ANOTHER ROLLER COASTER RIDE

I have been quite for a while as I recover. But I wanted to continue my story…

As we met with the oncologist, he thoroughly described my staging and reviewed the NCCN Guidelines.  According to the Gleason score and high percentage volume involvement, of at least two specimens, my prostate cancer staging, according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer was the following:  

pT2b or PT2c with most likely no node involvement (NO). 

If this sounds confusing, it’s really not as long as you have a legend to follow.  For reference, you can follow the attached diagram.  But just as a quick explanation, the “p” along with the “T” refer to the pathologic staging of the primary tumor and how much of the organ is involved.  This is designated with the prefix pT2-4 referring to the extent of the prostate gland involvement (minimal, one lobe, two lobes, whole organ and surrounding tissues). 

The other letters refer to lymph nodes and distant metastasis, N and M, respectively. The N is staged from X-1, ranging from no lymph node sampling to node metastasis. The M is staged from 0-1C, indicating no metastasis to bone involvement.

As we heard about the staging, we felt some optimism.  But then the doctor described percent success rates with and without androgen deprivation therapy. Wait, what?  I had already decided on a course of treatment that I wanted. What was happening?  Furthermore, I was now told that I would first have the radioactive pellets placed in the prostate and then four weeks later I’d have the external beam treatment.  

We were also told about the precautions I would need to take with having the pellets in terms of holding babies.  Mind you, I have a baby grandson (nine months old during this occurrence).  When he told us that the pellets never stop giving off radiation, I was paralyzed.  Although I had read that the pellets would not be a danger in terms of holding a baby, the radiation oncologist said that holding the baby on my lap for a long period would not be advisable for three to six months.  To say I was shocked would be an understatement!

Then came the other bomb.  We were told that because of the enlarged size of my prostate, it would be highly recommended that I have ADT first to decrease the size to allow for safer placement of the pellets.  Now I became numb.  How did I go from having a choice on the ADT to now it almost being required?  Not only that, the percent survival at later years were also improved when adding this therapy.  As with any treatment, there were several possible listed side effects from radiation and ADT. 

My world was absolutely rocked!  I felt like someone had pulled the carpet from underneath me!  What I thought was an appointment to go over the treatment protocol and start scheduling sessions, became a bombardment of information that was overwhelming and surprising! However, given the intermediate, unfavorable category of my prostate cancer, made sense.  It was just unexpected.

Well, the other option, which I had totally ruled out before this visit was surgery. However, we were told that obviously, we would have to make that decision.  And obviously, there were also some side effects discussed with the surgery.  We were told that although no medical professional could force me in any certain direction, given my age, surgery could be a viable option.  I left this appointment with totally dejected.  Needless to say, it was a very long night!

To be continued…

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 Start Of A Journey

About two months ago we embarked on a new journey. Although, I got ticket for this ride when I was by myself, it became apparent rather quickly that this would be a trip for two. A journey or a trip usually implies something new and exciting. Although we are experiencing something new, it’s not necessarily exciting.

There’s no better place to start other than the beginning. So here it goes:

I just recently had my first physical in at least 13 years! Yeah, yeah I know. This in spite of the fact that there’s a strong history of prostate cancer in my family. Well, the same evening of my physical and blood work, I received a call from the doctor’s office advising me that I would need to call to schedule an appointment “to go over the blood work.” That’s never a good sign.

Well, I called the next day, which happened to be a Saturday, and was told I could walk in. I was told that my PSA was elevated. For those of you that don’t know, the PSA stands for “prostate- specific antigen.” which is a protein produced by both cancerous and non cancerous cells in the prostate. There is normally a small amount of this protein in the blood, so the PSA blood test is a screening tool for possible prostate cancer.

Back to my PSA. It was 16 ng/mL. To put this in perspective, a range of 0-2.5 ng/mL is considered a safe zone. This however, can vary a little by age. Anything over 4-5 ng/mL will most likely be followed by a discussion with a medical provider. So obviously there was cause for concern. Was my father’s history of prostate cancer making its fateful appointment with me? I was told that an appointment would be made for me with a urologist. After an initial visit and a repeat PSA blood test, my value was still high, 14 ng/mL. Now came the moment of truth: “We’ll have to do a biopsy.” Each stop on this ride became a little more serious and a little more surreal.

If you’re a man between the ages of 40-50, please get a physical and a simple PSA blood test.

To be continued…

Why I Love My Wife

She’s beautiful. The kind of beauty that radiates from the inside.

She loves life and loves speaking life to others!

She’s analytical. She’s often deep in thought about a lot of things.

She’s an introvert but she loves that even though I’m an extrovert, I respect her need to withdraw at times.

She loves family and would do anything for her family.

She’s a motivator and deeply enjoys helping others reach their personal and fitness goals one on one.

She has the loudest, cutest laugh in any room! But it’s a joy to see her enjoying herself.

She always has a sacrificial kind of love.

She always believes in me and makes me feel strong.

In short, I love her because she means everything to me!

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!!

Praying For Marriages

My wife and I are passionate about marriages and would love to see all marriage relationships become strong and fruitful.

So how exactly do we allow this passion to be expressed? Well, we believe that one of the most meaningful ways in which our love for marriages is demonstrated is through prayer. I suppose there or two questions that can be asked to the above; one is “why do you pray” and the other is “what do you pray?”

To answer the why, we believe that as the creator and designer of marriages, God is intensely passionate about marriages. This is evidenced by the imagery depicted in scriptures of the church being the bride of Christ, who is the groom.

As far as the what, there are actually three main areas for which we pray when we come to God:

1. That God bless marriages

2. That God would put a stop to the enemy’s attack on marriages

3. That God would strengthen struggling, strained and broken marriages with His hand of restoration.

We hope that our commitment to see marriages become victorious gives you some degree of comfort. We hope and pray that your marriage is healthy and strong.

What is your prayer for marriages?