My New York Minute
In a New York minute, everything can change
In a New York minute, things can get pretty strange
Lyrics by Don Henley & Danny Kortchmar
At age 51, I have shared many New York minutes with my wife, family and friends. But my personal New York minute came at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, April 13 with a single look from my urologist.
My wife, MaryEllen, and I were seated in Dr. Paul’s exam room when he entered. Before he even spoke, I read the verdict in his eyes. I had prostate cancer. Oddly enough, my first two thoughts were: “I’m glad to see that after years of practice, this doctor isn’t a bit jaded,” and “how ironic that I work at the Prostate Cancer Foundation, heading up its communications efforts.” Dozens of other thoughts followed in rapid succession.
Eight weeks earlier, through my annual physical and routine PSA test, I was told that my PSA levels had nearly doubled from 3.0 to 5.8 within a 14-month period. There was no immediate cause for alarm. There could be a number of medical reasons for the rise, including prostatitis or BPH, an enlargement of the prostate. I had no symptoms. It could even be a false reading or a temporary, inexplicable elevation. After all, when it comes to diagnosing prostate cancer, the PSA test does have its benefits and shortcomings. I was referred to my urologist who, after consultation, scheduled me for a needle biopsy.
I’ll be honest, the needle biopsy isn’t something anyone in their right mind would willingly volunteer for no matter how high their scientific curiosity. (See post script.) But I suppose I have been through things much worse, such as the pain that led to my first root canal years ago. Most important: the biopsy gave us the data we needed.
My doctor explained that my biopsy revealed a “significant” but earlier stage cancer. Six of the 12 sectors of my prostate gland biopsied contained cancer. My Gleason scores in four sectors were 7 (4s+3s); in three they were 6 (3+3). Within the core samples that contained cancer cells, the percentage of cancer involvement was 93, 75, 36, 33, 3 and 1 percent of the core volume. At this point in the diagnosis, these numbers can lead patients, depending on various personal factors, to a number of treatment options. But, in my case, harboring this degree of cancer at just 51 led my doctor, wife and I to decide upon a more aggressive course of treatment. In my case, proactive surveillance is not an option. For many, it could be the only course of action ever needed.
As a side note, I am not much for gambling—I hyperventilate just placing a $10 bet at a roulette table.
I have elected to have a radical prostatectomy in the second half of May. Until then I will be busy dropping some pre-surgical weight through diet and increased exercise, getting a bone scan to confirm that the cancer has not metastasized and consulting with my surgeon. My biopsy slides will also have a second reading just to make sure nothing was missed in the first review. My wife and I will also be chasing down asnwers to the numerous questions, big and small, that are now popping into our brains on regular intervals.
At this time I am at peace with my decision to have surgery. In addition to my urologist, all of the talented scientists I work with on a regular basis, and with whom I have shared my data, have conferred that this is something I want to get out. This makes me feel good.
So, the cancer communicator has jumped the fence and become the cancer patient. It’s a new role I need to balance with my roles as father and husband, and a full-time professional. My family and I have been placed on an emotional rollercoaster that we need to ride out. Armed with data, the love and support of friends and more caring colleagues than I can count, we will do just that.
Since joining PCF, I have been issuing a simple call to men and families: Make Prostate Cancer Something to Talk About. Hence, the initiation of this blog. Through my treatment process I will share personal perspectives and insights—in no particular order—with the hope that it encourages discussion or provides some company to families who find themselves on a similar journey. Pick and choose what you need. Share in my therapeutic endeavor. This is no exclusive country club. We 1 out of 6 American men and our loved ones are all in this together.
P.S. As I reviewed my draft of this posting I realized that I do indeed know a brilliant prostate cancer researcher who told me that he has volunteered for several biopsies in the past. His team needed healthy tissue samples for their research. I am sure there are others like him. With much appreciation I salute them for their bodily and scientific contributions to the field.