Denis: 'Why I talk about my new penis'

Talking helps but it's not always easy. For Denis Taylor the subject he needed to talk about was probably the toughest of all: penile surgery.

I shook his hand and thanked him for saving my life. The doctor looked at me without emotion.

'I'll discharge you in a couple of weeks,' he said as I walked out from his office and into the hospital car park where my friend was waiting to take me back to reality.

I healed well and the graft from my leg had taken on its new role as my new penis gland.

Soon I could pee like a man, stood up that is. Even though the direction of the jet of urine was much less controllable than before. I took care not to use public male urinals just in case I revealed my oddity.

'You look great,' all my family said. 'Can you still have sex?' they asked and usually laughed or realised this was a delicate question and asked in a quiet embarassed tone. In reply I always smiled broadly and said 'no problem at all'. The truth was very different of course.

I could scarcely look at the damn thing let alone show it to a female.

They must be mad to think that nothing changes after you have had your real penis amputated, I thought, how can any man get used to that? When I returned to see my specialist for the final examination I was still 'getting-over' the shock of losing my real penis and trying to become accustomed to my new one.

After my official discharge I visited the hospital ward to thank the nurses for their care. As I walked into the ward the head nurse looked at me with a mixture of panic and relief.

'Thank God you're here', she said to me.

I looked at her curiously.

'One of our patients is running away.'

There was a man who had only just realised - on the morning of his operation - what was going to happen to him.

'Can you persuade him, he will die if he doesn't have the op,' said the head nurse.

I looked at her and walked into the ward and up to the man. I introduced myself and took his hand. I pulled the curtain and showed him the result of my operation. 'Its better than dying,' I said to him and he agreed. I wish someone would have shown me their penis before my operation. I said to myself.

The trouble is when you are diagnosed with penile cancer, you only hear the word 'cancer' and all explanation of the 'procedure' washes over you.

The full realisation of the 'procedure' only materialises when you are asked to get into your hospital bed. If only someone would explain medical things in plain language before you get to the hospital, if only there was someone who could comfort you before you arrived for the operation. As I walked from the ward I realised that nobody performs this service, nobody offers themselves as a reference.

I never realised how much my life would alter after my operation. After all, it was a success, I was cured so I carried on as if everything was as before.

Then some months later I started to crack up.

I couldn't concentrate on anything. I couldn't sleep at night or I slept for an unnatural amount of time. I viewed my own penis as an alien. My financial situation worsened as the news got out of my 'disability' and my debtors started pushing me for quick repayment of overdraft and loans.

The situtation became critical as confidence in myself deteriorated. My customers turned away in fear of me not being able to fulfill my contracts. I had become a shadow of my former self. Even life long business friends shunned me. It was easy to understand why, no one likes being around a person who is depressed.

I just couldn't help myself. I decided the best way to overcome this dreadful situation was  enforced isolation. I had to turn and face the reality that tormented me and I had to regain, rebuild or find a totally new me. I removed myself from my wife and family. I sat alone in a one roomed apartment and sobbed in private for months. I thought of suicide frequently but every time I thought back to a discussion years previously with a person who was suffering from depression and whom I had convinced that suicide represented the 'easy way out'.

So suicide was a 'no-no'.

Why didn't they warn me? I asked myself. But nobody had. I even felt guilty that I hadn't warned that frightened man in the hospital on the day of my discharge about depression. But how could I have done?

Once you're in a deep depressive state you can't think straight and looking for someone to help you seems pointless. After all, I wanted to appear to be a 'normal man' so much more now than before that I couldn't face talking to anyone about either my new penis or my depression attacks.

I lumbered on like a cart with one wheel for about eighteen months. I took on various meaningless jobs which enabled me to make the crucifying payment schedules enforced on me by my debtors. I lost weight and took refuge in alcohol. I become unable to view myself in a mirror as I became unkempt, lacking the self respect to groom myself.

Old friends fell away as I meandered into an abyss of self doubt and self pity. I could have obtained anti-depressants from my GP but I knew that would only represent a false and temporary relief from the  real problem. 'A quick fix for a superficial society,' I remembered thinking and resisted the temptation.

Eventually I turned to writing and painting. Mainly poems at first and then the beginnings of a black comedy in book form. Not one of those 'survivor type books' but an honest introspective notation of the voyage of a man who loses his penal gland and has to rediscover himself. I created over twenty large paintings starting with 'Cellular Abstraction' and ending in the 'Miracle of life'. Some of these illustrate this article although the originals are mostly over a metre square.

I went to the library to access the world wide web where I posted letters and offers of help or joined forums on a host of web sites. But that didn't really go too well. People it seems are just not interested in 'cured' cancer cases. They want to help them that 'think they may have cancer or those that are the carers for them that have it. I then began to consider if anyone at all had made 'consequence of cure' a topic of debate. But I couldn't find anyone who had.

I started to work on the consequences of cure myself and in some strange way this began to give me a direction.

I started thinking of others and began talking to people more openly about my new penis, my new direction and my new life.

I started thinking more clearly and more creatively and became more thankful that I had survived possibly the worst cancer that a man can have.

Women were fascinated by the innovative exclusively-male surgery I'd had and, although men still bent over double (as if kicked in the goolies) when I explained what my operation had entailed, they listened. Maybe because I explained the procedure with with a certain amount of humour. 'Seeing that I was to undergo plastic surgery, I asked if I could design my own penis,' I'd tell them.

If only someone had told me that talking about my new penis openly would help and that I should be aware that I could experience post clinical depression or worse still a major depressive disorder, then perhaps the last four years of hell could have been, if not avoided, then made less agonising. But nobody did nor, seemingly, does. Why is that?

I hope that writing this will encourage and help other men to open up and talk. Perhaps I should mount an art exhibition about the whole subject of male cancer. I wonder if  anyone would come to see it or if they would react like that frightened man in my old hospital ward and have an overwhelming desire to simply run away?

Page created on May 1st, 2008

 

This article reflects the experience of the individual. It is not health information from the MHF under the terms of the NHS England Information Standard. It was last updated in 2010.