THE RECONNAISSANCE MISSION

After having heard about my treatment options, I was determined to speak to someone who had been through radiation. However, my quest was more specific than just anyone. I was on a mission to hear from someone around my own age who had been through radiation treatment.

So through a friend, I was able to speak to a gentleman who had a history a higher Gleason score and went through both brachytherapy and external beam treatment. And he was doing well with minor side effects. So after this conversation I was encouraged and ready to go forward. So I thought.

After this conversation, my wife and I met a couple who were nutritional vendors promoting a vegan lifestyle. The gentleman had a significant history of prostate cancer, however, his had metastasized. He underwent both surgery, testosterone suppression therapy and radiation. He shared research information about how a diet free of animal products and low in saturated fats, was known to protect against prostate cancer and actually reverse the process.

The name that stuck out the most during our conversation was Dr. Dean Ornish. He authored a study in the Journal of Urology, which detailed the effects of an “intensive lifestyle change” on men with early, low grade prostate cancer. The study showed that the PSA revealed a 4% decrease on the experimental group versus a 6% increase in the control group. Furthermore, there was an decrease in the growth of cancer cells of up to 8 times as much in the control group.

This sounded groundbreaking! But was it truly real science? This may not be mainstream, I thought, but certainly worth some attention. Furthermore, Dr. Ornish may not be a cardiologist or nutritionist, but even the American Cancer Society recommends a reduction of saturated fats and reducing red meats.

Although this gentleman had some side effects, his claim was that they were improved with a vegan diet. Although I was not totally ready to bet the farm on these claims, it was clear that there were at least anecdotal evidence. So we did research on a vegan diet and decided to adopt this practice. I had nothing to lose. And my wife, in a demonstration of love and support, decided to adopt this lifestyle with me. (Mostly because she’d be doing the cooking anyway. LOL)

Our hope and prayer was that God would use this change in diet in conjunction with the upcoming radiation treatments to give me good outcomes. But wasn’t totally sure if this was my treatment option for sure. I still had a consult with the Cancer Center.

THE TREATMENT PLAN

Now that we are well versed on the Gleason system, I’ll continue my story.

So with all the pieces of the puzzle together, now came time to break out the National Comprehensive Cancer Guidelines (NCCN) to develop a treatment plan. The NCCN is a comprehensive set of guidelines developed through extensive review of clinical trials and existing treatment protocol along with expert medical judgment and recommendations by physician panels made up from Member Institutions. These guidelines cover 97 percent of all cancers affecting patients in the United States and are updated on a continual basis.

According to the NCCN flowchart, interventions or treatment protocols are based on age and life expectancy. This means that the younger the patient, the more aggressive the intervention. Conversely, the older the patient, the more conservative the approach. For example, a 75 year old male diagnosed with a Gleason 7 prostate cancer would more than likely undergo radiation rather than surgery.

Well, from what I remembered, my Gleason score was 6. According to the NCCN Guidelines, the recommendation was prostatectomy (removal of the prostate), brachytherapy (radioactive pellets placed into the prostate gland) or external beam radiation. And with the radiation, I would have to decide if I wanted to have androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), which are basically injections to decrease testosterone, which is known to promote prostate cancer growth.

So, again, my Gleason score was repeated as a 6. And now I had to decide on which type of radiation I wanted as treatment and if I wanted to go through with ADT. Well, nothing sounded extremely attractive about pellets being inserted into my prostate or ADT. So I decided against those and surgery and opted for external beam radiation, which I know from others who had it or were having it, that it was 40 treatments.

Of course, as with any discussion of a surgical procedure or medical treatment, came the discussion or “informed consent.” “Everyone is different and not everyone has these effects, but some of the side effects of radiation are urinary incontinence, blood in the urine, painful urination, diarrhea and erectile dysfunction. These are mostly temporary and medications can be given for erectile problems.” (Sorry, I have to keep it real). Just what I wanted to hear- feasible ways in which I could help keep the prescription drug industry viable! (insert sarcasm face). Well, this was starting to sound less attractive

I left that appointment determined to do more research in terms of pros and cons of radiation therapy. I knew I need to find people who had been through this type of treatment and glean from their experiences. To be continued…

As we continue to raise awareness for prostate cancer, please remember: Although there may not be a hard rule for screening, talk to your doctor about a PSA test if you’re between 45 and 55 years old. Screening should be done at 40-45 years of age for African Americans, Latinos or if there’s a strong family history.

THE GLEASON GRADING SYSTEM

Remember the numbers associated with my biopsy specimens? Let’s get back to those. During my phone conversation with the urologist before my vacation, I was told I had a “Gleason 6” staging. Or maybe I understood that in my mind. Remember this, it will be important later in the journey.

Normally the pathology report will list each specimen or “core” (named such because it’s a “core needle biopsy”) separately by a number assigned to it by the pathologist, with each core, having its own diagnosis. The cores are listed separately because If cancer is found, it’s often not in every core, so the each core has to be examined separately to accurately make a diagnosis.

Pathologists grade prostate cancers using numbers 3 or higher based on how much the cells in the specimens look like normal prostate tissue under the microscope. Grades 1 and 2 are not used. Instead, if the core sample present with cells that look normal, it is designated as “benign.” This is called the Gleason System. Most biopsy samples are grade 3 or higher.

Since prostate cancer specimens can often have areas with different grades, a grade is assigned to the two areas that make up most of the cancer. These two grades are then added together to give the Gleason Score. In this system the higher the number, the more likely the probability of spread and thus the higher stage the cancer. The highest a Gleason sum can be is 10. Recall that the numbers are designated as a sum: 3+3, 3+4 or 4+3. The first number assigned is the grade that is most common in the specimen. For example, if the Gleason score is written as 3+4=7, it means most of the tumor is grade 3 and less of it is grade 4, and they are added for a Gleason score of 7. This sum can also be designated as 4+3=7. Although this is the same Gleason score, most of the cancer is grade 4, which is obviously higher. If a tumor is all the same grade (for example, grade 3), then the Gleason score is reported as 3+3=6.

Although most often the Gleason score is based on the two areas that make up most of the specimen, when a core sample has either a lot of high-grade cancer or there are three different grades including high-grade cancer, a higher score is determined to reflect the aggressive nature of the cancer.

The other significant part of the pathology report, besides the Gleason score is the volume of each specimen. This basically refers to the percentage involvement that each specimen is affected by cancer. For instance, one of my specimens, the one graded at 3+4, had 50% volume. And one of the 3 + 3 specimens had 40% volume. These are consistent with a possible greater involvement of the prostate gland and a greater possibility of spread.

This certainly was a cause for concern. However, I already knew from the scans that there was no spread. Next stop: Treatment Plan.

As we continue to raise awareness for prostate cancer, please remember men: Although there may not be a hard rule for screening, talk to your doctor about a PSA test if you’re between 45 and 55 years old. Screening should be done at 40-45 years of age for African Americans, Latinos or if there’s a strong family history.

THE BIOPSY

“Next stop, Biopsy,” said the conductor as the train pushed forward. Then the Tran came to an abrupt stop. As I de board, I enter into the urologist’s office for my biopsy appointment. This would be what’s called a core needle biopsy. For this procedure, the doctor uses a probe with a somewhat of a spring-loaded, thin, hollow needle to obtain specimens from the prostate gland. (I won’t go into all details).

When the trigger is pulled, the needle retrieves a small cylinder of prostate tissue called a core. This is repeated about 12 times to get several samples from different areas of the prostate. Yes, there’s local anesthesia involved. Besides some discomfort, it wasn’t horrible. I wouldn’t sign up for it again though!

Well, we were all set to go on vacation in three days and here I am, waiting on biopsy results! I didn’t really know if I wanted my results before or after our vacation. But in a way, I wanted to know what I was up against so that I could have some time away from the hustle and bustle to gather myself and get mentally prepared for what was coming up. After moments of contemplation, I decided to bite the bullet and call for my results two days before our trip. Well, when I called, I was transferred to the doctor’s assistant. “Hi Mr Araujo,” said the nice assistant. Her voice was friendly and chipper. This could only be good news, right? Could this be a sign for optimism? I didn’t find out because I was told the doctor would have to call me in the morning. Ugh!!!!

So I get a call in the morning. Not only was I told the results, but I was also e-mailed the report. In a matter of seconds I felt like had just entered the twilight zone! I don’t remember anything else that was said but I could probably reel off what the pathology report read. What I remember most vividly, was the word “adenocarcinoma.” Adenocarcinoma is the type of cancer that develops in gland cells and is the most common type of cancer found in the prostate gland.

50% of the biopsy specimens were positive for adenocarcinoma. There were numbers

associated with each biopsy specimen that appeared in the following manner: 3+3=6 which were most of the core specimens. One however, had the numbers 3+4=7. The others were labeled with what became my favorite word, “benign.” I was also told, as I would’ve expected, that I would need to have a bone scan and MRI to check for possible spread. Yes, I had now entered into the cancer world. The only question was, how deep?

Wow! This was a lot to take in right before a vacation! But I just needed to know so that I could at least use a few days off to process this information.

To be continued…

Loving In The Storm

Why me? This is usually the question we ask ourselves in the midst of a trial, an obstacle or a difficult situation. What if we started asking, why not me? Would anything change? Would it make a difference? Would we be better equipped to face a life storm?

I don’ know. Maybe. But those times of doubt, fear and anxiety will still be present. Yes, they will. However, by focusing on God’s word and His promises in and during a storm, by focusing on what can be learned, by focusing how to stay strong and positive and by focusing on the love of a spouse and/or friends, our mindset will be more positive, which will give us strength to fight battles.

You ask how I know? Because I’m in the eye of a storm right now! And although I’ve had moments of despair, fear, anxiety and doubt, three things have helped and continue to comfort and strengthen me:

1. God’s word on which I meditate daily

2. The love, strength and support of my wife (and my kids)

3. The prayers, messages from friends and talks with friends and people who have been down this road

What follows over the next several weeks is a description of the life storm that we find ourselves in at this moment. It is my battle with prostate cancer. More correctly stated, “our battle.” Because I do not fight alone but with the Lord by my side and as “won” with my beautiful, loving wife. My hope and prayer is that this would serve as, first of all, a testimony to God’s grace. Second, an example of how the love, sacrifice and support of a spouse can give strength and courage. And finally, as a resource to men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The fact that I love my wife may be evident by anyone who reads my blog. But that our love has grown even deeper in the midst of this storm is a blessing that I never saw coming! I love how she has made me stronger, how she has encouraged me in my low times, and how her fervent prayers have reminded me that “greater is he that is in me than the one who is is in the world.”

Men between 40-50 years old, if you get nothing else from this, please understand how important it is to have yearly physicals and have blood drawn for PSA level. It could save your life. Remember, your family needs you. Therefore, show them your love by taking care of yourself.

Love Built To Last

Recently I had a situation which left me surprised, speechless and stunned. I may share particulars of this issue at a later date. My natural tendency was to stop, breathe and process what was going on.

To do this, I had to withdraw so that I could gather all my thoughts. However, in the midst of organizing my thoughts, I was slipping into reclusiveness. Unbeknownst to me, I was at the same time pushing away the one person who wanted to be with me, cheer for and support me.

But my bride of 23 years would not allow me to withdraw, be quiet or remain lost in my thoughts. Nope! She took me by the hands and told me, “we are in this together, I want to know your thoughts and feelings. You can’t shut me out!” At that moment I realized that she would not compromise or back down. I was reminded of her deep love for me. I was reminded that because we are “won” my thoughts, feelings, fears and tears are also hers.

Yes, I was reminded of the fact that our “woness” does not work in isolation. I was reminded one more time of what our love means:

Lasting

Not Ordinary

Vital

Empathetic

Thanks honey!!

Understanding Differences Between Men and Women

So this past Mother’s Day, I tried to do more stuff around the house so that that my wife, and mother of our kids, could just relax. While my wife enjoyed her cards, flowers and lunch, she also had arranged her empty Clinique products on the bathroom counter for full display. “I don’t ask much, just for some observation,” she said as she swept her right hand as to uncover a prize.

At that moment, I felt like I was three days late for the prom! So I went into “fix it mode,” because that’s what men do, right? I told her that I would get new products but she told me not to bother, that she would do it.

This incident portrays a stark difference between men and women: women want men to notice things they need whereas men want to be told what women want or need.

A woman’s desire would be for her husband to be observant and proactive in both noticing and fulfilling some wants. This lets the woman know that she is being thought of. Unfortunately, most men aren’t wired this way. Most men would be happy to fill a need once they are asked.

Knowing and understanding these differences is of vital importance in a marriage. It prevents misunderstandings, unrealistic expectations and disappointments. It is also important to be able to discuss these differences with grace, patience and without setting ultimatums. This allows for healthy communication and may also help each person to be more sensitive to each other’s needs.

So how did this play out? Well, she never did go to get her Clinique products. So I assured her that I would take care of it and I did! Now she’s all set…and I’ll try to be more intentional on being observant.