When this boomer’s flag went to half-mast

A scary but realistic fact for baby boomers: prostate cancer is the biggest killer in the developed world. Thankfully it often can be cured, but there is a price. This story, by baby boomer Tom Cooke in London, looks at how he coped with the intimate side of his happy marriage when prostate cancer came along.

It’s a problem I thought I could never have.

From the age of about 13, I woke every morning and there he was: the one-eyed trouser snake looking up at me like a baleful dog.

Then 50 years later everything changed. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

I was offered three options: radiotherapy to zap at it, brachytherapy, which is another form of radiotherapy, or surgery. But the only one to offer anything near certainty was surgery. Six weeks later I was on the slab.

Of course, my excellent surgeon warned me of the potential side-effects: Incontinence, for which we stocked up on man-size diapers; fatigue, so I arranged to take three months away from my company; and… reduced sexual prowess.

“For example, you won’t be able to ejaculate,” the surgeon told me and my wife. Oh well, at last some good news: there will be a saving on Kleenex.

We had always enjoyed a good sex life. Sure, when we were younger we were like rabbits. But this had matured into a loving and intimate relationship.

That side of our relationship was important to us. Often it was our way of making up after one of our blazing rows— my wife and I are both fiery creatures. Looking back, I often think that we manufactured a row to increase the intimacy. “Sexual Healing” as Marvin Gaye called it.

The operation was really successful. Some fatigue and no incontinence but… after the catheter had been removed (don’t ask where it was) and after I got over the fatigue, we had hoped that things would get back to near normal on the intimacy front. But no. There was a glimmer of light in the old dog, but it wasn’t the same. Viagra helped a little, but we were still struggling at half-mast.

So we went back to the surgeon to see what could be done. I knew a bit about this because, in my youth in the 1970s, I had worked as an editor on a publication for doctors called The British Journal of Sexual Medicine. I edited many articles on ED, as we called it affectionally, or Erectile Dysfunction.

Back then there were pumps for when the need arose; you essentially “played the bagpipes.” Or there were splints which meant you were always ready for action, but it was permanently strapped to your belly.

In forty years not much had changed, the surgeon admitted to us.

But, quick as a flash, he reached in his drawer and pulled out a syringe that he filled with liquid and waved it in front of my wife.

“You can use it as part of foreplay,” he told one of the most needle-phobic people in the world. “Be sure to avoid the major veins.” I caught her as she nearly fainted.

It worked. But it was left to me to shoot up (or down) in the bathroom, while she filed her nails in the bedroom. Talk about a killer of passion, not to mention romance.

So where are we now? The blue pills work a little, but we have rediscovered the importance of something we always had, and thankfully got back: intimacy.

There is nothing like going to sleep and waking up beside someone you really love, holding, kissing, and cuddling like teenagers, which sometimes leads somewhere but, hey, no pressure.

We got it right in the ’60s: Love is all you need.


  1. Thank you for this funny but sensitive treatment of a problem that affects many of us. I enjoyed the glimpse into your life and related to it. In our case I mourned the changes in our love life but loved that I had my husband alive and next to me for the rest of our lives.

  2. I really admire your honesty on an intimate topic that few would discuss in a public forum. You’ve probably helped countless couples experiencing the same struggles. I applaud you!!

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