The Bombs Are Dropped
Twice in my life, I’ve had a life-threatening “bomb”, one literally and one figuratively, come much too close to me.
The first one was at the beginning of my second week in Vietnam. I was what is known as a materiel officer in a maintenance battalion, a relatively safe position in a war zone. It was my 8th or 9th day “in country” as we used to say, and I had laid down for a few minutes after lunch. It was about 12:50 and I was lacing up my boots when a LOUD explosion rocked our hooch (what we called our living quarters). Moments later when no more explosions were coming in, we ran out checking for wounded (my boss, the battalion executive officer, was the only one wounded with a decent sized piece of shrapnel in his arm). We then went out to see the damage that it turned out a Soviet made 122 mm rocket had caused. It was unbelievable, obliterating about 12 feet of a reinforced concrete sidewalk as well as two 55- gallon drums (our hooch was surrounded by these drums of sand that had been about 12 to 15 feet from the rocket explosion).
They had just vanished.
The rocket had hit about 12-13 feet south of our hooch (I was fortunately in the north end at the time), and about 18-inches south of the reinforced concrete sidewalk. If it had hit the sidewalk or the hooch, I doubt I would writing this today.
Fast forwarding to the fall of 2011. I saw my urologist for my annual visit and my prostate specific antigen, more commonly called PSA test, which had been 0.3 ng/ml (that’s nanograms of PSA per milliliter of blood) ever since my first PSA test about 2005. But at this visit, it was .5, and my urologist, who can probably count on his fingers the number of times he’s seen 1.0 or less (4.0 or less is considered normal), said my PSA was fine and turned the page. But I said, “Wait a minute. That’s a 67% increase.” He went back and looked at my previous PSA, agreed with me, and said that we’d do the next PSA test in 6 months rather than a year.
Six months later, it had doubled to 1.0, and six months after that it was 1.3, i.e., more than quadrupling.
Of course, he now said it was time for a biopsy, but I had read that biopsies aren’t that accurate; have a high rate of infection for a procedure; and that there were a lot of doctors who argued against prostate biopsies, and no, I didn’t want to have one. Fortunately, my urologist convinced me to have one, which he did in April 2013, even though I knew it would be a waste of time.
At the time, the biopsy consisted of taking 12 “plugs” randomly from the prostate. Can’t say it was any fun, but I’ve had a lot worse procedures.
The bomb inside me
My next visit was 5/3/13 to discuss the biopsy results, and the second life-threatening bomb* was dropped. Not only did I have prostate cancer, I had a very high “grade” of cancer, known as a Gleason 8. (More about the Gleason score below.) And interestingly only 8% of one of the 12 plugs contained the cancer. If my urologist had been off by a millimeter on that plug, it most likely wouldn’t have been caught.
I was fortunate, I once read a great definition of luck—“Luck is when opportunity meets preparation”.
I will get into this in more detail in a future blog, but as noted, the first “bomb” was in Vietnam. I’ve since learned that prostate cancer is a disease associated with Agent Orange exposure. There is a much higher incidence of the higher grades (Gleason 7-10) among those of us who were stationed there versus Vietnam-era vets of the same age who didn’t have to go there. So both “bombs” were most likely due to my being in Nam. So please get used to me being on a “soapbox” encouraging my fellow Nam vets to get tested regularly.
Have you taken the Prostate Cancer Recurrence Quiz yet?