(If you want to just read the good news – you can skip down to the section titled “GOOD NEWS STARTS HERE”)
Treating cancer is a lot like juggling, except you have no experience juggling, and you’re juggling knives, and they are on fire. It’s so easy to drop something, and dropping something is very, very risky. I feel like I dropped the ball once in this program so far. Did I drop it when I stopped paying attention to prostate cancer, too?
It was a Star Wars Shirt kind of day last Thursday. I was meeting with my long-time urologist, Dr. Bradford. Dr. Bradford and I have always had an understanding. I am an active, aggressive patient. And I let him be my doctor.
Dr. Bradford was the doctor who originally found my kidney cancer. Because I was so young he felt I was at risk for other cancers and started looking everywhere else, too. Well, he found some about 8 months after my first surgery.
Prostate cancer. What in the hell? How could I be diagnosed with two cancers typically found in retired men?!? We watched it for a year. I had multiple biopsies and countless PSA blood exams. The diagnosis was yes, there were cancerous cells in my prostate. It seemed to be small and very slow growing. After exploring all of the treatment options available to me, we decided on a pretty tough one: do nothing.
How could I choose to wake up knowing there was cancer just sitting there in my body?
- The treatment options had too many negative impacts.
- It was small, really small. Out of 24 core samples tested, 1 was an issue. 1 was inconclusive.
- My PSA was very elevated for a 43 year old, but it wasn’t going up (in time it would rise).
- As Dr. Bradford said, I am much more likely to die from kidney cancer complications than prostate cancer. “Let’s keep our eye on the ball.”
So, we did nothing. We watched. We waited.
We’d find kidney cancer twice more shortly after that time anyway. We really were focusing on the bigger issue. Although I’d go in about once a year for a scan, biopsy or blood test, I didn’t really pay any attention to the “other” cancer.
When my most recent spot was found in my right lung last month, I suddenly felt like I had not paid any attention to my prostate. When Dr. B. led me down this path of watching and waiting (the technical term is Active Surveillance), we both didn’t really expect me to be thriving 7 years after my first kidney tumor.
Had I been blissfully ignorant? What was I doing not paying attention to every piece of cancer in my body? How could I do this to my family? I am better than this! Crap, I scheduled an appointment to see him.
GOOD NEWS STARTS HERE
I genuinely think Dr. B. was surprised to see me. I mean, he didn’t proclaim my imminent death 7 years ago, but it was something we discussed. He was full of smiles, good news, and a good prognosis. My PSA is slightly down from last year. It’s still higher than what it should be for a 49 year old, but it’s stable. He recommended that I continue to watch my PSA and get a scan or biopsy once every three years.
We talked a lot about my current situation, the other doctors, and possible treatments.
This is what I heard. “Mr. Callaghan, I don’t want you to really worry about prostate cancer. The situation hasn’t changed much. Your PSA has actually gone down a little. Let’s get you through another 10 years of beating kidney cancer and then we’ll figure out a treatment for your prostate cancer.”
59. I haven’t really thought of me making it to 59 in a long, long time.
But Doctor Bradford has. God bless him.