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 SCANS

So what’s it like to hear you have cancer right before a vacation? Well, let’s just say that it wasn’t in my bucket list.

After our vacation, came the follow up visit. As it had already been related to me, I would need some diagnostic studies to rule out any spread. Oh yeah, I guess this is a good time to say that I’m a doctor and I was very familiar with all these steps. Familiarity, however, didn’t add any level of comfort. It did however, allow me to cut out the middle man and schedule my own tests! In my sense of losing control I needed to feel like I still had some, even if it was in my own head.

As I laid motionless on the hard, cool table for the bone scans, I could see my images on the screen and immediately knew there was no spread. I guess my knowledge was helpful in this case. But I also knew that the next step involved a discussion of treatments. And I knew that I was facing radiation or surgery. However, I thought for a moment how someone in my shoes would feel if they didn’t have the medical knowledge that I did. Would they feel lost, out of control and helpless? I think they would. Because in a way, so did I.

I guess I also have to share at this point the fact that my darling bride of 23 years was with me during these visits. It was very reassuring to know that I had her support. I told her she didn’t have to go with me but in a very assertive way, with a not so nice look she said, “shut up!” That made me happy.

To be continued…

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…

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…

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.

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!