Prostate Cancer, Gory Details, Treatment Choices and Relay For Life, Can You Help?


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A sign we walk past during the night in Relay For Life

I’m writing this blog to ask for your help in raising awareness and fundraising for Relay For Life, to support the Cancer Society in raising funds they need both for cancer research and to support people who need help, from counseling to transport and even free accommodation when people have to travel out of town for treatment.

The Cancer Society is funding research amongst others in the area of treating cancer like a virus, which is showing a lot of promise and would mean that people like me in future might not have to go through the treatments and processes I went through.

IMG_4287Can you spare $5 in support or in memory of a friend or family member with cancer. You can do so here. You can do it with a message, you can leave your name or mention the person you are supporting, you can do it anonymously and if you are in New Zealand it is tax deductible. I’ll bet that you, dear reader, know at least one person who has cancer. Several of you of course know me, so there’s one.

Like my previous blog, if I get some donations, I will spare you some of the gory details that we prostate cancer patients have to deal with.

I would dearly welcome your donation, I’m struggling in receiving them this year. Where I am doing well, is that the number of people who have told me that they have been motivated to get tested for cancer has now risen to 20! Every single one of them is cancer free and more importantly know so and have baselines.

So in my last blog, I spared you the gory details of the first visits to the urologist and trading my dignity for hope.  Now I am going to offer to spare you details of some of the side effects of prostate cancer treatment, some of which I endured and some of which I chose not to risk. I had to make decisions based on choosing life (if possible) and the most suitable treatment for my lifestyle and work.

IMG_2184 (2)Some of those side effects included painful urination, short term or permanent erectile dysfunction, never producing seminal fluid again, the length of your penis being reduced, damage to other organs, chronic fatigue, loss of libido and depression. Some of these are experienced by most prostate patients and some depend on the choice of treatment, which of course depending on the seriousness of the condition may not be optional if you want to live. It’s also important to recognise that everyone responds differently to different treatment.

The next steps were a series of biopsies. I’ll spare you the details of how they do that for prostate cancer other than that they approach it from behind. Initially they found 3 tumors and confirmed that they were malignant. Then over the next few months, scans and 2 more biopsies confirmed that I had at least 5 and they were slow growing.

They gave me 3 options. One was to implant radioactive seeds into my prostate a treatment called Brachytherapy. Here’s more if you’d like to know more about how it works. I decided against it because it meant staying away from my granddaughter and pregnant women for about 6 months. Besides not wanting to change my relationship with my beautiful young granddaughter, how do you know if someone in your circle, or even randomly sitting next to you, say on a plane, is pregnant? They might not know themselves.on

IMG_4479Basically you are emitting radiation, which while not powerful, could have unintended side effects for others. The percentage likelihood, very slim, but percentages weren’t working well for me at this time and I wasn’t going to have on my conscience that I could be sitting next to a random stranger, potentially damaging a foetus she didn’t even know existed. Obviously some people do that. You can’t exactly hop on a flight and ask not to be seated next to a young girl going through puberty or a woman of an age that she could be pregnant and perhaps not know it.

The urologist was keen on this option. It would mean a quick procedure and a couple of days later I would be home. It would have minimal impact on my work, but given part of my work is reasonably frequent air travel and what I just told you, it wasn’t a great option. It was a treatment he would perform with my oncologist, who I had yet to meet. Specialists tend to favor opportunities for surgery or treatment that is their specialty of course and I respect that.

IMG_2061The next option was 8 weeks of almost daily radiation on this beast, which includes a CT scanner which would first make sure that every morning, after drinking enough water to fill my bladder and push my organs out of reach of the radiation (where possible), that I was lying in an identical position.

It would give me a 95% chance of killing the tumours. They could accomodate me so that I could go in first thing in the morning, if I got up early and have the treatment before work. They could do it over December and January as well so that would mean 3 weeks where it did not impact on my job.

The third option was to remove the prostate altogether, so if the tumours haven’t spread beyond the gland (pretty difficult to tell), they might get it altogether.

At this point I felt I needed to be informed. What were the risks, benefits and side effects? I thought back to watching Sir Paul Holmes on TV before he passed away from Prostate Cancer in 2013, saying that he wished he had never known he had cancer at all.

So how do you choose? I purchased a book called ‘Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer, Get The Treatment That is Right For You‘ by Dr Gerald Chodak. Oh how I wish I hadn’t bought the book, but I’m the sort of person who needs to understand.

It explained in gory detail how the different treatments worked (including some chemical treatments that we hadn’t discussed). Every treatment came with side effects and after effects. I hardly got any sleep for the week it took me to read this book. It scared the hell out of me and whilst you need to be positive, as stress has an impact on your body’s ability to fight cancer cells, it’s pretty hard to make an informed decision that WILL impact the rest of your Teamlife without being informed. I chose the book over Doctor Google, because it was recommended by cancer patient support groups.

So in the end I chose the 8 weeks of radiation and yes it had lots of side effects. Most of these are now over, 2 years later, but I’d be lying if I said it had been easy. If you’d like the gory details, please don’t pop $5 into my Early Bird account.

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Naked barring my socks, each morning I lay on the scanner, watching them mark with a pen, where the beam should go, trying to hold on to my dignity and my full bladder

Unfortunately soon after 2 months of treatment they told me that I wasn’t in the 95% of people who found themselves in remission after the treatment, but I felt very happy for those who were.

I had side effects from the treatment and scans showed the tumours were still there.

I did work on positivity and put my energy into starting my EP The Cancer Diaries following suppRelaort from my friends when I didn’t have the emotional strength to pick up my guitars or play them. I also took up the offer of free counselling from an Auckland Cancer Society specialist cancer psychologist, one of the services funded by your donations. If you haven’t heard the DEMO of the first song called If I Could Turn The Pages, you can listen to it here.

I hope you don’t want the gory details and will find $5 to shut me up although if you have prostate cancer, or want to know more about getting tested or the journey you are facing, I’m happy to share my experiences with any individuals on request.

Several people have found it helpful to speak to someone who has cancer rather than well meaning people, who haven’t had the experiences or had to make difficult decisions.

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly past who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March. The day after my birthday.

So instead of encouraging me to talk in more detail about the physical and emotional experiences I’ve been through in the last 2 years, please drop a couple of coins in the virtual bucket and lets celebrate life and hope and support Relay For Life 18 with my team. The Early Birds.

Christchurch Cancer Patient Denied Test by TWO GP’s


 

After all the effort that the Cancer Society commits to educating people about the importance of catching cancer early, two doctors telling a patient that he didn’t need tests, as told in Stuff a couple of days ago amounts to malpractice in my humble opinion.

There was a comment about a GP who might have felt uncomfortable with doing a DRE, I’m not comfortable having one and it’s a level of relationship I never planned to have with mt GP. That wasn’t what raised the alarm bells for my cancer, it was the fact that rather than fluctuating as normal, my PSA levels from a tiny little blood test, had increased consecutively over 4 tests.

All credit to my GP because I was still within what is considered normal levels, however biopsies found 3 then 5 tumors.

Mercy ScannerI’ve since had radiation treatment for 8 weeks and am now on hormone treatment ad my latest test showed a small improvement for the first time.

EarlyMy Relay For Life team is called the Early Birds, because if we hadn’t found them then, I would probably be in a similar condition to the person in this story. Now I have the possibility of a full recovery. At the pace the multiple biopsies showed the tumors were growing, un-diagnosed, I would have been facing a potential death sentence.

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I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of a finger up their jack-see but all I had to start with was a PSA blood test that takes about a minute at your local test lab.

To the doctors, I say read your journals, attend your local local GP group meetings and have at least one person in your practice that is up to date with Prostate Cancer. For the rest of you mortals, did you know it’s BLUE September? The Cancer Societies on many countries around the world are running events this month. Find the info for your country here. I’m going to a Poker Night at Sky City Casino. I used to go to a tournament every month but these days I am too fatigued and generally fall asleep at around 7:30 every night, but I’ve told my boss that if I do any good I will be sleeping in the following day:)

Don’t freak out about getting tested. You can just go for the PSA test for starters if you don’t have any other problems. Do get the test, BUT:

Sort out your insurance before you get tested if you have never been tested. 

When I told my insurance broker that I had been diagnosed with cancer, he said “Luigi, my friend, you are now un-insurable.” Imagine getting tested getting a positive result and not having health insurance. Even with health insurance we have had to top up the gap in terms of tens of thousands of dollars.

Bottom line, I choose life. I have a chance and in fact for the first time in 18 months my PSA levels have dropped 12%. Obviously I want 100%, but its the first positive sign towards recovery. If I had visited one of the GP’s that Graeme Pollard went to, my options (I don’t know anything about his prognosis) right now would probably be either prostectomy surgery (with high risk of nasty short and long term side effects) or hormone treatment at much higher doses than the pills I’m taking now.

I don’t know what our rights are in cases like this and it sounds like a GP can do and say what they like and not be held accountable.

Yes, there is a school of thought that it is better not to know. Sir Paul Holmes the renowned Kiwi broadcaster said on TV that he would rather not have known. I know my life expectancy is now longer than it would have been if I didn’t know and knowing has changed my attitude towards life. I want to enjoy it and am no longer thinking about what I might do if I save my pennies for when I retire at 70.

Here’s a couple of facts for a small country.

  • Around 3,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in New Zealand a year. That’s 10 a day!
  • Around 600 men die in New Zealand from prostate cancer every year.
  • There is no miracle cure but research is happening at a fast rate and looking very positive.
  • Whilst we are a society that says (It won’t happen to me) 1 in 3 people in New Zealand will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in New Zealand.

Here’s an interesting little exercise. If you are catching up with your family or friends today. Play a little game. Put them in a line and get them each to consecutively call out 1,2,3. Every person who calls ‘3’ goes and stands on the other side of the room. Now tell them they have cancer, because we don’t have a choice over which one it is. If you wanted to make it interesting you could include all regular smokers. My father in law died from throat cancer from being taught how to smoke in the war and we believe another uncle has lung cancer from the habit he developed with free cigarettes while serving his country in Korea, but I digress.

If you are male, over the age of 50, get your insurances in order and go and tell your GP you want regular PSA tests, at least once a year. If he refuses, get a new GP that cares about you. Prostate Cancer is not a death warrant, especially if you get it early. Never knowing you have it, will very likely reduce your life expectancy. If you had a choice to live a bit longer, would you choose life?

Be an early bird.