Reassuring Stories From the Hood

35 years after leaving my hometown of New Hyde Park, New York, two recent connections provide positive examples of survivorship and optimism.

 

It’s funny how life works. Sometimes you can’t see what it is up to unless you step back and make a conscious effort to “see the the forest for the trees.”
Several weeks ago during my evening commute, GE7-36… came to mind out of nowhere. I was intrigued by the random appearance of this alpha-numeric sequence. I recognized the combination of letters and numbers as the beginning of the phone number of my very good friend from elementary school, Michael. Through the years and life’s hectic pace, I had lost touch with him. In the past year or two, Facebook and Google searches provided no clues as to to his whereabouts. I never imagined that I could use the same telephone number I used to call him 42 years ago. GE7-36… GE7-36… GE7-36… Like some code breaker in Mission Impossible,my mind kept repeating the sequence until finally, the last two digits fell into place, pulled from the recesses of my mind. I smiled. Considering the games Lupron can do to my short-term memory, this seemed a momentous achievement.

No time like the present, I thought to myself and voice dialed the number. Within minutes, I was back in touch with my friend and learned that he was in his childhood home taking care of his father who has been battling recurrent prostate cancer for nearly 20 years. In a small world moment, I learned that his father has been receiving treatment all this time at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan–the same center with which I have regular contact in my professional role. Michael’s father, now in his 80s, is doing well. While his survivorship has no doubt had it share of challenges, he remains an active gentleman who is able to enjoy life with his family.

Following a lengthy catch up session and exchange of email info, I hung up. I realized that I had not only reconnected with a old friend, but I was given a strong reminder that even many cases of recurrent cancer can be managed with positive outcomes for many years.

Last week, another connection to my hometown was made. As I scanned my morning prostate cancer news roundup, I noticed a New Hyde Park Patch Volunteer Profile on Don Pospisil, a prostate cancer patient who has been cancer-free since his diagnosis and surgery 16 years ago. The story was an upbeat report on life after prostate cancer and Don’s commitment to the Make A Wish Foundation on Long Island. I immediately contacted Don and asked him to share his story. I believe it can boost the hopes of many. All too often, us patients can get stuck in neutral. (See: A Shift Out of Neutral) Here is Don’s contribution:

It all started in the spring of 1995 when I was 44 years old and started to get recurring prostate infections. I went to my regular doctor who referred me to an urologist. After going for tests all he could tell me was: “I can’t say you do have cancer and I can’t say you don’t have cancer”! Well that wasn’t too reassuring so my regular doctor referred me to another urologist, Dr. Waldbaum who was head of Urology at North Shore Hospital at the time. Dr. Waldbaum then referred me to one of his associates–Dr. J. Steckel.

Dr. Steckel did all the tests as well. He found that my PSA level was 4.5 and after doing the “finger test” suggested that he should further examine my prostate and take a biopsy. After this procedure, the Dr. Steckel said to me “Don’t worry – you’re too young to have prostate cancer”! Well this really sounded reassuring to me until one week later when he called me with the bad news – yes, you do have prostate cancer.

Well the news was quite devastating–nobody wants to be told they have cancer! But, it wasn’t all bad news. The doctor said the cancer was caught very early. I then had my cancer consultation with the doctor in which my options were laid out. My three options were: 1) I could just wait to see if it got worse–not an option in my book, 2) Have radioactive seed implants–the downside of this treatment was that if the radiation didn’t get every cancer cell the cancer could come back and possibly be all but impossible to cure. So, I didn’t like that option either. The final option was a radical prostatectomy which scared the heck out of me. But after the doctor assured me that he could do a “nerve sparing” prostatectomy and that I would still have a normal sex life afterwards (except I couldn’t have kids any more, but that wasn’t a problem for me) made me feel a little better. He also assured me that by removing the entire prostate he would get all the cancer because the cancer was confined to the prostate and hadn’t spread. And, he said that since the cancer was caught so early I didn’t need the operation until September.

I must admit it was a long summer that year, but my wife did a great job keeping me going for the next three months, and we had a great summer together, even touring Hawaii. On September 8, 1995 I had the operation. I won’t say the operation was a breeze–it was painful, and wearing a catheter for 2 weeks wasn’t easy either. The first week was the hardest, but it got easier as time went on and after three weeks of recuperation I was able to return to work. Within six weeks I was back to jogging and feeling pretty much back to normal. So, the advice I would give to other men today is to make sure to have a PSA test done after age 40 not 50 like some in today’s medical community advise. It was only because I had a symptom that I had a PSA test done and that’s how my cancer was discovered. I’m sure there are men out there who do not have symptoms but could still have prostate cancer, so that’s why this test is so important. In closing, I must also say that having a very good experienced doctor is also important. I can say without a doubt that Dr. Steckel was excellent, and truly I owe him my life, not only for finding the cancer but also for doing a fantastic job removing it!

I am no longer surpised by the confluences of life. I just enjoy keeping an eye open to see them appear. Thank you Don for sharing your story. We love hearing stories like yours! All the best to you and your family.