Author’s Note: Although this article deals with healthcare, it’s a departure from our usual presentation. Rather than a healthcare or health IT topic that is, in essence, a business issue, this month it’s personal. The story is mine, and I debated whether to write it. But if it moves just one reader to action, I’ve made the right decision.
by Jim Gibson
May 2012 – While surfing the web one day last summer, I came across my surgeon’s face and was surprised by the rush of emotions. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, since I was looking at the face of the man who saved my life, as far as I was concerned.
To this day, the memory of the whole ordeal continues to be surreal. Did that really happen to me?
You may be wondering what rare disease or debilitating condition I had contracted. Well, it was a disease, but not a rare one. Not in the slightest. Debilitating? Not at all, unless you ignore it, and then it will kill you, as it has done to so many.
Out of the blue, without any symptom, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
A routine blood test aroused my doctor’s suspicion. A couple of follow-up blood tests and one biopsy later, it was confirmed. That’s the way cancer is sometimes. One day you think you’re fine and the next day you’re asking the doctor, “Are you sure?” I had always heard it was something a lot of men get, but I never gave it a thought. It was never on my radar. “I’m a healthy guy. I won’t get cancer.” Right. Well, it doesn’t work that way.
As one might imagine, once I accepted the diagnosis, I wanted to learn all about my condition – its cause, the treatment options, the side effects, the prognosis, everything. Fortunately, there is plenty of reliable information available.
The first thing I learned is how common prostate cancer is. By most accounts, it’s the most often diagnosed cancer in men, with the possible exception of skin cancer. It’s so common that, once I began talking to a couple of guys that I knew had been diagnosed, I learned of a number of others who had it. In any room full of men, there’s a good chance one or more have been diagnosed. I can virtually guarantee that several reading this have also had it. After my operation, I was catching up on some phone calls and had naturally told a few people about it. Two men I spoke with that day told me they had been through the same diagnosis and treatment.
Common as it is, there is still some mystery surrounding the “why” of it all. As I understand it, in most normal males the prostate grows until puberty and then stops. For some unknown reason, it begins to grow again at about the age of forty. This renewed growth very often results in either of two conditions: an enlarged prostate, which is benign and, in most cases, just a nuisance; or prostate cancer. Most men will experience at least one of these in their lifetime.
Since prostate cancer is so common, the medical community has an abundance of knowledge of the disease, including impressive statistics correlating severity of illness, treatment options, and prognoses for cure and recovery from side effects. As the saying goes, “They have it down to a science.”
I had to select from a few treatment options, which range from doing nothing and monitoring its progress, to a few types of radiation treatment, to a few types of surgery. These represent a continuum of aggressiveness, with watching and waiting being the least aggressive and surgical removal of the gland being the most aggressive.
I was advised that the two most helpful guidelines for a treatment selection are severity of illness and patient age. My cancer was detected early and seemed to be confined to the prostate (i.e., it had not spread, which would have been a serious problem). I had recently turned 53 before being diagnosed, which meant that I presumably had several years ahead of me…years for the cancer to grow and possibly spread.
Therefore, I was easily convinced to take the most aggressive action to remove the cancer. I elected to have a robot-assisted Radical Prostatectomy (removal of prostate). While surgery is the most aggressive treatment, the robot-assisted method has become popular because it gives the surgeon a 360-degree view of the field and allows for more precise movements. In the hands of a surgeon highly experienced in this method, this can translate into a cleaner operation, which impacts recovery time and side effects.
I found a doctor that had performed almost 3,000 of these procedures and had my operation in July 2011. The first week or two after surgery were rough, but I quickly began to feel mostly normal.
It’s been over nine months since then. Thinking about the whole affair, I feel blessed. Had I not been conscientious about seeing a doctor annually – even though I felt fine –
I would not have been diagnosed and cured. Like so many other men, I may not have learned of my disease until it was too late.
Prostate cancer is usually slow growing, and it may produce few symptoms before its later stages. So, it can easily go undetected. However, it can be detected with a simple blood test. If it’s caught early, the cure rate is very high. If caught too late, it will kill you.
Men, please, if you do nothing else for yourself and your loved ones, as least get an annual blood test, including a PSA screen for prostate cancer. Ladies, urge the men in your life to take this seriously. This one’s a no-brainer.
I am not a physician, but I’m happy to share a patient’s view with anyone who’s interested or concerned about his own situation. For the several of you who have been through the diagnosis and treatment, please help spread the word.
About Jim Gibson
You can reach Jim at (910) 444-4484 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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