September is prostate cancer awareness month. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States. It is estimated that 29,430 deaths from this disease will occur this year. Most prostate cancer is preventable with proper screening. A simple blood test and an exam by your primary care doctor is usually all you need. I am hoping that by telling my story I can help save at least one person.
In June of 2009 I went to my doctor with food poisoning and casually mentioned that I was going to the bathroom frequently at night. He gave me an exam and said he didn’t like what he found. He suggested I have a biopsy of the prostrate, despite the fact my PSA was within normal range. I went under general anesthesia and they took 12 samples. Seven of the 12 samples came back positive for cancer. I was quickly scheduled for surgery to have the prostate removed.
The surgeon who removed my prostrate told me two things. First off, he said if I had come to him first, he wouldn’t have recommended the surgery as my PSA was lower than his. Second, he told me that I had a very aggressive, fast spreading form of cancer and if I had waited 2 to 4 weeks, he wouldn’t have been able to save me. Even with the surgery I still needed radiation. My recovery was not easy and I was off work for almost 7 months. I had filed for FMLA and was surprised at how supportive the company I worked for was.
The past 10 years have been filled with ups and downs. I’ve had 1 surgery that required hospitalization and 4 ambulatory surgeries. I’ve had 2 biopsies, have been to 3 different hospitals, and have been treated by over half a dozen new doctors. I’ve had CAT scans, PET scans, MRIs, X rays and sonograms. I’ve had 5 cycles of chemo, three rounds of radiation and hormone therapy. I’ve had 2 deep vein thrombosis, 2 pulmonary embolisms and now have a mediport in my chest and a permanently installed Greenfield filter. I had so many procedures and had taken so many drugs I keep a small notebook.
In 2012 the cancer metastasized in the fatty tissue below my liver which was eliminated with radiation. Then in 2014, I was told I had stage 4 cancer, this time in the lymph nodes in my lower abdomen and in my chest near my windpipe. We began chemotherapy. The spring and summer of 2014 was a scary time. The chemo weakened me immensely. I would have one week where I was either bedridden or in the hospital, then a week where I was barely functional. I would then have a third week that I was kind of OK before I had chemo again. My medi-port caused further complications with blood clots.
It seemed like I was either bed ridden or in the hospital from complications for most of May and June of 2014 and was actually admitted to the hospital 3 times in June. Even with the chemo we weren’t making the progress we were hoping for. Dr. Yi from CCS said that I should try more radiation to treat the hot spots because I always responded well to it. Thankfully I did.
In the fall of 2014 the radiation along with a daily self-administered dose of chemo won! Although they said the cancers were gone, and there were no new hot spots, I am still taking the daily chemo and will always need to be vigilant.
My support network has been phenomenal. I think of is as the ripples you get when you throw a stone in a pond. The first ripple is my wife, who has said she is finally glad I am as stubborn as I am. Without her love, help and support, I could not have made it. Then come my children, which include my daughter in law Heidi who are behind me 100%, constantly pushing me up yet another hill I have to climb.
Third ripple is my grandchildren, who pull me along by bringing me immeasurable joy, laughs and love. Next I have friends and relatives who have shown me their true colors by their actions and support.
The following ripple is the many, many medical personnel, who with their skill and dedication, have enabled me to survive the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
After that comes the place I worked at, who supported me every way possible. From flexible work hours to working from home and time off when I need it.
Finally I have the people that shovel my snow, cut my grass and help me without being asked. I appreciate these acts of kindness more than I can say.
Sharing my story is important to me so I can let others know cancer is just one word not a sentence, that winning against the impossible is possible and that they are not alone in their fight. I implore every man young or old to undergo prostate cancer testing by having a blood test and an exam by your doctor. Don’t be one of the 29,000, your family and friends need you.
Norb is a writer that lives in Lockport but grew up in Buffalo. After living in Fall River Mass. for a few years during his time in the Navy, he returned to his beloved Western New York. You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.