a lose-lose situation, he is still happy to be alive and grateful that the cancer is gone.
“I’m a big fan of people having physicals every year,” he said. “You’re better off catching it and having a chance.”
Each day, however, is a mystery for Markowsky. He has been to the doctor numerous times and has sought out different ways to cope with the treatment’s side-effects.
Currently, he goes about his day with a catheter connecting to a plastic bag that is strapped firmly on his ankle. The bag acts as a urine receptacle and needs to be emptied several times a day.
Markowsky is currently on a waiting list to see the only doctor in Canada who can perform the surgery he needs.
“I’m going to have to stay with this catheter in me until I have a transplant,” he said. “They’ll take a graft from out of my mouth and they’ll graft this thing into my urethra to try to keep it open, but there are no guarantees.
“This is the last straw for me ... If this doesn’t work, there’s nothing else. It will just be, I guess, living with this catheter in me for the rest of my life.”
Markowsky, who is unmarried with no children and has been an active person all of his life, continues to work about 50 hours per week, despite his ordeal. He said work takes his mind off the pain.
“If I can walk, I usually come.”