In his own words: living with prostate cancer
Frank is a 60-year-old security consultant from Florida who travels around the country. He advises companies about ways of strengthening their defenses and managing crises. He learned he had prostate cancer five years ago.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
While I had noticed I was getting up earlier and urinating more frequently, I didn't realize those were symptoms of a problem. I was diagnosed during a routine exam by my general practitioner (GP). He suggested doing a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test. When the doctor told me the PSA level in the blood was elevated, he started asking questions. That's when I realized the subtle changes in my urination were symptoms.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
My GP sent me to a urologist who did a biopsy. He called me at home just as we were sitting down to dinner and told me I had prostate cancer and better do something about it. I put the phone down, told my wife of 36 years the test was positive and I had to go in for a consultation. She asked, "What are we going to do?" I said eat dinner and that's what we did. I was in the rejection or denial mode. But she was smarter.
In the morning, she called the American Cancer Society. They sent a package of information that was incredibly helpful in deciding what course to take. The materials pointed us to something extremely important: the absolute value and necessity of a getting a second opinion. My wife went with me to both doctors, with a list of questions and a tape recorder. I wound up going with the second surgeon, because he was more experienced and more skilled in nerve-sparing surgery.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
We men like to think of ourselves as logical beings, but a cancer diagnosis tests the emotions. At first I didn't want to believe it. Then I asked, “Why me?” I felt sorry for myself. Finally I said, “Wow, I've got to deal with his thing. What are my options? Let's get going.”
My wife took a logical approach when my brain was not working quite right. And I put my faith in the Lord, so I had no fear.
How is your disease treated?
I had surgery, a retropubic prostate removal. I was relatively young, 55, and nerve-sparing surgery was important for two reasons: incontinence and impotence. Going in from the front allowed the doctor to remove my lymph nodes for analysis. My cancer hadn't spread. The surgery had the desired outcome. But the recovery took a long time, six to 12 months. At this stage, the doctor sees me every six months to check the PSA and perform a digital rectal exam.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to your illness?
I started back with mild exercises about three months after my surgery. I also realized I needed to cut back on fatty meat and other fats and focus on a healthy diet.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
I was exercising at a health club, and a number of men there had had different treatments for prostate cancer. I sought their counsel. One of them invited my wife and I over to his house to talk. He and his wife shared their experience and how they had dealt with the recovery. He told me about his surgeon, who I contacted for a second opinion. If I hadn't been open about my diagnosis, I would never have met my surgeon.
Did/does your condition have any impact on your family?
I found out after my diagnosis that prostate cancer had killed my father in 1970. It also had killed his brother and another brother had it. My wife and I have concerns about our three sons. They don't like to talk about it, so I wrote them a letter. I included information from the cancer society and the doctor about the importance of diet and exercise in prevention and the need to have the first PSA at age 40. They acknowledged receiving the letter but still won't talk about it. My wife and I have noticed a substantial change in their dietary habits.
What advice would you give to anyone living with this disease?
Deal with the fear with information, good counsel, and highly skilled people. Be completely open with them. Ask questions. Contact the American Cancer Society, and become involved in its Man-to-Man program, which provides information and support.