Stats Angst: Waiting on Your Test Results
Unsurprisingly, given that I have prostate cancer and write about it, I get emails offering medical products and advice. One popped into my inbox just now and is from a doctor who writes for a British medical website. I won’t give her name as I’m going to be rude about what she has to say.
Don't patronize us about medical tests
Her article is titled "Do medical test make you anxious?" The piece features a picture of a beautiful young girl in her twenties looking pensive. I know young people get sick, but I have a feeling none of them will be reading this, which is clearly aimed at old trouts like me.
Here’s a snippet of what she has to say:
Medical tests are a necessary part of health management. Doctors often do blood tests, screening, and scans as a way of ruling out conditions or looking for a conclusive diagnosis.
But many of us have experienced the anxious waiting period between testing and results, not knowing if symptoms are benign or very serious. For those already living with anxiety, this worry can be heightened.
To which I would reply, yes doc we know this, we live it every day, so please don’t talk to us like we are children. If you want to give us practical advice on how to cope with stress, then go right ahead but don’t patronize us.
With which stage of prostate cancer were you last diagnosed?
Enter stats angst
I’ve heard what she’s referring to as Stats Angst and for those with prostate cancer, the stat that we are generally angsting about is that notoriously crude measurement: our PSA level.
Eighteen months ago, when I was first told I was part of the cancer club, the club that no one wants to join, my PSA stood at 5.03. Hormone therapy precipitated a plunge and within a month it was down to 2.61. Six months later it was 0.8 and following radiotherapy last fall, a test revealed it to be virtually undetectable at 0.07. All good until I went to see the doc last month. But before we get to that I want to pause and ask a question.
Follow up conversations are tricky
When having a consultation with your doctor, do you ever struggle to choose the right words?
Having prostate cancer means my talk with medics usually revolves around human plumbing. Here’s the problem: If I talk about excreta or feces, I sound like an uptight first-year medical student. If I talk about poop, I’m using baby talk and if I talk about shit, I’m swearing. Cancer, it’s not just your health you have to worry about, it’s your vocabulary too. But I’m guessing Americans have a more forthright approach to this and will just laugh at a coy Brit.
Talking of words, I’ve decided my least favorite sentence in the English language is: ‘I’m going to see my oncologist today.’
An unexpected PSA bounce
Back to Stats Angst: A week before seeing the oncologist in May, the vampires at the hospital, took blood and I was hoping my PSA level would be 0.03 or lower, which would classify it as undetectable.
No such luck, the Unwelcome Guest had other ideas and had bumped my PSA up to 0.1. I know that’s a small rise and doctors recognize something they call the PSA bounce after radiotherapy, with the numbers fluctuating, but frankly, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Hopefully, this will correct itself but if it were to continue on an upward trajectory and get anywhere near 2.0 then that would be a cause for concern.
Prostate cancer that comes back is called a recurrence and happens to 1 in 3 men after treatment for early prostate cancer, but as my treatment is on-going with hormone therapy still 18 months to run, we are ways away from that just yet.
Who else gets follow up anxiety?
My next appointment with the oncologist is in September and right now I’m enjoying the summer and our family is about to go on vacation, but what will the stats on my Stats Angst chart look like towards the end of August? Pretty much off the scale, I’d imagine. Anyone got advice for an anxious, hard-bitten, sixty-four-year old cynic?
Do you feel heard and understood by your doctor?