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Celebrate Life! And Then There Were Three

by Cecilia Lacks

“Prostate cancer is not an old man’s disease.”

Bob Buhle, single and not dating anyone, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003 at age 39.

One week after his surgery, Buhle met his wife to be, Heidi. And on October 14, 2006, Heidi gave birth to their first child.

His story, full of hope and a celebration of life, is also one of early diagnosis, skilled treatment, and faith.

Before Buhle was diagnosed, he went to the doctor thinking he had a bladder infection. The initial examination showed Buhle had prostatitis, a bacterial infection of the prostate. The doctor felt nodules on his prostate during the exam, prescribed antibiotics and scheduled a PSA test for the following month. The first step with a rising PSA is seeing if it lowers with antibiotics, an indication of infection rather than cancer.

After the month-long antibiotic regime, Buhle’s PSA was tested and measured .6, but his doctor still felt the nodules and prescribed a biopsy. A week later, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“I didn’t know anyone could have prostate cancer at 39,” Buhle said.

“It took two weeks to reconcile the news with action. One doctor gave me the option of watchful waiting, but I wanted to move on and not have cancer be the central concern of my life.

“For support, I took my parents with me to see Dr. Catalona. After examining me, Dr. Catalona looked my mother in the eye and said, ‘Your son is going to be fine.’ He restored my faith as well.

“After the surgery and post operation pathology, Dr. Catalona told me that the cancer would have killed me at a young age if I had postponed treatment.

“I want people to know that prostate cancer is not an old man’s disease. Men should get tested early. It’s no big deal,” Buhle said.

Buhle has a large group of friends connected by a strong religious faith. They threw him a support barbecue the day before the operation. Knowing his desire to marry and his concern that he was going to be a less desirable candidate, “they prayed for me to find a nice woman, a wife, maybe even a nice nurse,” he said.

One week after surgery, catheter still in, sitting on a blow-up doughnut and being driven to places by his dad, he met his future wife (a medical assistant) at his softball league game. While he watched his teammates play, Heidi, a teammate’s sister, approached Buhle and gave him her telephone number. Buhle didn’t call.

“I didn’t know how I was going to function and that bothered me so I didn’t call. My friend told me he was going to stop praying for me if I didn’t call.”

As it happened, Heidi sent him a text message asking when they were going out, and he called her that night.

“I knew Bob had the operation, and I knew he was going through a rough time, but it didn’t make me less interested,” Heidi said.

“On our first date, I was still wearing a pad,” he said.

But it didn’t stop them from having a romantic dinner, enjoying a horse drawn carriage ride around downtown Chicago, going up the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, sharing a hot fudge sundae or him giving her a red rose at the end of the evening.

It also didn’t stop them from talking about his operation and what it could mean for their relationship.

“I didn’t want to fall in love and then tell her about the possible ramifications of the operation afterwards. I needed to be upfront and honest from the get go.”

“Men should get tested early. It’s no big deal.”

Heidi remembers that first date.

“We talked as if we knew each other for years. And he was so open and honest. It was refreshing. I told him we’d take it one day at a time. I knew I had met the man I was going to marry. And he knew too. Right away, we talked about marriage and he told me that he banked his sperm before his operation.”

Soon after that first date, she started going with him to checkups.

“I wanted to be updated and part of his recovery,” she said.

“Also, a few weeks after that date, I woke in the middle of the night with some movement in my penis. I knew it was going to take time, but I knew I was going to be fine,” Buhle said

One year after surgery, Bob and Heidi married. And two years later, their first child, Abigail, was born – conceived through In Vitro Fertilization at Northwestern Hospital with Bob’s sperm.

In most cases after a radical prostatectomy with nerve-sparing surgery by a skilled surgeon, potency returns completely in middle-aged men, but sperm need to be banked before the operation if patients want to have children in the future.

“We both have a strong belief in God and that faith helped us work through everything. Also, both of us have had life-changing events that help us cherish life. I am a cancer survivor and Heidi’s first fiancée died unexpectedly from an infection.

“We rarely talk about prostate cancer. It comes up only when I’m scheduled for a check-up. I don’t hang on it; it doesn’t linger.

One thing they know they can do is celebrate life. And Abigail is their biggest celebration.

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