Published: Aug. 4, 2017

Three little words that can change lives

MSU nursing alumna Brenda Redner, of Modesto, California, retired in 2001 after a 25-year nursing career that spanned oncology, home health nursing, psychiatric nursing and teaching. She co-authored two books with her husband, Rick, also a graduate of MSU, about coping with prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

The phone rang early on that Sunday morning in January 2011. It was Rick’s surgeon, calling about his biopsy report. When he brought his wife, Brenda, to the phone, so they could hear the news together, that’s when they heard those three little words no one ever wants to hear: “You have cancer.” The diagnosis: prostate cancer, moderate aggressiveness. He was only 57 years old.

It was an excruciatingly long wait until Rick’s surgery two months later. After surgery, his cancer was gone — but so were some other vital bodily functions that most healthy men take for granted. He experienced complete incontinence and complete erectile dysfunction. The devastation of his physical condition led to many sleepless nights. “Prostate cancer is not a man’s disease, it’s an ‘us’ disease,” says Brenda.

Through it all, Rick had the support of his wife, who is also a Spartan nurse. They went to numerous medical appointments as they kept searching for answers and gaining knowledge of various research in men’s health. Assisting with choosing the best treatment was part of their story. Finding the treatment with the least negative outcomes was the goal.

“I didn’t know it then, but the news about my husband’s cancer diagnosis would lead to the challenge of my life.”

At one point in her nursing career, Redner had worked in oncology. And the most rewarding aspect was caring for cancer patients and their families — providing not only the physical and medical care, but also attending to their emotional and psychological needs.

“My husband’s diagnosis of prostate cancer has given me so much more regard for every person diagnosed with cancer. This experience has taken me to a new depth of understanding that I had never known before,” she says.

“I recall that MSU’s nursing application asked us to describe our philosophy of nursing. I remember my response; I felt it was important to look at the whole patient—not only the physical, but also the emotional, psychological, social, and religious aspects. After I was accepted into the program, I learned that this was also the MSU nursing program’s philosophy,” she says. “I still believe it today. You really have to care for the whole person.

“After the surgery, dealing with my husband in complete incontinence kicked in my nursing skills. Dealing with complete erectile dysfunction forced me to do research and become a helper in all aspects of his care.”

After one year, the incontinence issue was resolved. After five years, they found a solution for the erectile dysfunction.

Together, they have written two books, "I Left My Prostate in San Francisco — Where’s Yours?: Coping with the Emotional, Relational, Sexual and Spiritual Aspects of Prostate Cancer;" and "Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Erectile Dysfunction and Penile Implants: End Your Silence, Sadness, Suffering and Shame."

“Our hope is that other families touched by prostate cancer can see how important it is to keep going, to learn resilience, to not give up.”