Sunday, July 26, 2009

Who Gets Prostate Cancer?

I sure did not think I would ever get it. But as I think about that statement I realize I did not think or know much about the prostate gland let alone prostate cancer. My life was good (and still is even though I have PCa and I am presently unemployed); I thought I was in good health; I tend to eat a relatively low-fat, healthy diet; and I am in pretty good shape for the shape I am in. I have used soy milk for years in my oatmeal. Isn't that the magic formula for good health? Why was I not prepared to hear that dreaded diagnosis on June 30, 2009? There were signals all around me, but I was not tuned in to the right station.

Some like to weigh in with the “what if” game. I am one that typically does not go down that road, but in this case it might be interesting. For starters, let’s look at what I knew or did not know. I hate to admit it but I was not well acquainted with my little buddy "the prostate gland" and how vulnerable he was to cancer. What I had logged into my brain was the statement that “more men die with prostate cancer than from it.” That automatically left me off the hook, or so I thought. But in the “what if” game, would things have been any different had I known that 1 in 6 men will have prostate cancer in their life time and this statistic jumps to 1 in 3 if your father had the disease? In my case, my father did have PCa that he had treated and is doing quite well. Or, that 220,000 men will be diagnosed with PCa this year? In the case of men whose fathers have or had PCa it is imperative to know that part of your family health history. If you do not know, ask someone who does.

What if I had been more aware of what was beneficial for my prostate and what was detrimental to its well being? I had some ideas like red fruits and vegetables are good (the lycopene connection;; soy products are a friend of this gland; and “be sure to take your saw palmetto.” Now that I am on this side of the prostate cancer statistics I am finding out what a large part diet and exercise play in prostate health. Good nutrition is always important whether you have PCa or not. It is interesting that the nutritional elements that help in the war against high cholesterol and heart disease are in the war chest for prostate health. It is kind of like everything you know you should not eat, you eat because you live in the USA. The land of milk and honey is now the land of beef and pork and the high fat diet. That is slowly changing with heightened consumer awareness to the benefits of a healthy diet. Would things be different had I known the effects of diet and nutrition in fighting PCa years ago?

Since I cannot go back and change my past or even what I learned or did not learn in the past, what can I do now? That brings me to the purpose of these writings: to help me process my thoughts and actions in fighting this battle; and to send out a signal in helping others heighten their prostate health awareness. That includes what has been mentioned above as well as screening and early detection. Cancer does not always play by the rules, but it is wise to be proactive. To the best of your abilities, be in charge of your health!

Friday, July 24, 2009

A New Journey into the World of Prostate Cancer

“…and we regret that we are not able to issue a policy.”

"The decision was influenced by the following:
The results of your ELEVATED PSA RESULTS"

These are the words that put us on a journey into the unknown world of prostate cancer (PCa) on May 20th 2009. At the time we did not have a diagnosis of PCa, but the words mentioned above from West Coast Life Insurance Co. triggered the events that led to that diagnosis on June 30th, 2009. My previous PSA levels from earlier physicals were slightly high but not alarming. Even my current level is not alarmingly high for my age group. At 4.02 it was .01 above the insurance company’s threshold. What we realize now is that we should have been put on “Prostate Cancer Alert” years ago.

My urologist informed me that I am in the very early stages with this slow growing cancer and the outlook for a healthy positive outcome is very good. That .01 was a gift, not a curse. When you have prostate cancer you would rather know earlier than later. Even so, it is still a diagnosis that one does not look forward to hearing regardless of the stage. At this point on our journey we are at the “treatment options” phase, which we have found out with PCa is not a “no brainer” decision. Fortunately with my early diagnosis we have time to sort through the options in making our decision on a treatment plan we feel is best for our situation.

The “we” part of this equation is my wife and myself. What we have found out along the way is that doctors are great allies in this battle, but the ultimate decision rests in the hands of the PCa patient. This is because there is no “clear cut” treatment (no pun intended) for a person with a diagnosis like mine, or perhaps yours (early stage PCa and contained within the prostate).

Going in for my consultation with my urologist to get the results of my biopsy, I had already come to grips with the likelihood that I had PCa. Instead of being part of the "1 in 6" men that will be diagnosed with PCa I was in the "1 in 3" camp (my father also had PCa). During my initial exam with my urologist, he found a nodule that he informed me had a 25% chance of it being cancerous. With these factors all aligned I thought I was “prepared” to hear the news. What floored me was hearing that surgery was the preferred option for treating my cancer in my stage and at my age. My first reaction was that this seemed pretty drastic. But then again, I had not enrolled in PC 101 yet.

I was also encouraged to look into the other options, but the idea of surgery had never crossed my mind. My father had excellent results with Brachyherapy (seed implants) and that was the treatment I was expecting to hear for which I was an ideal candidate. From that day forward my wife and I have been enrolled in this self-guided crash course in Prostate Cancer research.

As we have discovered with PCa, there is much information floating around with no one treatment standing out above the rest. This is evidenced in the testimonial sections of the many websites directed at PCa patients. What you find are many good treatment options with varying degrees of success in the results and side effects. We are still in the “undecided” camp when considering the options with additional consultations and second opinions scheduled. It would be nice if someone could walk up to you and hand you a key to unlock the door to the right treatment for you. However, it is more like a serious game show where you must choose your prize from behind one of the many doors that you have before you. At least in our case the doors are marked. The uncertainty lies in not knowing for sure what results you will have once you go through your door of choice.

This is where we are today: seeking, sorting, and studying the options. What door do we choose? The doors that appeal to us the most are in the radiation camp, with Proton Therapy at the top. Next week that might change when we meet with a radiation oncologist as we look further into other radiation therapies. An interesting side note is while seeking opinions and data from various medical professionals, my wife stumbled upon a Male Clinic in our area that treats ED as well as other male conditions. This particular clinic deals frequently with patients with ED issues following surgery. We understand ED is a concern with any of the treatment options, but this comment caught our attention.

For now we ask for God’s direction in this phase. We know already what part of His plan is for us … and that is that we are to go through this life challenge with Him before us. We already have a great sense of His calling and purpose in this. God has divinely placed a number of people and resources in our path that have been and will continue to be part of our support network with this cancer. Stay tuned for details!