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How I returned to bicycling after prostate surgery

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A notation on a desk calendar I saw this morning reminded me that one year ago I took a short ride on a gurney into an operating room to have my cancerous prostate removed.

Looking back, it also was a relatively short road back to bicycling, although at the time I worried whether I would ever be able to sit on a bike saddle again. As it turned out, I was able to ride the 2-day, 200-mile Seattle to Portland bike ride with my son less than 10 months later (here we are with our patches).

In the past year, I occasionally receive e-mails from men who are about to undergo prostate surgery or who have recently undergone the operation. Because they read this blog, they’re interested in how the surgery will affect their bicycling. Here’s how it affected my riding.

Diagnosis

I went in for surgery about six weeks after I received the definitive word that I had cancerous tumors on both sides of my prostate. The tumor had not yet escaped the confines of the prostate, however, and my doctor said removal of the prostate would probably stop the cancer.

He recommended minimally invasive prostatectomy using the da vinci robotic device. Instead of opening my abdomen like a zipper, the procedure required making five small incisions to get at my prostate. Only one incision required stitches (the one in my navel); the others were closed with tape.

Early recovery

Even with the small incisions, my abdomen was plenty sore after the operation. That soon passed, although my navel was tender to the touch for months afterward. There was no scar to heal though, no blood loss. I was walking around the block with my catheter the day I got home and was walking four-mile roundtrips to the shopping center a couple of days later.

A nurse removed the catheter a week after the operation, which made walking much easier and more comfortable. Incontinence wasn’t much of a problem; I wore a pad for a couple of weeks but it stayed dry most of the time.


Any long-time sitting was uncomfortable though. I kept walking, wondering if I would ever get back on my bike.

Back in the saddle

Near the end of October, however, I started riding again. The first ride was about as short as my first walk after returning home — about a half-mile. I stopped 2 or 3 times to readjust my seat — a newly purchased Terry Liberator Y — to find a comfortable spot. I never did find it, but settled on a position slightly forward. About a month later I moved it back to its normal position.

On Oct. 31, I recorded a 5-mile ride. That’s 35 days after my operation. I never stopped riding after that.

In November, I went on 15 bike rides. The average distance was about 11 miles. I see notations like: “A little tender.” “Feel OK.” “Took it easy.” “Picked up pace.” I was avoiding hills when I could and taking it slow.

I rode 21 miles on Nov. 24 (about two months after the operation) at a 13 mph pace, and did a couple of more 20-mile rides in December. All in all, though, most of my rides were slow (12 mph) and short (8 to 10 miles) through the end of the year.

2008

My first 50-mile ride came on a visit to Sacramento in January, four months after my surgery. I bicycled 312 miles that month and have been bicycling that much, or more, every month since.

The pleasure rides turned into training rides when my son and I decided to do the STP on July 12 and 13. By the time that ride rolled around, I had no problems riding the back-to-back centuries, finishing the second century in 6 hours and 15 minutes.

Success

I’m not a bike racer and never was. I rarely even get into the hammerhead mentality of racing anonymous cyclists out on the road. I’d rather match their pace — if I can — and chat with them.

So for me, success isn’t measured in winning races or even hanging onto the peloton. It’s measured in getting the opportunity to ride my bike out in the fresh air.

This is what worked for me:

1. Minimally invasive surgery. I had very little blood loss and could get on my feet the next day. Not for long periods, but I was on my feet. I’ve read and have been told that surgeons using the da vinci procedure can reconnect the bladder to the uretha better so the healing is quicker, causing less incontinence.

2. Post-operative walking. I walked several times a day; not fast to get out of breath but far enough to feel tired. No straining, just easy walking. (Also not much coffee or alcohol, which also helped me retain continence.)

3. Short, easy rides. When I returned to the bicycle, I did short rides. I didn’t go fast or hard. Think of the old lady with the wicker basket on the handlebars. That was me (although not in an upright position).

I did feel discomfort in my urethra after riding at first. But it was still sore anyway, with the stitches and scar tissue.

4. Picking up distance after a month. My early rides, every other day, were pretty short. When I could  ride without feeling much soreness down below, I picked up the distance occasionally.

5. Back to normal bicycling. By the end of January I was feeling fine all the way around. I had no deadlines for bicycling or racing or touring. My only goal was just to be able to get back on the bicycle and ride like the old days.

State of mind

Probably more important than all those recovery techniques was my state of mind during this.

Lance Armstrong’s efforts to increase the visibility of his anti-cancer crusade by returning to professional cycling recently made me think about how I was feeling at the time.

I never felt like a victim. I didn’t wonder why this happened to me; it happens to one-in-six men. Fortunately there was a cure — surgery – and I had insurance coverage to afford it.  (There are other types of surgery and radiation. You decide which is best for you. I just chose what was best for me.) Also, I have a loving and supportive family.

Now, I almost never think about my run-in with prostate cancer when I ride. But if I ever do, it’s only that I feel very happy to be back on the bike again.


See also: Norwegian cyclist, 72, seeks advice about prostate surgery recovery

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bikingbis.com/2008/09/27/how-i-returned-to-bicycling-after-prostate-surgery/

25 comments

1 ping

  1. Joseph Naylor

    Thanks for sharing your story. My recent experience with prostate cancer is is similar to yours. I was fortunate to have a great surgeon perform the DaVinci robotic surgery with very minimal side effects. I was in fairly good shape prior to the surgery which always helps. I was an active cyclists prior the being diagnosed and the biopsy procedure. Its been about 10 weeks since the surgery and I have been aggressively working out running elliptical and weights. I have been afraid to get back on the bike for fear damaging any work that was so sucessfull. I did take a short ride about a week ago (a 3 min trip in the neighborhood). Afterward I was sore and concerned I had made a mistake but was feeling better in a few days.

    What was your experience with beginning to ride and the soreness experienced?

    1. Gene Bisbee

      I’m glad your recovery is going well, and I hope things continue to improve for you as time goes on. Be sure to stay on track with regular doctor visits and PSA tests!

      I do remember being sore for weeks after the surgery, but I don’t think it was made any worse by bicycling, which I started 4 or 5 weeks after the surgery Just sitting in a chair made me sore, as I recall. My first rides were very short, and I spent as much time adjusting my saddle as riding. The soreness should go away as you ride more, but TAKE IT EASY!

  2. Dave Hoeltje

    Gene, great article! It was just the information I was looking for. My first question to my surgeon was not what the surival rate or post surgery issues were but when and if I could ride again. I just bought a 2012 Cannondale Supersix and I was terrified that it would go to waste…lol. The general concensus seems to suggest a 5-6 week hiatus and then slowly easing back into it. I suspect that most of my muscle tone will be lost by that point so slow and short rides should not be a problem.

    Thank you again.

    1. Gene Bisbee

      Good luck, Dave. I’m sure you’ll be back on our bike before you know it! I still remember my first decent ride after surgery; I felt like a kid riding away from home for the first time.

  3. Bob Sinche

    After riding for the last 5 years, including a fabulous 3-day rise along the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, I am heading to prostate cancer surgery at age 60 and hoping to get back on my bike. Your article is very encouraging. Has anyone found a seat that feels more comfortable after the surgery? Looking back I don’t think my seat did me any favors! Any suggestions? EasySeat? Horseshoe seat? Schwinn No-Pressure? My big riding days are behind me…just want to find comfort so I can continue post-surgery. Thanks.

    1. Gene Bisbee

      Good luck on your operation. It sounds like you’ve been keeping yourself fit and that certainly helps with the recovery.
      As for saddles, I switched to a Terry Liberator Y after the surgery and got it tuned in after what seemed like endless adjustments. It’s a touring saddle, so it made for a little more upright bicycling. There’s also a gel version that should be even softer, if that’s a problem.
      There could be many other saddles that would be better, but that’s the one that worked for me.
      Good luck…

      http://www.terrybicycles.com/Saddles/Mens-Endurance

  4. Meredith

    Thanks for sharing the information on your operation.
    My operation was 10-24-2013. Same operation. I am doing GREAT.

    1. Gene Bisbee

      Good! Keep on rollin’!

  5. Jerry Z

    Just had my 6 week checkup this morning for prostate removal via DaVinci robotic surgery. When I asked about bike riding my surgeon said “no, no, no, no”. He thought riding a bike this soon after surgery was probably the worst thing I could do. Hopefully when I see him next time he will have better news for me.

  6. Gene Bisbee

    It’s always good to hear from someone recovering from prostate surgery. Let’s hope he allows you back on the bike soon… I’m sure you’re looking forward to pedaling again. In the meantime, take those walks.
    Good luck!

  7. Rich Hoeg

    Green Laser surgery was the ticket for me when an enlarged prostate actually sent me via ambulance to the emergency room. Four weeks after my operation I took my first long ride (2 hours) without a single problem. I would have biked sooner, but the Spring Nordic skiing conditions were the best in years. I actually cross-country skied over 22 miles in one day just 8 days after my operation. Folks reading this blog should definitely research Green Laser surgery. No actually incision is involved, and at least for me the road back to being normal has been very fast.

    I documented everything via my own blog through a series of five posts. I had the same worries as everyone else, but the results have been fantastic. Here is my final post:

    Four Weeks Post Op: Enlarged Prostate Surgery – Bicycling!

  8. Philip

    Thanks for sharing this story. I will have my surgery on June 10, 2013 and have been concerned about riding afterwards. I have a Livestrong friend who I ride with and he has been supporting me with encouragement and weekly 25-30 mile rides. The rides and company have been wonderful for my spirits and have been helping me stay in shape for the surgery. I hope to continue riding asap after surgery. Your blog has given me hope. Thanks!

    1. Gene Bisbee

      Good luck, Philip. Just give everything time and take it slowly. You’ll do great!

  9. rin manns

    I’m looking forward to Da Vinci surgery in April after we shrink my cancer a bit. Thanks for giving some guidance on coming back. I’ve been commuting for years and had worked up to about 100 miles per week before my diagnosis. Winter and reaction to hormone treatment have reduced that dramatically. I am as anxious about returning to cycling as I am the surgery. I depend on my bike to keep my weight down and heart healthy.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  10. Bill Rister

    Gene,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am six days past my Da Vinci surgery. My Gleason score was a 9 and there was originally concern that the cancer had escaped the prostate. However, preliminary frozen sections of the surrounding lymph nodes taken during the operation came back negative. At least initially, what a relief!! I am now beginning to focus on recovery and moving forward.

    Like you, I have started walking, and even after a few days, I find that I can go further without tiring as much. The old adage of “listen to your body” is extremely true in this case. I was questioning when I might expect to get back on my bike and came across your wonderful commentary. I will plan to try a very easy ride in about four-to-five weeks and see what happens. At that point “listen to your butt” should truly control.

    Thank you again for your encouraging words and insightful comments.

    1. Gene Bisbee

      You’re welcome, Bill. Good luck with your recovery. I’m sure you’ll be itching for a ride when the time rolls around!

  11. James Card

    My robotic surgery was February 4, 2014. The cancer was confined to my prostate. Thank God that it didn’t spread. I have 2 more weeks before my six week check. I have been taking it easy but I’m chomping at the bit to climb back onto the saddle and ride. But I’ve learned during the recovery that I must listen to my body. Thanks for your article. It definitely has helped me. Good luck to everyone that has to go through the surgery. Stay positive and listen to your Dr and your body!

  12. Ian McClarron

    Hi, I had robotic surgery a week ago ,The technology now is just fantastic,.
    I have been given the all clear in regard to the cancer being contained within the prostrate but have been informed I was lucky as it was about to spread. One section was a 9 on the Gleeson score.
    I’m 59 Years old and love riding my bike, I only ride for fun and fitness ,and love exploring new bike paths etc.
    I have started walking again, and I’m listening to my body and not pushing it, going further every day.
    I have just ordered a moon saddle for my bike as I’m worried that in a month when I start riding again I may do damage with my old racing type saddle. So I’ll see how that goes.
    Thankyou for your inspiring letter, and great advise. Good luck to all.
    Cheers from Brisbane Australia. Ian.

    1. Gene Bisbee

      I’m glad you had your surgery when you did! I’d be interested in hearing how that moon saddle works for you. Good luck with your recovery…Gene

      1. Ian

        Thanks Gene, I’ll give you an update on the saddle when I start riding again.
        Cheers, Ian.

  13. Ian McClarron

    Hi Gene, its been about 20 days since my surgery and I have just tried out the moon saddle,
    I barely noticed the difference in riding from a normal saddle, except for the lack of pain of course.
    I found that I could ride one handed easily and could probably ride hands free with a little practice. Your weight is on the sit bones and nothing is between your legs so it is pain free.
    The control of the bike feels the same to me.
    I didn’t ride far, I’m as weak as a kitten now and will have to build up my strength again, but it sure was great to be zooming along again.
    Cheers and regards to all, Ian.

  14. Reed Markley

    Hi all,

    I had a green light PVP several years ago. Had to use laser since I am on Coumadin due to lone afib. Tried the saddle I had been using and a couple of others from the local bike shop. All caused urinary bleeding. Did a bit of research, and my urologist agreed with me that the Selle SMP saddles should work. They did. No more bleeding. Expensive but worth it. Have been monitoring PSA, and last one was noticeably higher. Got another one a month later, and will see urologist shortly. When he ordered the PSA redo, the C word was mentioned, as well as radical prostatectomy. My first thought was will I still be able to ride?

    This blog has put that issue to bed. Robotic surgery seems to be the way to go. Has anyone had such good results with regular surgery?

    Can anyone in the northeast US recommend a good surgeon – Boston maybe.

    Good luck to you all-Reed

  15. Klee

    Had my deVinci surgery on 16 June. it’s great and encouraging to see your biking results. I expect to be on my Tour Easy in August. Looking forward to the ride!

  16. Lee

    Had my DaVinci surgery on 16 June. it’s great and encouraging to see your biking results. I expect to be on my Tour Easy in August. Looking forward to the ride!

  17. Jim Din

    Reed, in answer to your q about reg surgey. It all depends on your surgeon. I read for a year and a half on all alternatives. Robotics is fine if your surgeon is well experienced. It takes at the very least 200 surgeries for a doctor to become comptent at it. One tiny mistake and you have incontinence for your life. A good regular urologic surgeon with 1000 surgeries under his belt would be better than a urologist with 100 robotics . The down side on reg surgery is possible long recovery time. Dont be the guy your robotics urologist is practicing on or else he will not get all the cancer and you are then in for radiation. I opted for seeds and radiation at Dattoli clinic in Fl because of the small size of my prostate and that the cancer had gone outside the prpstate, I am free and clear for 2 1/2 years. I chose Dattoli because they only do prostate work and are one of the best in the world. I didn’t want to take any chance and regret it later. Good luck.

  1. A new study confuses the record on prostate cancer and bicycling » Biking Bis

    […] Long-time readers of this blog will know that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 2007. I had a minimally invasive prostatectomy with a surgeon who used a da vinci robotic device. I recovered wonderfully. […]

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