It’s been an interesting few weeks of conversations, concern, and coordination. But first a little digression that has been a factor in this whole process.
When I walked from my home to the radiation oncologist’s (RO) office back in mid-February, the nurse took my vitals and my blood pressure was elevated to the point it both surprised and concerned me (and the nurse). We chalked some of it up to “white coat syndrome,” and left it at that for that visit. Even if it was “white coat syndrome,” it warranted further investigation.
In early March, I started experiencing headaches and even some intermittent numbness of varying intensity on the left side of my face. A bit unnerving. I scheduled an appointment with the VA Urgent Care facility and they checked me out. My blood pressure was still elevated (but not as high as at the RO office), and she didn’t suspect that there was a TIA stroke going on. An MRI confirmed no abnormalities in my brain. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist this classic scene from Young Frankenstein. Anyhow…)
Obviously, trying to figure all of this out took precedence over scheduling salvage radiation therapy (SRT), but it’s also related to SRT and androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) because some studies have shown that there may be an elevated risk of cardiovascular events while on hormone therapy. With an elevated blood pressure and a family history it became a question that I wanted to pose to the RO.
RO Call, Tuesday, 29 March
You may recall that the RO told me that I could use the weekend to think about whether or not I wanted to proceed with concurrent ADT or just do straight radiation therapy. He said he would call me between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Monday morning for my decision. He didn’t.
However, he did call early Tuesday morning and apologized for missing the call on Monday. He said that the school his kids attend dropped their requirement to wear face masks, and they came home with a common cold and gave it to him. (Justification for continued mask-wearing.)
When we began the conversation, I told him that I was ready to do the concurrent ADT—in line with his thoughts—but I wanted to discuss what was going on with my blood pressure. He said that the cardiovascular risks were “extremely small,” especially with me scheduled to be on ADT for only six months.
I told him about my family history. My dad survived a heart attack at 54 and died in his sleep at 69. We never did an autopsy, but we suspect it was either a blood clot that let loose from major injuries he suffered in a auto accident sixteen months earlier or another heart attack that did him in. My paternal grandmother died at 69 from an aneurism on her heart, and my maternal grandmother died at 66 of a massive stroke.
I also let the RO know that I had been successful in losing 15 lbs. / 7 kg in the last few months and he reminded me that hormone therapy generally leads to weight gain if you’re not very careful.
After all of that, the RO’s enthusiasm for doing concurrent ADT waned and he was more inclined to suggest straight radiation by the end of the call.
At that point in time, though, I had not yet had my MRI—that was scheduled Wednesday evening—and I told the RO that I a) wanted to get the MRI results and b) talk to my primary care physician (PCP) about all of this once he had the results.
PCP Call, Thursday, 31 March 2022
In my call with my PCP, we agreed to put me on medication to help lower my blood pressure as I continue to lose weight. He also was able to give me the MRI results over the phone which surprised me. The technician told me it would take two to three business days to get the results, and he had them in about eighteen hours. Not complaining.
When I specifically asked him about the ADT and associated cardiovascular risks, he, too, said they were minimal. Even so, he was of the mindset to skip the ADT now mainly because of its other well-known side effects of hot flashes, enlarged breasts, weight gain, mood swings, fatigue, etc.
I thought that was interesting.
Urologist Call, Friday, 1 April 2022
Thursday, I emailed the urologist and update on all of this and asked for her insights. She called and we had a good discussion. She, like the others, said the cardiovascular risks were small and that the benefit of doing the ADT concurrent with the SRT was significant. She was definitely in the concurrent ADT camp.
When I spoke with the RO on Tuesday, one of the questions that I had was what drug would they use for the ADT. He thought the VA would use either Lupron® or Eligard®, so I confirmed that with the urologist. It would be a single shot of Eligard® that lasts for six months. Interestingly, she said the SRT could start about a month after the shot; the RO said he’d start SRT about two months after the shot.
I mentioned to her that I have an in-person appointment on 10 May and she suggested I could get the Eligard® shot then. Or, if I wanted to get it sooner, I could call for an earlier appointment.
Urologist Office Call, Monday, 4 April 2022
The Urologist’s office called to schedule the Eligard® injection. It’s set for 3 May 2022.
I did tell the scheduler that I had to have the final conversation with the RO next week, and that I would cancel the appointment if we decided to do the salvage radiation without hormone therapy. He was okay with that.
I will email the urologist to ask for a “before” PSA test to be done as a baseline starting point. I have some other bloodwork on order for my 21 April PCP visit, so I’ll see if the PSA can be added to that order.
Radiation Oncologist Call, Tuesday, 12 April 2022
One thing the RO told me when we last spoke was that he was going on Spring Break vacation with his kids, and wouldn’t be back in the office until 11 April. While he was out, I emailed him a summary of everything above.
We chatted for a good half hour this morning reviewing everything, and with the MRI results not showing anything, he moved back into the “leaning concurrent ADT” camp. His training is to tackle the cancer aggressively.
Based everything, I’ve decided to go ahead with the concurrent ADT and SRT.
Barring anything goofy happening, the timeline going forward looks something like this:
- 18 April – Bloodwork done for PCP visit, hopefully including pre-treatment PSA. (Still trying to get that added to the order.)
- 21 April – PCP appointment.
- 3 May – Eligard® injection.
- 10 May – Previously scheduled in-person appointment with the urologist.
- Mid-June – Perform body mapping.
- Mid- to Late June – Start 7 weeks of SRT.
The RO said he’d have his team call me later this week to nail down specific schedules for the mapping and zapping.
I wish I could say that I was relieved at the end of the call this morning, but I wasn’t. This was committing to a course of action that I really wish I didn’t have to do. Life isn’t fair, I get it. I also get that it’s the right thing to do.
Wish me luck.