BY NORBERT RUG
As a three-time prostate cancer survivor that is now battling it for the fourth time now, I wanted to let you know that September is prostate cancer awareness month. It is estimated that over 31,620 deaths from this disease will occur this year, a 7% increase from 2018 according to The American Cancer Society. Most prostate cancer is preventable with proper screening. A simple blood test and an exam by your primary care doctor is usually all you need. I am hoping that by telling my story I can help save at least one life.
In June of 2009, I went to my doctor with food poisoning and casually mentioned that I was going to the bathroom frequently at night. He gave me an exam and said he didn’t like what he found. He suggested I have a biopsy of the prostate, despite the fact my PSA was within the normal range. I went under general anesthesia and they took 12 samples. Seven of the 12 samples came back positive for cancer. I was immediately scheduled for the surgery to have my prostate removed.
About 1 man in 40 will die from prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the second most prevalent reason for cancer-related deaths for men in the United States.
The surgeon who removed my prostate told me two things. First off, he said if I had come to him first, he wouldn’t have recommended the surgery as my PSA was lower than his. Second, he told me that I had a very aggressive, fast-spreading form of cancer and if I had waited for 2 to 4 weeks, he wouldn’t have been able to save me. Even with the surgery I still needed radiation. My recovery was not easy and I was off work for almost 7 months.
Prostate cancer is also the most common form of cancer (other than skin cancer) diagnosed in men. Research has shown that men with specific risk factors are more apt to get prostate cancer. Talking with your doctor about your risk factors will help both of you build a plan for prostate cancer screening based on your risk factors in the future. These factors may indicate the necessity for screening at a younger age or the call for testing more often. I currently get my blood tested every month.
The past 10 years have been filled with ups and downs. I’ve had 1 surgery that required hospitalization and 4 ambulatory surgeries. I’ve had 2 biopsies, have been to 3 different hospitals, and have been treated by over half a dozen new doctors. I’ve had CAT scans, PET scans, MRIs, X rays and sonograms. I’ve had 5 cycles of chemo, three rounds of radiation and hormone therapy. I’ve had 2 deep vein thrombosis, 2 pulmonary embolisms and had a medi-port in my chest and a permanently installed Greenfield filter. I had so many procedures and have taken so many drugs I keep a small notebook.
In 2012 the cancer metastasized in the fatty tissue below my liver which was eliminated with radiation. Then in 2014, I was told I had stage 4 cancer, this time in the lymph nodes in my lower abdomen and in my chest near my windpipe. We began chemotherapy. The spring and summer of 2014 was a scary time. The chemo weakened me immensely. I would have one week where I was either bedridden or in the hospital, then a week where I was barely functional. I would then have the third week that I was kind of OK before I had chemo again. My medi-port caused further complications with blood clots.
It seemed like I was either bedridden or in the hospital from complications for most of May and June of 2014 and was actually admitted to the hospital 3 times in June. Even with the chemo we weren’t making the progress we were hoping for. Dr. Yi from CCS said that I should try more radiation to treat the hot spots because I always responded well to it. Thankfully I did. It cleared up the cancer.
Like I said, I am now fighting cancer for the 4th time. They tell me I have tumors in both lungs and two in my bones for a total of four cancers. Unfortunately, I am told that all of them are “Untreatable”. Chemo won’t work and would probably put me into the hospital again and they say they can’t give me any more radiation.
I have been to so many doctors, had so many procedures, so many surgeries and taken so many drugs that I carry a notebook with me when I go to a doctor’s appointment. I can’t possibly remember them all.
Bottom line is I am still here fighting for my life. I know that I am not going to live forever but I am not ready to give up yet. Sharing my story is important to me so I can let others like me know cancer is just one word, not a sentence, that winning against the impossible is possible and that they are not alone in their fight. I implore every man young or old to undergo prostate cancer testing by having a blood test and an exam by your doctor. Don’t be one of the 31,620, your family and friends need you.
Norb is a writer that lives in Lockport.