PROSTATE CANCER, MY STORY
by Fred White
I was diagnosed with prostate cancer on November 19th 2009 , the events leading up to my diagnosis were kind of out of the ordinary. Tests for prostate problems are generally either the doctor checking the size and feel of the prostate using his or her finger via the rectum, and/or by way of a PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) blood test. The rectal exam is least preferred but the feel of the prostate holds a lot of information for diagnosis of a potential problem with the prostate.
I had my first PSA test in 2007 while attending the "Cruizin' For A Cure" car show at the Orange County Fair Grounds in September that benefits prostate cancer research at the City of Hope in Duarte, Calif. I attended the show the year before but did not take the test because I was there just for the cars and the fact the show was for a good cause. I never really considered the possibility of having prostate cancer myself. Also, being a guy, as we guys are, I really wasn't interested in any tests, checkups, or going to the doctor as a preventative health measure. My main interest was in the fire-breathing, earth-pounding, show stopping engines, chrome, and paint of muscle cars and classic beauties.
Well in 2007 after walking around the show grounds for a few hours taking pictures and admiring the beautiful machines on display, I decided since I had plenty of time so I'd get in line and have my blood drawn for a PSA test "just for the heck of it". In a few weeks I received my test results in the mail and it came out normal for my age, somewhere in the range of 3. Lucky me! Still unaware of the significance or importance of taking the test, over the next year I would hear more and more about prostate cancer from watching TV, and talking to friends.
I didn't attend the 2008 Cruisin' For A Cure car show due to another commitment but I did get a PSA test on orders from my doctor while getting my annual ten year physical (who needs a yearly physical? I'm a guy!!!) the only reason I was there was to get the wife off my back about going for a checkup. Well my PSA score came back at a whopping 7.5 and my doctor told me we need to follow up and find out what's going on. Unfortunately within a few weeks my doctor passed away. So i didn't follow up on the high PSA score until the next year (2009) at the annual Cruisin' For A Cure car show where I once again took the test. About 3 weeks go by and I received my test results in the mail, opened it up and was stunned to see a score of 9.9 and the letter advising me to see my doctor as soon as possible for a follow up.
Well my wife Irma read the letter and immediately called our family doctor and made an appointment. I go see the doc with my test results in hand and he sends me to a urologist who does another PSA test, by this time the number was even higher, 10.4. The urologist educates me on the prostate and what the numbers meant and told me a biopsy would be necessary to verify whether cancer was truly present. Within a couple weeks I had the biopsy done and the result was not only positive for prostate cancer, but the prostate was "well involved" with cancer. I was then sent for x-rays, a MRI, and a bone scan to determine whether the cancer had spread to other areas or to my bones. It hadn't spread according to the tests.
The doctor discussed my options, a couple forms of radiation, or surgically removing the prostate. He also advised me of all the possible side effects, including loss of sexual function, temporarily or permanently, and trouble using the rest room. None of these sounded good to me but I knew I had to make a decision on treatment and hope for the best with the side effects. Well over the next couple of weeks I read literature on prostate cancer the doctor had given me and talked to a few friends who had prostate cancer and had surgery to remove the prostate. I also talked to a couple guys that had had radiation using the "seeding" method and were successful. One friend Chuck Fenton, advised me to give Debbie Baker a call, she is the person responsible for creating and organizing the Cruisin' For A Cure car show. Debbie unfortunately lost her husband to prostate cancer after having radiation and a long & painful battle against the cancer. Debbie was adamant about having the prostate removed, saying if her husband had had his removed he would most likely still be alive.
Debbie told me about all the great advancements made at City of Hope in treating prostate cancer and their Da Vinci S robotic surgical equipment for removing the prostate and how superior it is over the standard surgical method of removal. I did a little research on the robotics and just as Debbie told me it is truly amazing and allows doctors to spare many nerves inside the body that would ordinarily be damaged or destroyed when done by hand resulting in a much shorter hospital stay and avoiding many of the serious side effects. The City of Hope employs some of the best doctors in the world dedicated to treating prostate cancer and research and treatment of all cancers. City of Hope's Dr. David Josephson, a young (and very handsome according to my wife) doctor who's resume and experience is as amazing as the Da Vinci robotics itself. I told Debbie I would talk to Dr. Josephson so she contacted him to let him know I would be making an appointment.
A week or so later I went to see the doctor, and he started his own battery of tests to confirm the previous diagnosis, after everything was confirmed I agreed to the surgery and it was performed on Feb. 15, 2010. The surgery took about 3 hours, I needed very little blood, which was my own that they took before the surgery, I went home the next day. If the surgery had been done by a regular surgeon the standard way without the use of robotics I would have been in the hospital for a week or more and needed up to 7 pints of blood (wow, what a difference).
In talking with the doctor after the procedure he informed me that the surgery was a little more involved due to the fact that during the surgery they found the cancer was advancing fairly well and had just started to spread outside the right side of the prostate. Dr. Josephson informed me that I would need radiation after a few months. This news was not good to hear but the doctor was optimistic that I would do well and come out just fine.
The staff at City of Hope really made my stay as comfortable as possible, they have some amazing people working there. I woke up in my room after the surgery and was in some pretty good pain but they gave me pain meds that helped me get through the next few hours fairly well. I had to wear a colostomy bag (for the next week) which wasn't very comfortable either. Later that evening the nurse came in and told me they needed me to try and walk a little as soon as I could. I told the nurse "I'll try and get up next week". . .maybe! She informed me of the importance of walking a little so I agreed to try in the morning. the next morning the nurse comes in to have me walk so I eased out of the bed, with her assistance and took a slow but short stroll down the hall. A few hours later I got up and walked around the room a few times. A little later I was feeling much better so my wife helped me take a walk up and down the hall.
That afternoon the nurse came in an asked me if I felt well enough to go home, I wasn't quite sure at the time but felt I probably would later on which I did so they let me go home. The first evening at home consisted of me trying to relax in my recliner (thank God for recliners), then trying to sleep in my bed which I could only stay in for about a hour and it was back to the recliner where I slept for the rest of the night (in between getting up to empty the colostomy bag). For the next couple nights I was able to sleep in my bed for a couple hours before becoming uncomfortable and returning to the recliner. After a few days of this I was able to sleep in the bed the entire night and boy did it feel good.
Dragging the colostomy bag around was a pain but I was thankful it wasn't permanent and dared not complain. As each day passed I felt better and better and welcomed the day (a week after surgery) I'd have the bag removed, and what a relief it was! I still had a little pain and discomfort over the next couple weeks but each day got better and better. Going to the restroom was not the easiest thing to do but again it got better each passing day. It's very important to walk as much as you can while recovering but not over do it. After three and a half weeks I was back at work and fortunate my work mostly involves sitting and working at a computer most of the day. A comfortable chair is very important. I figured I'd try a couple days before working a whole week so I worked Thursday & Friday then had the weekend to rest. To my surprise that Monday was a difficult day, very uncomfortable all day with some pain. I figured I just needed to get use to being out but by the end of the week I realized I should have taken another week (or 2) off. After that things weren't so bad, my boss brought in a recliner (from his home) which made a huge difference (I have a great boss, very caring and compassonate) and it did me good to be productive again. From then on, each week got better, excluding a day here or there when I was uncomfortable and experienced a little pain.
Three months after my surgery I went for another PSA test which came out to 0.2 and the doctor wanted me to start radiation treatments a little sooner than first planned (due to the extent of my cancer). So I started my journey through radiation treatments, 5 days a week for 6 weeks with which they tried to zap any remaining cancer in the area where the prostate was. The possible side effects of which are fatigue, and issues using the rest room. I did have some days of fatigue but really no problems using the rest room. I had my treatments late afternoons which allowed me to go to work every day, and my boss let me go home early if I got too tired, which I had to do a couple times.
The treatments were fairly successful and my last score was 0.1 so the number did go down and as long as it doesn't rise we'll just keep an eye on it. I took another test in November and my PSA had started to rise again, so for me unfortunately the cancer had spread. I was put in the care of the wonderful Dr. Pal and his assistant Courtney who started me on a clinical trial drug (with my agreement) which slowed the progress of the cancer and thing started looking good. But I just happen to have an agressive form of prostate cancer and after a few months my PSA scores started rising yet again. So Dr. Pal took me off the clinical trial and switched me to the more traditional hormone treatment.
The new treatment started working very well, got my numbers back down to undetectible and I've been that way for the last 3 years.
One of the best things one can do in a journey such as this is keep a positive mind, keep laughing and enjoying people and life, relax and take it day by day. But I must confess, having a wonderful loving wife, and some of the greatest friends a guy could ever wish for, along with The City of Hope is more important than you can imagine, I've been truly Blessed.
In closing remember, get that yearly PSA test, and doing good things for one another is what makes God smile!
City of Hope