My Bout With Prostate Cancer by Phil Barboni
Working extremely hard for 41 years in the high-technology product development and manufacturing world, I decided it was time for me to retire. This choice would represent a very significant change in my life, and certainly something that required a lot of advance planning. Being an electrical engineer, I treated this project like any other, and actually began the initial groundwork five years in advance. I eventually set the date as March 31, 2010, the time quickly passed and my last day was rapidly approaching. I was confident everything had been taken into account and was both ready and anxious to make the most significant transition of my life.
It would help to know that I have always taken my health and well being quite seriously. I get check-ups every year, eat healthy, exercise, and do my best, although not always successful, to control the daily stress in my life. I have always taken all the recommended medical tests when advised and have tracked the results on a spreadsheet in my computer for the past 28 years. At the age of 64, I am generally in excellent health and take medication only for elevated cholesterol. Bottom line…I was totally ready both physically and mentally, and prepared for a very active retirement, and finally some time to myself.
Over the preceding 13 year period, my PSA averaged 1.6 and there was little fluctuation from this value. In 2008 my test produced a 2.3 reading, but I was getting older, and since the value was not over 4.0, my cardiologist was not too concerned. A year later in December 2009, my test result was 4.3. Although just over the mystical 4.0 number, I did sense some concern as the PSA velocity (rate of change) was high at 75%.
I had been out of the country, and upon my return in early January I was referred by my cardiologist to a highly regarded urologist. Always ready to do what has to be done, I went to his office that afternoon to make an appointment. I soon discovered that it is not easy to get an appointment with this urologist, and was scheduled for an evaluation 6 weeks later.
After the initial consultation and some further research on my part, I decided to have a biopsy done on my prostate, and scheduled it for the following week. I was told it would take 1-2 weeks to get the results from the pathology report. As each day passed, ever mindful of my impending retirement date, I was beginning to feel anxious about the report outcome. A friend of mine, who recently had a biopsy done on his prostate with the same urologist, told me he got his results (benign) in just four days…why was mine taking so long. After 10 days I began to call the doctor’s office and pressure them to get the pathology report from the hospital. The harder it was to obtain this information the more concerned I became, but at the same time my mind-set was still…certainly my report won’t indicate any problems.
On March 30, 2010 at 5 pm my urologist informed me that I had prostate cancer. We went over the pathology report in detail and I could not refute what I read for myself. Various thoughts ran through my mind…How could this be? Why me? Here I am ready to retire the very next day and now this! As I sat in his office, I thought…well, at least it was an early detection; only one core sample was malignant out of 12; certainly I have plenty of time. My urologist then explained the best surgical option and told me I needed to make a decision in three weeks maximum and get it taken care of ASAP. Those were very chilling words to me. To his credit, he then made me aware of the radiation treatment option and encouraged me to talk to the oncologists and hear what they had to offer. In fact he even provided two names and a phone number.
I left the building and sat in my car in the parking lot feeling rather nauseous. I called my wife and told her the news…she was shocked and in disbelief. The why me question kept replaying in my mind. I decided right then and there that I needed to stop wasting time questioning and instead focus my attention on the research and learning that needed to take place in order for me to be able to make an informed decision about my treatment options. I felt better immediately and drove home eager to get started on my new assignment.
My long anticipated retirement date passed almost unnoticed except for a special luncheon provided by many of my long time employees. As meaningful an event as this was for me, my mind and thoughts were clearly somewhere else, and I had trouble concentrating. I arrived home that afternoon and immersed myself in internet research until midnight trying to satisfy my appetite for any knowledge on prostate cancer causes and treatments.
I knew that independent research alone was not enough, I needed to talk to people more knowledgeable in the field than myself. A long time friend and business partner Tom in Chicago, who had successfully triumphed over breast cancer just a year earlier, was a good place to start. He arranged for me to speak with his oncologist the very next night. After spending an hour on the phone with his doctor, I was already feeling more empowered. It struck me that night that this doctor was a very special type of individual. He didn’t know me, we lived 2,000 miles apart, and yet he was so willing to spend a late Thursday night on the phone educating me and answering my many questions. I didn’t know at the time that this genuine, concerned, caring, giving attitude would be commonplace amongst so many in the field of cancer treatment…very different from what I was accustomed to in the business world.
For the next two weeks, my routine was the same every day…read everything I could get my hands on, talk to as many specialists, doctors, and survivors as I could find, and research on the internet till midnight. My objectives from the beginning were first…thoroughly understand my particular cancer situation and determine the best treatment for me, second…find the best treatment equipment available, third…find the best facility and doctor’s.
It didn’t take long to eliminate surgery as a treatment option for me. Traditional prostatectomy surgery seemed barbaric, and even the newer Da Vinci procedure, although far better, was still too invasive to suit my liking. Not to say that there is anything wrong with the surgery option, often termed the gold standard, it just wasn’t right for me. That left radiation therapy since chemotherapy isn’t commonly used for treatment of prostate cancer in its early, confined stages which was my particular circumstance.
I began to research different forms of radiation therapy for my situation and discovered there was a lot to learn. BrachyTherapy (seed implantation) is very effective in the treatment of prostate cancer, and has the advantage of only one procedure, but somehow having radioactive material in my body was not appealing to me. TomoTherapy is an advanced technology very similar to that successfully used for many years in CT Scanners. Although this technology has many advantages and will likely become the way of the future for treatment of many forms of cancer including prostate, it was just too new for me. So that basically left EBRT (External Beam Radiation Therapy). Continued research led to a newer, more directed, controllable form known as IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy). IMRT in conjunction with BAT (B-mode Acquisition and Targeting) an ultrasound based targeting technology, pinpoints the prostates position inside the body immediately before administering the radiation each day. This sounded right for me and I felt a sense of relief as I had now found the best treatment for my particular cancer.
I then began to research different manufacturers of this type equipment and decided that Varian’s Trilogy accelerator was state of the art IMRT equipment, and coupled together with the Best NOMOS BAT, would fit my needs very well. Since I reside in Upland, I was pleased to find the latest/greatest versions of this equipment and software at The Robert & Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center, part of the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. My personal connections at Varian recommended the names of two well qualified oncologists at this facility Dr. Rao and Dr. Gorty. Interestingly, these were the same two oncologists’ names provided by my urologist weeks before. Things were really starting to come together now and I felt my long hours of researching were starting to pay off… but I wasn’t finished yet.
During my early research of EBRT, I came across a plethora of information, articles, and papers from Loma Linda University Medical Center. You see, there are two basic types of beams used in radiation therapy, photon (X.rays) which is quite common, and proton which is only offered in the Southern California area at Loma Linda. Somehow I knew deciding between these two wasn’t going to be easy due to the highly scientific nature of these technologies, but at the same time it’s never been my nature to back away from a difficult challenge.
I will start out by stating that there is absolutely nothing wrong with proton radiation therapy, and apparently many favor it for various type cancer treatments. My question very simply…was proton any better than photon radiation for treatment of prostate cancer? The more I studied the proton technology the better it sounded, but being an engineer, I needed data, test results, case studies to validate my thoughts. Very soon after my first inquiries with Loma Linda, I started receiving numerous pamphlets, papers, DVD’s, even a book in the mail, all proclaiming the superiority of proton radiation treatment for prostate cancer…I read them all carefully. After receiving the same material three times in the same week, I became suspicious and started questioning why so much marketing of the proton technology. Further research uncovered that fact that proton accelerator facilities and equipment are substantially (5X) more expensive than their photon counterparts. Perhaps this explained the barrage of marketing I was experiencing.
Staying true to my process, I called Loma Linda multiple times and talked with various people in different departments and positions. They were all extremely professional, knew exactly what they were talking about, and spoke very assuredly and convincingly. However, I found too many of them using the same exact wording and sales pitch…again my suspicions stirred. No matter how hard I tried, I was not able to get the data I wanted. Proton radiation had been around for 20 years, with Loma Linda being the first facility in this country. I was told look here, look there, it’s in the book (which I read a second time just in case I missed something), but all to no avail. I was told the references in the back of the book would lead me there…I checked all 13 references in the appendix, but still nothing.
The only logical conclusion that I could draw at this point was that there was NO published data. My thought process then went something like this…why is there no data on proton radiation treatment (even their own)…there is so much information on very technical properties like Bragg Peak, certainly if it was truly better than photon, there would be something out there, and if not from Loma Linda, then from one of the other only seven operating proton facilities in the country. In the end, I could only deduce that proton therapy was not superior to photon treatment for treatment of prostate cancer. As hard as I tried to close this matter, there was still some doubt in my mind because the Loma Linda story was so convincing…but at the same time, I needed to continue with my research.
I next called the treatment center in Pomona and made an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Gorty the following day…a nice surprise that I was able to get in so quickly. Armed with my pathology report and questions in hand, I went to the facility the following afternoon. I spent over two hours there and found Dr. Gorty to be very generous with his time and knowledge. We had many different discussions, and he answered all the questions to my satisfaction…quite an accomplishment. I left that day feeling very good about the facility, doctors, and staff.
A couple of days later I decided to push harder with Dr. Gorty on the whole photon/proton thing. After all, he told me to come back if I had any more questions. I called again and got in to see him almost immediately. We debated a while then he showed me information on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network web site which stated “However, proton therapy is not recommended for routine use at this time, since clinical trials have not yet yielded data that demonstrates superiority or equivalence of proton beam compared to conventional external beam for treatment of prostate cancer.” So here was yet one more very credible reference refuting the superiority of proton over photon radiation for prostate cancer treatment.
Now I was finally ready, and felt very confident that I would get the best possible treatment from this team of professionals. I told Dr. Gorty that I decided to have my treatments at their facility. He then had the nurse introduce me to the office staff in order to begin the paper process. Driving home I was overcome by a sigh of relief, I was finally done with my research, the process had yielded a result, I was within the allotted timeframe, and my decision had been made…or so I thought.
Shortly after arriving home, my partner Tom from Chicago called wanting to know if I had made my decision. Yes, I told him…I decided upon external beam radiation (photon) at a great facility close to my home. We talked for a while and then he said “You don’t sound 100% sure of your decision, maybe 90% but not 100%.” I explained the processes that lead me to this decision, but he again repeated what he had just said. He then told me, “It’s very important that you are 100% sure, so do whatever you must to get there.” We then ended the call. I thought hard about what Tom had said…maybe he was right. I had followed this process so many times in my life and it had rarely failed me, why was it so different this time. I figured…it must be because this situation was so very personal, and not just another business decision.
I thought…’how am I going to get to 100%’? I decided it was this proton thing that was still gnawing away at my insides. It then came to me that what I needed was a personal, yet impartial expert opinion…but whom would that be from? During my weeks of research, and even in some of my discussions, one name popped up repeatedly. When it came to an expert in the field of prostate cancer research and treatment, it was Dr. Howard Sandler, Professor and Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Los Angles. An opinion from Dr. Sandler was what I wanted, but how was I going to obtain that. Searching the Cedars-Sinai web site, I was able to find his email address. I knew he must be a very busy man, but at the same time, I was betting that he was like so many others I had met in this profession. I carefully crafted a short email and solicited his opinion as to whether there was any benefit of proton therapy vs. photon therapy for treatment of my prostate cancer. I sent the email that evening, and said a little prayer that he would read it, and eventually respond.
The next morning I jumped out of bed and ran to my computer, not really expecting anything…but maybe, just maybe, there would be a reply from Dr. Sandler awaiting me. There it was, just 13 hours later and I already had his reply. I quickly opened it and read his statement “I don’t believe that proton therapy is superior to IMRT/IGRT for prostate cancer.” He also provided me an article from The Cancer Journal (Volume 15, Number 4, July/August 2009) that echoed his personal opinion, and provided good technical insight further backing this position. I was elated and an immediate sense of relief came over me. My friend Tom was right…you have to be 100%, and now I was there and knew exactly what he had meant.
My scheduling was in order, insurance verified, and preliminary tests completed the following week. I began my 45 day treatment May 3, 2010. The process was very much as had been explained to me ahead of time with no significant surprises. I got into a routine and the time passed quickly in the early weeks, then slower toward the end as the side-effects became more pronounced. I had weekly meetings with Dr. Rao and Dr. Gorty who continued to be very patient and encouraging with me throughout the entire process. They shared the details of my treatment plan, explained how the progress is monitored, and continually assured me everything was going as planned. My last treatment was July 7, 2010. I am now in my second week of recovery, and feeling confident of the long term outcome.
During my nine weeks of treatments, I came to know many different people working at the Cancer Care Center. Without exception, I found every one of these people to be competent, compassionate, and caring of me personally as well as my situation. Although I know they had all been through this many times before, they still had a way of making me feel like I was the first one, and attended well to my needs continuously. The quality of care that I received from everyone at this facility was outstanding. Each of them knew exactly what part they played in my treatment program, and executed flawlessly on a daily basis. I also found there to be a lot of process control and quality measures built into their program which always provided me with great peace of mind. Overall, I would say that I had an excellent experience at this facility.
My bout with cancer has given me new perspective in many areas. Certainly there is never a good time to get cancer, but looking back, at least my retirement situation afforded me more time to devote to this entire undertaking. Previously, I was never as aware of how debilitating and widespread this disease is; now I am just one more of those afflicted. Although you may think you control stress in your life, it can still take its toll long term. Most importantly, I now know that there is life after cancer.
Phil Barboni is the retired President/CEO of Digital Check Technologies
The "Three Amigos" Had FUN!
Jon Mansfield, the ring leader of the Three Amigos, was diagnosed with prostate caner in February 2008. Days before his diagnosis, Joe Pipins was diagnosed and days after Jon’s diagnosis Donald Okon was diagnosed. They never knew each other (or about the others diagnosis) until they met in the Radiation Oncology waiting room. Their initial fear turned into acceptance and then they found they were looking forward to coming for treatment!
Lifting each others spirits with jokes, banter and humor made the 45 days of treatment go by quickly. Instead of saying "see you tomorrow," Jon would say "see you Friday," as every weekday was "fryday" in radiation! They also loved to give the technicians a hard time and kidded them about "turning up the juice" on each other.
Joe and his wife Angie were the first to begin this journey. He hated to go to the doctor, and when Angie insisted he go due to the flu, blood work showed his PSA was very high. The dreaded biopsy came back positive and a search for information on treatment options began. After much research and doctor consultations Joe, Jon and Donald all chose external beam radiation to treat their prostate cancer. They each had other options, but chose the best treatment for them. Joe worked throughout his treatments and plans to continue working until he gets his 50th year service pin! Joe is now completing his monthly shots to finish his treatment.
Jon always gets a yearly physical, so when his blood work came back with an elevated PSA he under went the dreaded biopsy. When prostate cancer was confirmed he immediately educated himself and wanted to know everything about everything. Because Jon’s cancer was caught very early, the only treatment he needed was radiation and he is back to leading a very active life. He retired, but is now consulting and playing a lot of golf. "Recovery from prostate cancer is 95% if you catch it early…every man needs to get checked! If you get diagnosed, stay positive and trust the guy upstairs," declared Jon.
Donald and his wife Kathy knew their sister-in-law was a nurse and worked at our hospital, but they got to learn first hand, what she does everyday, as Letia Robertson, RN has been a nurse at PVHMC’s Cancer Care Center for the past 20 years! Donald found out he had a high PSA with doing pre-op blood work prior to his hip replacement. Again, the dreaded biopsy confirmed it was cancer. "I was nervous, scared and depressed when I first started with treatment, but meeting these two made it enjoyable," explained Donald. The last of the Amigos to complete radiation, Jon and Joe came back to help him celebrate on his last treatment day. Donald is now recovering from the hip replacement he was finally able to have done and completing his monthly shots to finish his treatment. "I never liked going to doctors, but I’ll sure get my check-ups now," said Donald.
All the guys felt sort of lost when treatment was over, so they decided to keep in touch and continue "having fun" with their experience! Much laughter and kidding surround the support they give each other. "The staff were all cool, fun and kind," said Jon, and Joe shared that "Dr. Rao told the truth and didn’t mince words…I appreciated that." They also wanted to express appreciate for Bernitta in the lab at the Center who draws blood like a pro and is sweet too! They all also shared that they are not experiencing unwanted side-effects from their treatment.
Having fun during cancer treatment…who would of thought!
An Unexpected, Life Changing Year
Ernest and Kathryn Sleet (Ernie & Katie) have been married 43 years and they both have experienced relatively minor health problems—until recently. A few years ago, Ernie’s PSA blood test was slightly higher than "normal" and his prostate was enlarged. He even had a couple of biopsies, but cancer was never diagnosed.
But in June 2006, when his PSA went up to 21 (under 4 is considered normal), another biopsy was done and cancer was found. Pathology revealed that his Gleason score was 8 out of 10—which meant it was aggressive. Naturally, Katie was upset and worried about her husband.
As Ernie was going through these tests, Katie started experiencing some female problems, and her doctor was concerned because she had already gone through menopause. So, in July 2006 a D & C was performed and revealed a very rare and aggressive type of uterine cancer. Ernie delayed his treatment to be with Katie during her surgery (hysterectomy) and recovery.
Ernie began his treatment, a hormone shot and external beam radiation for 45 days, starting on October 1st. Katie started her chemotherapy and radiation treatments in November. She was very impressed with Dr. Chanduri and her staff, which made her treatments easier. And both of them actually came together a few times for radiation! "Chemotherapy was actually easier than I expected," said Katie. "I didn’t feel that bad and didn’t get sick. I did lose my hair, but that was OK because I knew then that the chemo was working."
Katie had her last treatment this past February. "Dr. Rao and Dr. Gorty made this ordeal tolerable and helped us both so much. Carol Massey, RN was there when we needed her and answered all our questions. The entire Center made us feel like family—it didn’t seem like a hospital. We actually enjoyed coming here!"
They both will continue having check-ups with their doctors from now on. This loving couple supported each other in every way. Talking to others and getting support from friends and family, especially their son and his wife, helped them get through this crisis. As soon as Ernie’s cancer treatments were over, he had surgery on his knee and was then diagnosed with asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure and diabetes! "You have to have a positive attitude about these medical conditions," explained Ernie. We led good, clean lives—no smoking or drinking. You can’t blame God, these things just happen."
Together, they started walking three miles, three times a week and have changed their diet to try and lose some weight. But it’s all about enjoying life now—they like to take small trips and really enjoy the Monterey Bay area. "We see the beauty in life that we didn’t notice before," says Ernie. "We take nothing for granted, so we touch, talk and say ‘I love you’ even more now." They are looking forward to the future and their faith has taught them that there are better times ahead. "We all struggle through life, enduring what we must—but our faith has taught us that God will make things better and we look forward to that, but we enjoy life together NOW," they said. This past year will not be one that is easily forgotten!
An IMRT Success Story
By Howard & Barbara DuBois
Howard DuBois was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in June 2004. He needed to see his primary care doctor every other year to keep his class III commercial drivers license, so when his PSA test came back a little high, he wasn’t that concerned. But, after a referral to an Urologist, which resulted in an ultrasound, biopsy, and a confirmed diagnosis, Howard and his family started looking up information on the Internet and reading books on different treatment options and their side-effects.
“Cancer didn’t scare me—but the treatment did,” Howard confessed. Lots of people started praying for him. A bone scan showed a mass in Howard’s hip joint, but a biopsy could not be done due to its location within the joint and not on the bone. This worrisome condition sent him to Dr. Gorty in Radiation Oncology for a consultation. Howard had already decided against having surgery and he had done lots of reading, so he came to the consultation full of questions.
He wanted to actually “see” the tumor and have “proof” that he had cancer before he agreed to have any treatment. He was very apprehensive about treatment and even considered doing nothing. But, with encouragement from everyone (his primary care doctor, wife, children, nurses, Dr. Ebrahimi—his medical oncologist, Dr. Gorty and many, many prayers) he finally relented.
Dr. Gorty explained how IMRT worked and reassured him that he would be receiving the best possible treatment. This type of treatment enabled him to continue working although he hated getting into work a little late for a few weeks. Howard and his wife work together at a Mission and their strong faith was tested. “I felt God could handle the disease inside me, but treatment scared me because I was in the hands of man,” explained Howard.
“I’m a slow learner, I guess. I couldn’t see any good coming from all of this until the fifth week of treatment when I met another man in the parking lot of the Center. He shared with me about his many ailments and I was finally able to appreciate my treatment. I only had mild fatigue and a weak stream (while urinating) and realized this treatment, along with being wrapped in prayers was working and I would be cured.”
Howard loved to joke with the doctors and therapists. He shared his treatment analogy: Drop, Strap, Torture, Shoot. That stood for “drop your pants,” “strap into the leg immobilization thing,” “torture—not really, but the ultrasound wand pressing on a full bladder isn’t any fun!” and lastly, “shoot with radiation.” His spunky and humorous personality, along with his strong faith, and supportive wife helped get him through this trial. “God taught me patience (‘wait’ training), the importance of ‘letting-go’ and humility.
I’m very self-sufficient and hated depending on others. This was harder on my wife, as she had to put-up-with me, and I can be a whiner!” Treatment was finished in February 2005 and repeated PSA testing shows his level is steadily going down, which is great!
When reflecting on his experience, he complemented the entire radiation department and is so grateful that with the advent of new technology like IMRT and the BAT ultrasound system that having treatment is not so bad. Very little side-effects and great results are everyone’s hope when dealing with a cancer diagnosis!
Howard and Barbara are continuing to enjoy life, their family and working together—how blessed they are!
Survivor Martin Grothe
By Martin and Jane Grothe
Damn! Here I go again! I had just heard from the urologist that I had Prostate Cancer! I had colon cancer six years ago and had been successfully treated with almost no ill effects. My primary care physician had suggested that I go to the urologist since my PSA reading was elevated (4.9). The urologist performed an ultrasound evaluation and a needle biopsy. He found a fast growing cancer that had to be treated immediately. He also set-up an appointment with the radiation oncologist, since he felt that I would need radiation even if I had a radical prostatectomy (removal of the entire prostate).
As soon as I found out that I had cancer, I started calling friends who had either had the operation or radiation treatments only. Everybody was most helpful and the reading material, notes and questions piled up. By the end of the week I had eliminated all options except radiation and implant surgery. After meeting with the oncologist, we agreed on the implant, which combined a surgical implant and the external beam radiation, since that appeared to have the maximum killing power with the least harm to healthy tissue.
On the day of the implant surgery, I had a spinal (anesthesia) and was reasonably awake during the operation. After the implant was inserted, 18 "dummy" radiation seeds were inserted in the hollow needles to check for proper location. Then I was moved to my room, radioactive seeds on wires were inserted, and the (time) countdown was started.
During the next two days I laid on my back, but could move around enough not to be uncomfortable. The self-administered painkiller helped me a lot, but I'm sure there were times that I was not totally aware of the people or things going on around me. When I came home I was pretty well wiped out, but was better in a couple of days. Within two weeks I could play racquetball, but without much enthusiasm. Three weeks later I went back to the Cancer Center to begin the external beam radiation therapy to complete my treatment regimen.
These treatments took about five minutes each day for three weeks (no weekends). There was no sensation during the treatments at all. I completed this portion of my treatment without any problems and everything appears to be 100 percent successful.
I wold like to nominate all the personnel at the Cancer Care Center as Assistant Angels, they certainly deserve it!
When I first heard that Marty had Prostate Cancer, I was shocked and alarmed. He had not been sick or had any symptoms, and cancer of any sort has always been terrifying. He had gone in to the doctor for a routine physical, and from there to the urologist for further tests for cancer. When someone appears totally healthy, it's hard to accept a diagnosis of cancer!
We both consulted with his urologist who outlined three possible courses of treatment. There was surgery, implant radiation followed by three weeks of external radiation or seven week of external radiation. We decided on the implant approach, and made an appointment for the second week of May. Radiation frightened me almost as much as cancer. I had heard stories of the terrible damage to the body it could do.
We took him to the hospital early on a rainy Tuesday. The preliminary insertion was made that morning with 18 hollow needles being inserted into the cancerous area. That afternoon the radioactive capsules were inserted into the hollow needles. Marty spent the next two and one-half days in a small hospital room insulated for radiation exposure. Visitors had to stand behind a screen and could stay only 20 minutes. Even though he was given a pain killer, it was pretty uncomfortable lying so still with all those needles sticking into him.
Finally, on Thursday evening the implant was removed, and he came home from the hospital. He was totally exhausted, though not in pain. He spent most of the weekend in bed, but by Sunday night he felt well enough to go out to eat and to a movie. From then on the recuperation was rapid. The external radiation that followed was much easier than we had anticipated. It has been over a month since he has completed his treatment.
Tests indicate that the cancer is gone, and he is back to teaching part-time and playing golf and racquetball twice a week. In addition, we have been able to travel to Colorado and have planned more trips in the future. I feel terribly lucky that his recovery from cancer has gone so smoothly, thanks to the wonderful progress of medical science.
Survivor Joe Lankford
By Joe and Bernice Lankford
Retired six months, and I never felt better in my life - but a routine physical changed my, or shall I say our, lives and lifestyle. My doctor called and recommended that I see a Urologist as soon as possible. At that appointment he examined me and scheduled an ultrasound and biopsy. Sure enough, four of the six samples were malignant.
Prostate Cancer - why me? It must be a mistake, but it wasn't. This scared me spitless. All the men that I had known over the years that had prostate cancer died within a year, so my first thoughts were that I had only a year or possibly two left. Diagnosed in June, we lived with this information until surgery was scheduled on November 13, 1992. I was frightened out of my head on surgery day.
The doctor said if the cancer had spread, they would not go through with the surgery, and I would be out of the operating room in under two hours. I went in at 1:00 pm, and as I came out of the anesthesia I asked my wife one question, "What time is it?" She stated it was 5:00 pm, and my fears were somewhat relieved. My surgery was a text book case. My doctor tried to spare as many nerves as possible, but the main objective was to get all the cancer. The surgery was about 75 percent of what I expected. Since this was my first time in a hospital, and to have surgery, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had no pain, and was out of the hospital in five days.
Recovery seemed like it would never be over. The catheter was my worst problem, and it was in for 21 days. After removal of the catheter I was totally incontinent. As long as I sat down, there was no problem, but when I stood up, it was like Niagra Falls. I finally began to regain control a little at a time. By December 20th I had full control and was back to a normal routine.
To make a long story short, my wife and I are sure we made the right decision to go with the surgery. It has been six and one-half years and I have good health, my PSA is still down and I'm enjoying my family (which I thought would not happen) and just being alive is great!
Eight years and counting... Oh No - not us, why?
When Joe went for his annual checkup we thought little of it. After all, there had been no symptoms that would lead us to believe anything was wrong. When the reports showed the PSA was 4.7 I was shocked, numbed by uncertainties of the unknown. The Urologist broke the news to us in a clinical manner. Suddenly we were faced with options of dealing with malignancy. The options were either surgery or radiation.
The doctor, in view of Joe's age felt surgery was the better choice. I was relieved to hear Joe say that was also his choice. The surgery was scheduled six months after the diagnosis. The recovery was rapid. Our greatest source of concern followed, when we had to deal with the "monkey on our back" and have tests every six months. The questions of "what if, and what will the tests show?" always came up. Each test result that came back gave me more hope.
Now, after six years, we breath a little easier as each test comes back with a PSA of .01. I have learned through this:
- Prayer has been a sustaining force.
- The importance of strong family ties.
- This can happen to anyone.
- The value of enjoying each other, doing what we can, when we can.
We've got eight years down, and still counting. I find myself with greater peace. We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary last year! We count off the days - savor each moment, enjoy every sunset, and the challenge of each sunrise.
We Fought For What Was Right
By Paul and Sandy Wolfman
In May of 2001, I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer at the age of 71. Our medical group of 16 years, offered three different kinds of treatment: radical surgery, radiation therapy, or proton radiation treatments (the last two would require 40 session each). My wife and I decided to educate ourselves and look into all treatments available and their side effects. She got busy on the Internet, checking into the various Institutions that had ongoing studies, programs and treatments for prostate cancer, and their side effects. I started reading books written by doctors involved in studies, research and comparative statistics of the side effects of each approved and accepted treatment.
After much study, prayer and wise counsel we decided the best treatment for me was Brachytherapy, also known as “seed implantation.” As we studied this treatment, we knew it was right for me. However, our medical group was not supportive of this procedure since they did not do Brachytherapy. We were able to get a second opinion at the City of Hope. The doctor we consulted at City of Hope concurred that this was the right treatment for me. He in fact worked right along side of us trying to get approval for me. After many months of doctor appointments, phone calls and letters of appeal, we were stopped in our tracks. We were denied repeatedly by the administrator of our medical group.
So we turned to our insurance carrier and began requesting a list of doctors within our plan who did this procedure. Again, after many months of non-cooperation, our only hope of help was prayer. We, family, and friends remained fervently in prayer. Thirteen months later a former church member called. We shared the blessing in her life, and then the facts of my cancer. She works in the medical field and unbeknownst to us was researching physicians that perform this procedure. Some time went by and once again she called with the news that Dr. Y.S. Ram Rao, Radiation Oncologist at the Cancer Care Center at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, did perform Brachytherapy.
We imediately went to work to find out how to change our medical group to one Dr. Rao was contracted with and change our primary care physician as well. After appointments with our new primary care physician and our new medical oncologist, and with Dr. Rao, I was given the treatment of my choice on September 19, 2002. Words cannot express the overwhelming gratitude, joy and relief we could finally experience. I was treated so wonderfully and compassionately by Dr. Rao and his staff and the hospital and its staff. We are so blessed to have been led to Dr. Rao and this Center.
It is a miracle. I am a cancer survivor to the Glory of God, and we have found a new family at the Cancer Care Center. One last note: Patient’s rights enable you to have a choice. Fight for what you know is right for you.
By Mangie (Joe) Hirota
My history of prostate problems began in the mid '80s. My symptoms were a weak stream, difficulty in starting the stream, and a sharp pain in my testicles. I was diagnosed with an infection and an enlarged prostate. Each occurrence was treated with antibiotics. All along I had annual PSA tests and digital rectal examinations. My PSA readings began at 4. Within a two to three year period, three biopsies were performed which came out negative.
During the '90s my PSA steadily rose to 5. By the 2000s readings rose to 5.3. In 2003 my PSA was 5.8 and I was then referred to an urologist. Dr. Pineda did a thorough examination and testing of the urinary tract and performed another biopsy. In June 2003, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer with a Gleeson score of 7. After doing some research, I decided on IMRT with the hope of experiencing fewer, less severe side effects than the other options held.
By the end of July, I had four gold seeds put in my prostate (a hospital out-patient procedure), a body (leg) mold made, markings placed on my hips and prostate area and a CT Scan in preparation for the IMRT procedure. On August 5, 2003, I began treatment.
Each day I arrived at the Cancer Center at a specific time. I then needed to drink two glasses of water followed by emptying my bladder. When my name was called and I entered the treatment room, the technician put the mold around my legs and feet to keep my body in exactly the same position each day. After the technician was sure I was in just the right place, an x-ray was taken. More adjustments were made to my position if necessary to ensure precise positioning.
The machine then delivered the radiation from five different angles, almost encircling my body. The entire treatment time took approximately 1/2 hour. I had 45 treatments over nine weeks. I have the highest respect for the technicians who took care of me every day, they were very nice and competent.
Although the treatments were painless, I did begin to experience painful bowel movements and bleeding. To help ease my symptoms, I was placed on a high-fiber diet, Metamucil, sitz baths and given prescription suppositories. Also, after the first three weeks of treatment, I began to experience mild fatigue.
I finished treatment on October 7th. In November I had another PSA test, which resulted in a 0.9 reading. By mid-November my rectal pain started to diminish, and by December it was greatly reduced. Also by that time the fatigue I experienced was almost gone and I felt great.
I used to believe that having cancer was a "death sentence" but now, through reading, attending a support group and the constant loving support and inspiration of my wife of 51 years, I now have a new perspective. I don't take things for granted, I appreciate things more and things that used to be important (material things) are not important to me anymore. I have even begun to explore spirituality. I talk about cancer to my family and friends because I think it is so important that men get checked regularly so problems can be found and treated as early as possible. I am enjoying being active and working out at the YMCA. I have no regrets and I am appreciating my life, and wife, more each day.