Do Your Research
Ron Lewen, 55, of Batavia, Illinois, fancies himself a bit of a computer whiz, and his proficiencies at all things Internet more than paid off when he found out he had prostate cancer. “I’m such a geek, so I just researched the heck out of this,” he says.
Lewen, who had been receiving routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screenings since he was about 50, found out in January 2012 that his PSA levels were higher than normal. “They had gone above the threshold my doctor was comfortable with, so he had me take some antibiotics in case it was an infection. I had to do another test a few weeks later.” The result: His PSA levels had gone up again. Lewen’s general practitioner sent him to a urologist who performed a digital rectal exam and a biopsy on his prostate. By March, he had his diagnosis: early-stage prostate cancer. “My Gleason score was low, so we caught it early,” he says.
That’s when Lewen’s Internet sleuth skills paid off. He began researching his treatment options. For Lewen, who weighed 380 pounds, traditional surgery was just not going to work, his doctor told him. A radiologist recommend brachytherapy—radioactive seeds are implanted in the prostate to kill the cancer cells—or traditional radiation. “Those options would have been fine, but I kept reading about proton therapy,” he says.
His curiosity piqued, Lewen sought out a proton treatment center. There are less than a hundred nationwide, but one happens to be 15 minutes from Lewen’s house. During his first meeting, he met with doctors, nurses, radiation therapists, and dosimetrists. “They went out of their way to make me feel comfortable,” he says.
After talking it over with his wife and weighing all the consequences of the different treatments, Lewen decided to use proton therapy to treat his prostate cancer. For this type of treatment, doctors insert a small balloon into the rectum to lift up the prostate so radiation can better reach the prostate without affecting other nearby organs and tissues.
He finished with his proton treatments in August 2012 and will undergo PSA tests every three months for the first year. After that, his doctor will check them annually. Overall, Lewen says, he couldn’t have asked for a better treatment experience. “What few side effects I had as a result of treatment were never anything that kept me from my work or from enjoying a normal life,” he says.
“One of the really nice things about medicine today is that we have a lot of options, but one of the really bad things is that we have a lot of options,” he says. “It can get overwhelming, but it’s important to understand your options. I probably talked to 20 different people during the course of my research, but it helped me make the best choice in the end.”
Find Treatment That Suits You
Hank Curry, 62, doesn’t take life lying down. He hauls hay and competes in roping competitions. So when the Gardnerville, Nevada, resident was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December 2011, he adopted the same approach to fighting the cancer.
Curry sought advice from his doctors and specialists—but it was a friend who ultimately led him to where he would end up. “A good friend of mine had a brother who was diagnosed with very severe cancer. He was being treated at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Phoenix,” Hank says. “They were happy with the people there, so it felt like an encouraging place to visit.”
Curry’s doctors had encouraged him to have surgery. After all, the cancer was pretty advanced—when he had a biopsy, doctors checked 16 places on the prostate for the presence of cancer. All 16 came back positive. “They said they felt there was a good chance the cancer had spread out of the prostate itself and into my abdominal cavity. They told me we could remove it, but there was no guarantee they would get it all,” he says. “If you’re going through the inconvenience and surgery and the pain to have that surgery and it still might not eliminate the cancer, I realized that wasn’t the surgery for me.”
Curry started his treatments in January 2012 and ended them in August. He underwent nine weeks of radiation, five days a week. Currently, he’s receiving Lupron (female hormone) injections to keep his body from producing testosterone that could fuel a recurrence of his cancer. During his time there, Curry maintained a regular physical regimen, ate well thanks to the chefs, and tried to keep his body in top shape. “I’m partial to CTCA,” he says. “They cover all the bases. The people are so confident there, and it gives you a secure feeling because you have so many people on the team.”
“I’m back to work—hauling hay and things like that—and I’m reestablishing my physical abilities, building myself back up,” he says. “I’m probably not as strong as I was when I started last December, but I’m pretty close. I don’t feel like I’m a wimp or anything.”
When Cancer Returns
When Alfred Diggs was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 55, he elected to have a radical prostatectomy. “I hadn’t had any symptoms related to the prostate cancer, but I had been getting PSAs for a long time,” says the former pharmacist and health-care professional from Concord, California. As an African-American, Diggs knew his chances for the cancer were higher—as was the risk it would return. “My PSA more than doubled in one year, and a biopsy showed that I had prostate cancer in several lobes of my prostate,” he says. “Newer technologies existed, but they have to be around for at least 10 years before I’ll do them.”
“After surgery, I had about three or four months of urinary incontinence—but that’s not unusual,” he says. Diggs, now 66, also had erectile dysfunction as a result of the treatment, but he is able to treat it with medicine.
That was 11 years ago, and the entire time, Diggs remained symptom-free. Then in early 2011, the cancer returned. “My PSA started to go up gradually, and if you have recurrent prostate cancer, the only clinical indicator doctors have is your PSA,” he says. “I saw several doctors, and they all told me the same thing—I needed radiation.”
Diggs began a radiation treatment: 35 treatments over seven weeks, and in October 2011, he was finished with his radiation, and his PSA numbers were returning to normal again.
So how does prostate cancer recur when there is no longer a prostate? “If the prostate cancer is totally contained in the prostate, it’s about 100 percent curable. If the cancer cells fall off into the prostate bed [the tissue surrounding the prostate], there’s a chance the cancer may come back,” Diggs says.
“When the cancer came back, it wasn’t as bad emotionally,” he says. “It didn’t have the same emotional impact. I just thought ‘Here we go again!’”
If you get a diagnosis, Diggs suggests reaching out to the American Cancer Society and contacting other men who have gone through a diagnosis and treatment. “Quite simply, they can tell you things the doctor can’t.”