My Cancer Story
Making an appointment
In October 2016, I expressed to one of my golfing buddies my dissatisfaction with my current doctor. My last two annual physicals involved limited testing and wound up with my Doctor saying you look good, whatever you are doing keep doing it.
My golfing buddy recommended that I make an appointment with his doctor at Emory Healthcare on Emory University’s main campus. When I called in October 2016 to make an appointment, the first appointment available for a new patient was in June 2017. So after much discussion, I was able to make an appointment with his doctor’s physician assistant on March 14, 2017. Lab tests for that appointment showed a PSA of 8.9. My previous PSA in 2014 was 1.9. Since a PSA above 4 is of concern, his PA asked if I wanted to see a urologist for a prostate biopsy.
The biopsy was done on June 2, and a week later the results were shared with my wife and me. My urologist (who happens to be a world renowned Medici robotic surgeon) began the conversation with that he is very, very, very concerned about me and the results. Of the 12 core samples, seven were more than 90% cancerous and the remaining five more than 60% cancerous, all with a Gleason score of nine. My initial reaction to his comments was saying well, it is what it is. But after leaving his office, I shed some tears, recognizing that I had just been told you may have late stage prostate cancer that has metastasized into other areas. So now incurable cancer and death were a real possibility.
When I called each of my three children to share this information with them, I could not get through the conversations without crying, which is not typical of a seasoned lawyer like myself. During the next week, I prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best. I actually wrote a draft of my obituary, which one of my daughters expertly edited to my satisfaction.
Emory immediately went into action, promptly scheduling a MRI, CT Scan, CAT Scan and PET Scan. Gradually as the test results came in, my situation was improving because there were no signs of cancer outside the prostate except for some markings on the some lymph nodes adjacent to the prostate.
On July 17, 2017, I had four and half hour Medici robotic surgery to remove my prostate. The most unusual thing about the surgery was that I was inverted (almost like standing on my head) for the entire procedure. When the anesthesia wore off, my head was seriously swollen and eyes filled with a lot of gook. After a couple of hours, this cleared up. While for me there was little pain, there was just stuff that made things a little uncomfortable. I was in the hospital for two nights and, here is the most trying part, I had a catheter and JP Drain attached to me for nine days. Every three hours, including during night, I had to get up and empty the bags, measure the fluid, and record in a log. When they pulled these from me, oh my, what a great feeling of relief!
The surgery went well, but cancer was present in 23 of 54 lymph nodes. My doctor indicated that there was still a lot of cancer in the lymph nodes that would need a treatment plan.
The surgery was pretty non-intrusive, just four minor incisions, all close to my belly button. About five weeks after the surgery, I was back playing golf.
About three weeks after the surgery, I was now in the hands of a medical oncologist who developed the treatment plan. My first PSA after surgery was 1.9. I was surprised that you still produced PSA after your prostate was removed, but apparently cancerous cells that escaped the prostate still produced PSA. My oncologist said we should wait another three weeks and do another PSA and see the direction of the test. As it turned out, the next PSA doubled to 3.2 and we developed a treatment plan.
A new treatment plan
The plan involved six chemotherapy infusions of docetaxel over an 18 week period and an injection of Lupron every three months for an indeterminate period. The chemo is designed to kill fast growing cells, like cancer cells, but also attacks healthy fast growing cells, which makes for all the chemo complications. Lupron is a hormone that suppresses the production of testosterone; prostate cancer cells need testosterone to grow.
I did not experience the worst side effects from the chemo (no nausea, vomiting, hot flashes, etc.), but there was plenty of unpleasant minor stuff, such as your exhaust systems (bladder/bowel) are taken over by the chemo and nothing seems right and you spend much too much time in the bathroom. After three chemos, my hair really thinned out and I was always extremely tired and just wanted to lay in bed and look at the ceiling all day long, plus walking up steps or any distance was really challenging.
When I went in for my sixth chemo infusion, my oncologist walked in and said, no more chemo, you have had three PSA tests where there was no detectable PSA. With those results, we can conclude you are in great shape and cancer free. The best of news for which I felt blessed and lucky.
It’s been two months since the good news and the side effects of the chemo still linger. I still lack stamina and find it hard to walk upstairs or more than 40 yards. But for the last three weeks I have been on a vigorous exercise program that involves 20 minutes of Pilates each morning, 30 minutes of walking or biking, and free weights every third day. It’s working and my strength is gradually building up and I am back on the golf course for a few holes, but the golf is not pretty. My outlook is good and my continuing treatment plan is to take Lupron indefinitely just as a precaution.
After the operation, I suffered loss of bladder control and was forced into wearing up to seven depends diapers per day. This was terrible and limited any desire to go anywhere and you felt like a newborn baby who always needed to be changed. One day looking at comments on Amazon about depends diapers, there was mention of the Cunningham Incontinence Clamp. I ordered the clamp and it is a game changer. It clamps laterally at the base of your Mr. Happy and stops the flow. It is so easy to work with, you can stand at a urinal, unzip, open the clamp, flow, and reclamp. I have been using the clamp for about four months, no issues and freedom of movement. With the clamp I use about one depends diaper a day and I wear the clamp 24 hours a day. I remain optimistic that I will eventually regain natural bladder control over time and I am making some progress, but in the meantime, hurray for the clamp!