By Jack Sparacino
For years, I assumed I wouldn’t die in an accident. So far that’s been true, partly because of good luck and partly because of usually (not always) decent planning. Falling off a ladder onto my face and chest while painting our house with a can of paint tied around my neck was scary, but somehow nothing broke and a few dozen ibuprofen helped with the head to toe pain.
I did realize that we’re all just here for a while and assume that heart disease or cancer were far more likely to get my number than an accident. When my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I was in my early 40’s and suddenly felt like a target was painted on my back. Lo and behold, I received the same diagnosis in October 2010. It has been an eye-opening journey and ultimately a success story. Here are the key lessons that I’ve learned so far.
1. Check with your doctor, fellows, and get your PSA (prostate specific antigen) level tested as recommended. If you are destined to get prostate cancer, and most of us will get it eventually if we live long enough, catch it early.
2. “Make friends” with a good urologist, even if you don’t have leaky “pipes” or kidney stones. They may tell you things you don’t like hearing, but they may well save your life.
3. Don’t sweat the biopsy as much as I did if one becomes necessary. I found it uncomfortable but tolerable and fairly quick. They may be able to prescribe a sedative for you to get you in the mood, if that’s possible. (Just be advised that if you shop at Costco afterward, as I did with my friend and designated driver before the drug wore off, you may make some really interesting purchases.)
4. If the biopsy reveals cancer, don’t defeat the purpose of the test and fall over from a heart attack. Take a deep breath. Keep living your life. Remember there are more and better treatment options now than there were just a few years ago. Talk with your urologist about your choices.
4a. Being diagnosed with early prostate cancer is like being dealt an ace from the cancer deck. You would never draw any card from this deck on purpose, but it’s one of the best cards in it. Take another deep breath and count your blessings, it could have been worse.
5. You will (no guarantee of course) probably die of something else, not prostate cancer, but do your medical homework, get the facts, and work closely with your medical team to kill it. This disease is a terrorist to men and their families and deserves the same fate as other terrorists.
6. There are excellent treatment centers in this area, including The Keyserling Cancer Center in Port Royal and MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) in Charleston. Dr. James McNab, Medical Director at Keyserling, is just wonderful, extremely instructive and supportive, and so is his radiation oncology team. They were great with me and I am deeply thankful. Likewise, I received excellent initial testing, care and guidance from Dr. Jonathan Picard in the Department of Urology at MUSC.
7. Be prepared for side effects. Usually not too bad but sometimes no walk in the park. Keep talking with your medical team. Keep reading. Keep your head up and memorize where the bathrooms are in your travels.
8. Enlist knowledgeable and caring friends and family to serve as associate members of your medical team. It can be incredibly reassuring to talk with guys who have just gone through this process, are where you are, or are about to be. It’s not just that misery sometimes loves miserable company, as some of my old college textbooks used to say. You can even make new friends.
9. When you are pronounced “cured,” just think — now I can go back to just worrying about all that “other stuff” I got distracted from. Yahoo!!!
10. It looks like my prostate cancer is cured after I received radiation treatment at Keyserling last year. My PSA is down to the target level. This is one lousy disease that modern medicine has really put the cross hairs on. Go ahead and pull the trigger.