On Thursday I drove ninety miles to Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California to get blood work done to see if the hormone therapy I was on for a year had worked in curing my prostate cancer. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April of 2013. It was discovered because my PSA level, tested during a yearly physical exam, had crept past the 4.0 level, indicating a potential problem. I was referred to a local urologist who suggested two options. I could wait six months and retest the PSA or I could undergo biopsies to determine if any cancer was present. I chose the biopsies since I have a history of cancer, surviving stage 4 colon and liver cancer in 1996. They did 12 biopsies and all 12 came back positive for cancer and a very aggressive cancer. My doctor recommended that I go to the Stanford Cancer Clinic. I did, and I was scheduled for surgery at the end of May.
The prostate was removed and I was told everything looked great. They would test me in a few months to be sure that the PSA level was ZERO, indicating no cancer. Eight weeks later, the PSA came back at 0.3. Not good news. I was scheduled for radiation therapy right after Thanksgiving Day, and made the 180 mile round trip trek to and from Stanford every weekday until the 4th of January. In all, I had 35 radiation therapy treatments. Having undergone 60 chemotherapy treatments in 1997 and living through the hell that chemo does to one, I was amazed at how tolerable the radiation therapy was. The worst part of it was the drive. A couple of days, I got to my appointment to find that the radiation machine was not working, so I had to just turn around and drive home.
Being told that I tolerated the radiation therapy extremely well, I was looking so forward to the PSA coming back at ZERO. It came back at 1.46, higher than when I started the radiation therapy. Not good news.
I then met with the head doctor at Stanford and it was determined that I should start hormone therapy. I was injected with a drug called Lupron. The Lupron destroys all the testosterone in my system. The PSA feeds on the testosterone. With no testosterone, the PSA goes away and hopefully so do the cancer cells. That is a very simplistic explanation, but I think it will do. I was scheduled to get a Lupron injection every three months for a year, which I did. The drawback to Lupron is that when the testosterone goes away, so does one’s sense of manliness. During the year I was on the therapy, I felt like a jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was missing, but I felt a void and didn’t like it. I also became much more aware of my emotions, which is not a bad thing, but it was different. The other drawback to Lupron is the fact that the loss of testosterone causes the muscles to start breaking down, so for the last three months, the fatigue really set in and there was a lot of back and side pain. That went away as soon as the Lupron wore off and the testosterone started regenerating.
After the last Lupron injection, they waited three months and tested the PSA. It came back ZERO! I was in Heaven! A huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders and it felt so good! They told me they would test every three months just to make sure things were going okay.
Three months later the PSA came back at 0.2. Disconcerting at the least, but I was told that if it stayed at 0.2 things would be okay. Yesterday I got the results back for the 2nd three-month checkup. The PSA is now 0.4, which indicates that the hormone therapy did not work.
It is not the end of the world, at least my world, and I assume I will have to go back on the Lupron for a second try at it. As much as I don’t look forward to it, I like it a lot better than other options like not being.
I have people ask me all the time how I can go on, day by day, knowing I have cancer. My answer is simple. I have no other choice. I love being alive. So what if I have cancer? People with M.S. and people with diabetes and people with heart disease have to face life from their perspective and carry on. I choose to live my life happily, looking for the good and not dwelling on the bad. Fearing the unknown is really a waste of time, in my humble opinion, because tomorrow is an unknown for everyone living on the planet. At least I know what is wrong with me and can deal with it. There are people who refuse to go to the doctor because they are afraid they may find out something is wrong with them. They will worry themselves to death long before I leave this planet.
So, next Wednesday I make the trek back to the cancer clinic in Palo Alto and we sit down and discuss what the next steps will be. I will let you know.