Prostate Cancer, Exercise, Cold Water, and Just Plain Old

Too much exercise may cause erectile dysfunction. Depends on the shorts.

As I was leaving to train at Barton Springs on my day off my wife said “Hey cowboy, don’t do too much, and remember that water is very cold.” My wife normally doesn’t give a shit what I do, so I asked for clarification. “Ahem. Um. Don’t take it personally, but you know when you workout too much, it sort of maybe causes circulation problems in other parts. Like, the parts you need to use when you get home today.” I didn’t think she was talking about mowing the grass.

As you know, I am getting ready to swim the Cap2K Open Water Race again (, in support of UsToo Intl (, a prostate cancer awareness and support organization. I had my prostate cancer scare several years ago–scary, because I was uninformed and suddenly faced with things spinning rapidly out of my control. Worse than worrying about death once the word “cancer” is introduced, you worry about never, ever again having an erection. A boner, hard-on, stiffy, tent pole, wood–none of that, ever again.

My wife was referring to my “circulation,” but privately I heard “my prostate.” Here, I would like to recommend to anyone wondering about a prostate cancer diagnosis to read “I Want My Prostate Back” . This is an award-winning article that deals honestly with the aftermath of prostate cancer treatment, chiefly erectile dysfunction.

My wife told me once that if there was ever a question of breast cancer for her, she’d lop ’em off illico presto, no regrets. “I don’t need them for anything, and they’re not worth dying for.” Personally, I like women’s breasts a great deal, but I get her point. I would miss them, but I’d rather have her if it came down to a choice. But perhaps because a man’s self-identity depends on an erect penis, the situation is not the same once prostate cancer becomes a possibility. I think.

I wouldn’t find my wife any less of a woman without her breasts, or her uterus for that matter. It could be that–beyond simply feeling sorry for myself–I would feel guilty of cheating her out of something because of my own personal problem. Sex is giving. And if giving is good, isn’t giving the full variety of gifts even better? But then I realized that there are plenty of satisfied lesbian couples out there. Or am I missing something?

It is particularly irritating that so many possible causes of erectile dysfunction present themselves as a man ages. Ten years ago, if I came home from work and said “man, I am exhausted,” my wife would say “you do too much! Don’t work so hard.” Last night I got home and her response was “well, you’re not so young any more.” I am learning to never complain to her, but you can’t hide a missing erection. It is most definitely not the boner of a 24 year-old, but I like to think I am quite healthy and virile in a sort of studied, dignified way. That just means I’ve kept the weight down, exercise a lot, and still get excited by intelligent, strong, witty women who know what they’re about. Here, if you’re a normal woman who doesn’t really understand an ageing man, I suggest reading John Updike’s classic “The Disposable Rocket”

The doctor didn’t even check for prostate cancer my last physical. Everything seems to work correctly. And when I left to swim today, I didn’t change my plans one bit because of what the future might hold (and when I think about what I’d do as a younger man just for the mere possibility of sex . . . .) But at my age, finally, I’ve learned to never depend on someone else for my happiness, and so I swam. And then, because the day, and place, and world were all beautiful, I went for a run. What happens when I get home afterward is like trying to see beyond the horizon. But I am happy that the issue is up in the air still, not settled forever.

“You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went, you can curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.” But not quite yet.

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