Aseries of events in March 2007 — an accident at work followed by a visit to the doctor to get a prescription for high blood pressure — led to Sylvain Dottin being diagnosed with BPH (enlarged prostate) and sent for a biopsy. Much to his surprise, four out of 10 tissue samples taken came back positive for prostate cancer. At age 54, Sylvain felt young and healthy, had no blood relatives with the illness and didn’t know much about it at the time. The news was also a huge shock for his wife. She and Sylvain had been married for less than a year at the time and worse, Addis’ first husband had died of cancer.
Sylvain’s stepfather had passed away from prostate cancer, after having decided against surgery or other curative measures. Learning from this lesson, Sylvain decided not to wait but to take swift action. He started by gathering all the information he could, searching the Internet, talking to people, etc. He tried out remedies and special diets, exercised — anything that looked like it might help stop the cancer from progressing and improve his recovery after treatment. On the recommendation of his urologist, he’d already chosen surgery as his best option.
Robot to the rescue
Sylvain’s urologist suggested he see Dr. Assaad El-Hakim, who performs robotic radical prostatectomy (a new technique that has advantages such as a smaller incision and faster recovery time) in Montreal. Dr. El-Hakim described the procedure to him and they ended up scheduling the surgery for October. Robotic surgery for prostate cancer is still not that common here, and Sylvain felt lucky to be eligible: “God looked after me.” Putting aside any fears they had, he and his wife made up their minds that “he should just do what he had to do.”
The surgery was on Wednesday; Sylvain was home on Friday. He remembers nothing of the operation, but waking up several hours later, he was told it had gone very well. That evening, the nurses couldn’t dissuade him from getting up and going for a stroll, but they were afraid he might
just walk right out of the hospital! On Saturday, his friends were surprised to see him walk into church and figured his operation must have been delayed. They couldn’t believe it when he told them he’d already had it and was completely pain-free.
A catheter in for only five days (no dribbling or need for a diaper), off work less than five weeks, Sylvain feels fine now. He’s very happy that he hasn’t experienced
any lasting side effects, although he’s met other men who still have issues with incontinence even five years after their treatment. Dr. El-Hakim was able to do a nerve-sparing procedure, and told him it would take some time to recover sexual functioning, but for both Sylvain and his wife, the main thing is that he’s alive and healthy. He credits his positive experience partly with the fact that he was well prepared before the surgery, both physically and mentally. “Going to church and praying a lot helped too,” he says.
As for the future, Sylvain reports having a slight fear of the cancer coming back, but feels confident that things will work out. For now, follow-up appointments are every three months to check his PSA, urinary flow etc.
Awareness in the black community
Sylvain’s message for other men? First, get checked early! It doesn’t matter who you are or how healthy you feel. Prostate cancer can still happen to any man. As a Canadian of Caribbean descent, Sylvain only learned after his diagnosis that this illness is more common and often more aggressive among black men. He says there’s a great need for education and awareness about cancer in his community. Prostate cancer, especially, has been very much a taboo subject because of its sexual implications. One strategy he’s discussed with a local foundation to help get the message out is setting up information booths at African and West Indian festivals and events, where survivors like himself can talk to men about the disease and their options.
Sylvain also urges men not to hesitate to take action if needed! Although the new robotic surgery may not be right for everyone, he recommends men who think they might be candidates to look into it. It worked for him!