My first cancer diagnosis came by “accident” (if you believe in such things) in late 1999, when everyone thought Y2K was biggest problem to worry about. I went to the doctor for a stomach bug, but while I was in the office, he ordered a series of blood tests, and gave me some antibiotics. The infection went away, as well as the symptoms. Chalk one up for modern medicine. But the doctor noted that my PSA level was a bit high, which he felt was probably due to the infection and recommended we “watch” the numbers. We set an appointment for me to come back in six months.
Clarification: Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by the prostate gland. The PSA test measures the level of PSA in the blood via a blood sample. The higher the PSA, the more likely there’s the presence of cancer.
Source: National Cancer Institute
For more than a year the numbers barely moved; still higher than considered “normal” (As much as that word ever applied to me!)…but not high enough to be overly concerning. Ironically, it was during this time that I met my wonderful partner. (If he’d known what was ahead, I wonder if he’d have run like hell?) We dated for several months and eventually moved in together. In August on 1999, we purchased our first house, and began remodeling. Then in September, my numbers doubled. The doctor did a “digital exam,” (which does NOT involve a DVR!) and was still convinced it wasn’t cancer…but he ordered a biopsy. “It’s a one-in-a-million chance,” he told us. I was a bit young, and Prostate Cancer is typically found in older men. Plus, I had no other symptoms. He
A few days after the biopsy, at nearly ten o’clock in the evening, my doctor called with the news. I had cancer. (I told the doctor later: as much as I like being “one-in-a-million,” this time I would have settled for Miss Congeniality!)
My partner and I cried, then prayed. I assured him that God was big enough for this. The next day, we went to the doctor for a consultation. Because of my age, he recommended the most aggressive protocol: removal of the prostate, a radical prostatectomy. (It has nothing to do with my politics.)
Surgery, Treatments…and more Surgery
We scheduled surgery for October. A few days after I got home, the doctor called to inform us that we didn’t get all the cancer, and I would need to have radiation treatments. After many more tests, it was decided that I would do seven weeks (five days a week) of radiation. According to my research (I always do my own research!) some people have little or no reactions to this treatment, but I was very sick. I lost almost 30 pounds during the process, along with other physical issues and “delightful” challenges that aren’t considered polite conversation in respectable company. (That’s what my momma always taught me.) I required a couple of corrective surgeries within the next year.
Cancer – The Sequel
Annually for more than twelve years, I did a PSA blood test, which showed zero.
But then, the results came back with a slightly elevated reading; not much (.03)…but just enough to send me back to my specialist. We did another test and the number increased again. There was no doubt in my mind what it meant, (Remember, I do my research) but my partner was not convinced so we consulted another specialist who confirmed it: the cancer was back.
Again there were tears, and prayers.
Once more I affirmed to my partner: God is big enough for this..again.
This time, we found out just before my birthday. It was definitely NOT the present I wanted! (I'd asked for a gift card; I would have settled for socks and underwear.)
We discussed treatment options with the doctor, and decided on Hormone Suppression Therapy. It’s been shown that testosterone “feeds” prostate cancer, so the goal of these injections is to reduce the body’s production of this hormone to nearly zero. Technically, it’s chemical castration. (TMI?) The doctor warned that it would like going through menopause, times ten!
As I look back, I think he underestimated!
It’s not a cure, but it does appear to be working for me. My testosterone is barely registering and more importantly, my PSA levels remain negligible. We knew going in that the side effects of this procedures were not pleasant, both from the treatment medication and my body’s lack of hormones. But we didn’t anticipate that I would have such several and debilitating difficulties. Because of my difficulties with the side effects, my doctor put me on disability in the fall of 2013. It’s still strange not going to work every day; I miss being around people.
Obviously, I’m angry that I have cancer…again. (It wasn’t that much fun the first time, so it’s not like I wanted a repeat performance!) According to my Oncologist, we are “managing” the cancer. I tire out easily, which I find so annoying. Weakness in my legs sometimes makes it difficult to walk, so I’m not using a cane. I have good days and not-so-good days…which can even be the same day. But I’m mostly able to go about my daily life in a somewhat "normal" fashion. (Who, me?)
There you have it—my journey to this point. Hope you weren’t too bored.
(Could be worse. I could have shown vacation slides!)