Day 3,394 – Doctor Visit

Well, I didn’t expect that…

I met with the urologist this afternoon—a new one to my case—and he was personable but very direct.

We talked about the goofy PSA reading and he wasn’t all that concerned about it. It appeared to be lab error and dismissed it as pretty much meaningless. But what followed caught me a little off-guard. “The one thing you absolutely do not want to do is start treatment.” He was quite emphatic. His reasoning was several-fold.

First, he talked about over-treatment given my numbers and pathology. He was looking at how long it took for the PSA to return post-surgery (nearly five years) and how slowly it’s been increasing (PSA doubling time / velocity). Those were positive indicators to him. Treatments like radiation and hormone therapy have side effects that impact quality of life and can be avoided with minimal risk for now.

Second, he expressed concern that if we started treatment too soon, specifically hormone therapy, it would be less effective when we may need it the most.

Third, he mentioned the absolute value of my PSA and how imaging wouldn’t be able to detect where any cancer may be at that level. That’s nothing new to me. We talked about the Ga-68 PSMA trial up at UCLA, and he confirmed that at my PSA level, the chances of finding something meaningful were small (<30%).

Finally, he was very much aware that continued monitoring is needed to make sure that this doesn’t get away from us, and he was content with PSA tests every six months considering how slowly the PSA was increasing. I wasn’t quite comfortable with that, so my next PSA test will be in late June with an appointment on 2 July 2020.

I did mention to him the issues I’ve been having with my back and sciatica, and that I had an MRI last night to have that checked out. I’m 99.5% certain that the problem is related to a back injury that happened in 1986, but that other 0.5% of me was wondering if there was metastasis to the spine. He pretty much dismissed that possibility out of hand given where my PSA level is at. (Hey, my mind wanders into some pretty dark corners sometimes, but given that one of the first place prostate cancer likes to metastasize is the spine, it’s not too far-fetched an idea.)

Again, I was a little taken aback by how emphatic he was concerning not pursuing any treatment at this moment. I got the sense that he really values trying to balance avoiding over-treatment versus quality of life versus knowing when to step in and act. For now, I’m comfortable with continued monitoring with another PSA test in four months.


So, I’ll leave you with a little urology “humor” that has men cringing everywhere.

As I was sitting in the exam room waiting for the doctor, I looked over on the desk and saw the tools of the trade—some lubricating jelly and toilet tissue—at the ready for the dreaded DRE. (The rubber gloves were in dispensers hanging on the wall.)

Then I reminded myself that it was a DRE during a routine physical that discovered the mass on my prostate and started this adventure. Thirty seconds of discomfort can save a life.

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Urologist tools of the trade.

The New York Times: Debating the Value of PSA Prostate Screening

So I’m sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office scrolling through the news on my phone and this pops up. Go figure.

The New York Times: Debating the Value of PSA Prostate Screening.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/24/well/live/prostate-testing-PSA-cancer-screening.html

Day 3,392 – PSA Retest Results

My last PSA test on 4 February showed a 50% drop in my value compared to the previous test in September 2019, which is a major, unexplained swing considering that I haven’t been doing treatments of any type to lower my PSA. It just didn’t sit right with me, so I asked for a retest.

PSA 20200223I went in on 20 February for the retest, and the PSA came back at 0.16 ng/ml, exactly where it was in September 2019. (At least that’s the silver lining in the cloud: it didn’t go even higher.)

We’ll probably never get a good explanation for the dip in my PSA earlier this month, and I guess that’s just part of dealing with this beast. I’m going to leave the errant data point on my chart just to show how wacky this can be at times.

The one thing that this has done, though, is drive my PSA Doubling Time down to 39.7 months according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering PSADT Calculator (excluding the 0.08 reading). That’s still a very good number, but it’s downward trend over time is becoming more concerning.

I’m really glad that I was able to get the retest done before my appointment with the doctor on Tuesday. It certainly will make for an interesting discussion.

More to come…

Month 111 – PSA Results Are In

Baffled. Completely and utterly baffled.

Excited that my PSA value went from 0.16 ng/ml in September to 0.08 ng/ml last week, but completely thrown for a loop as to how and why a 50% decrease happened (without any treatment or other intervention). The last time I was at 0.08 ng/ml was nearly three years ago in April 2017.

I follow the same routine for a week before each PSA blood test to avoid activities that may influence the outcome. The only difference time was that I had a cold/flu the days before the test (Monday afternoon-Thursday evening; blood draw on Friday morning), but I can’t imagine that having any influence on a PSA number. I’ll ask when I talk to the doctor on 25 February 2020.

I tried updating my PSA Doubling Time using the MSKCC PSADT calculator, and this bumped my PSADT from 43 months to 123 months. There is a caveat, though. The online calculator accepts only PSA values of 0.10 or more, so I rounded up my 0.08 to 0.10 to run the calculation.

I get that there can be lab errors or accuracy concerns as well, but I would be hard-pressed to attribute a 50% shift to a lab issue. Still, when you look at the last four data points on my chart, there is pretty significant fluctuation between each and its previous data point when compared to the quite consistent series of data points prior to that. It makes you go, “Hmm…”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about where the PSA is at. I will say, however, that these kinds of wild swings make it challenging to wrap your head around what’s happening in order to prepare for what’s next. I was mentally gearing up for calls to imaging centers and radiation oncologists because I was expecting the result to be in the 0.16 to 0.18 range this time around.

So that’s it. A short post with unexpected, somewhat bizarre results. We’ll see what the doctor says on the 25th.

PSA 20200207

Month 110 – Getting Older

Years ago when I was in my late 40s, I was on one of my infamous road trips through the U.S. Deep South—Mississippi, specifically. I stopped for lunch at a fast food joint, placed my order, and was surprised by how cheap it was. When I got to my seat, I looked at my receipt and it showed “Senior Discount.” I was in my 40s, for crying out loud! I know I didn’t look that old.

Now, about 15 years later, I’m seeking out senior discounts. Or at least one in particular.

In the United States, when you turn 62 years old—as I did last week—you can purchase a lifetime pass that gives you access to all of our national parks for a one-time fee of a mere $80. Within a few hours of turning 62, I was in possession of my lifetime pass. Sweet! Now, I just have to make the time to use it.

My sister came out from Chicago to celebrate my birthday, and it was good to be able to spend some quality time with her, showing her some of the more popular sites in sunny San Diego. She, of course, enjoyed escaping the Chicago winter, even if it was just for a long weekend.

So there are some perks to making one more trip around the sun each year as we grow older. It doesn’t always seem that way on days when joints ache and memory slips a tad (now where are those keys again??), but it certainly beats the alternative.

I’ll be back to reality with my next PSA test in early February. Until then, you may find me in a national park someplace. (Yes, even Death Valley. It’s on my bucket list and now is the time of year to go.)


I’ve been a bit remiss in following my regular posting schedule the last two months. I’ll work to get back on track, posting on the 11th of each month. (Unless I happen to be in a national park.)

 

Life After Radical Prostatectomy: 9 Years Later

So it’s been 9 years since my radical prostatectomy on 4 January 2011. How am I doing?

Status

If you’ve been following along, you know that my PSA has taken a bit of a roller coaster ride over the last few test results, with the trend continuing upward with the last reading at 0.16 ng/ml. I’ve got my next blood draw on the calendar on 4 February 2020 and we’ll just have to see what happens next.

Emotions

Faithful readers of this blog will have noticed that I skipped my regularly scheduled post in December. Part of the reason behind that was I was insanely busy at work, trying to get almost 300 volunteers to staff five events in less than two weeks, and part of it was that I had been pretty successful putting this cancer crap on the back burner for a while, and it felt good.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the “ignorance is bliss” theory of life, but I think that I’ve been on a subconscious break for a while knowing that the next PSA test will very likely force my hand—enjoying the calm before the storm, so to speak.

Incontinence/Urinary Control

I’ve been pretty much maintaining the status quo in this department for a while now: minor stress incontinence that’s more a nuisance than anything else. Although, when I was down with the flu in November, I was going through three or four pads a day with the severe coughing that I had. It wasn’t fun. (Always good to have a supply of pads in the cupboard.)

There were also a few nights in November and December where I had to empty my bladder 3-5 times in 6 or 7 hours of trying to sleep. Not fun and made for a tough day afterwards. I’m not sure what that was about, as I didn’t increase my fluid intake above normal any of those nights. Thankfully, I’m back to normal and can pretty much sleep through the whole night without needing to run to the toilet.

Sexual Function

The last time I wrote one of these updates, I said that I had been regressing a little in this department, with erections in the 60%-70% range. Things have seemed to improve a little on their own since then, and I’m probably back in the 70%-80% range, with an occasional 90% day.

Summary

I’ll continue to enjoy the calm before the storm for now and we’ll see what happens to my PSA in early February. If it goes up again, referrals to radiation oncologists and lots of imaging will likely be in my future. If it stays the same or decreases again, who knows what path I’ll choose. No need to get ahead of myself right now. We’ll get the results, talk to the medical team, and go from there.

Day 3,302 – Jets, Pads, and Discs

This is the famous Jet d’Eau in Geneva, Switzerland. It shoots 500 liters / 130 gallons of water per second 140 meters/460 feet into the air. Keep that image in mind.

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On Thursday, 14 November, I went and got my obligatory seasonal flu shot—a necessity working in a hospital. It was no biggie.

Friday afternoon, though, I was feeling a bit wonky—a bit of a chill and general tiredness—but it only lasted a brief while. I went to an event for work later that evening and did just fine.

Saturday morning was fine, too. I threw my camera in the car and I was headed out to take some photos. Before I got out of town, though, the chills and wonky feeling returned, a little more intense than the previous day, so I bailed on the photography and went back home for a quiet evening of rest just in case something might be taking hold.

Sunday was fine, but Monday at work, a sore throat and headache kicked in full-bore, and the next thing you know, I’m curled up in bed at home Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

The bug had me trying to cough up my toenails for the better part of those three days. And each time I coughed, there was a jet (see photo above) of something other than Eau coming out of my nether regions. Back into incontinence pads I went. And I went through pads like, well, pee through a man without a prostate. Not fun.

To add insult to injury, somewhere in one of those cough-up-your-toenails coughing fits, I must have moved one of my herniated lumbar discs around. (Old injury from 1986.) Now, in addition to jetting pee into my pad with each cough, I simultaneously send a bolt of lightning/pain down my right leg.

Let’s just say it’s not been the best of weeks. (Yeah, I know. Dial 1-800-Waaaahh!)

The cold is slowly relenting, and I’m sure it will be behind me by Thanksgiving. The nerve in my leg? That’s another story…

I’ve been pretty lucky with my back over the years just by being very conscientious of what my limits and capabilities are. About 2005, though, things went bonkers with it.

It would take me 10 minutes to put a sock on my foot and another 10 minutes to put the shoe on, and the only position I was relatively comfortable in was standing. A series of visits to a physical therapist (including traction), did nothing to improve the situation.

I went off to a Harley-Davidson-riding female neurosurgeon to see what could be done. We did all the scans, and she found that a piece of my disc had broken off and was the culprit that was bouncing on the nerve to my leg. She refused to do surgery (risk > reward), but tried using a steroid injected into the spine to dissolve the piece of disc that was floating around. It worked and I haven’t had any serious problem since then.

Historically, when my back does flare up, it tends to resolve itself on its own in a matter of days to a few weeks. This feels a bit different, though. It’s impacting my gait; my right leg lights up when I try to take a normal step, but if I take about two-thirds of a step, there isn’t as much pain.

Moral of the story: Don’t get a flu shot.

Okay. Disregard that. Get your flu shot.

This is the first time I’ve had a reaction to a flu shot like this and, who knows, it may not have been the flu shot at all. It may have been just pure coincidence that I caught the bug around the same time I got the shot. I do work around sick people in a hospital and I take public transit to work, after all. Plenty of opportunity for virus transmission.

Time to pound down a shot of cough medicine and call it a night.

The real moral to the story: Keep plenty of pads on hand. You’ll never know when you’ll need them to tame a jet.

Nine Years

November is time for Thanksgiving. It’s a time when we come together and reflect, if even briefly, on the things that we’re grateful for: family, friends, health, prosperity, and, for some, even the latest iEverything. (Sorry, Tim Cook, I don’t do iAnything.)

It’s a special day.

Nine years ago today, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was just weeks before Thanksgiving 2010 and, needless to say, I was more scared than thankful that year. There wasn’t much to celebrate.

The story of Thanksgiving, though, is one of struggle, learning, survival, and perseverance.

The Pilgrims arrived in the New World from England in October 1620, far too late in the season to start any crops, and much farther north from their intended destination in what would later become Virginia. They lived aboard the Mayflower through the harsh New England winter, struggling against the elements and disease, with 45 of the 102 Pilgrims not surviving into spring. In March 1621, the Pilgrims moved ashore establishing their colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Local Native American tribes made contact with the Pilgrims not long after they moved ashore, and they saw that they were in need of help. The Pilgrims learned survival tips from the indigenous peoples, including learning how to grow corn, how and where to fish in the local rivers, and what plants should be avoided. With their newly acquired skills and knowledge, the Pilgrims persevered through the summer of 1621 and reaped a fine harvest in autumn. They celebrated with their new friends in what has become popularly known as the first Thanksgiving.

Those of us diagnosed with cancer face similar challenges. We struggle mentally and physically; we learn as much as we can about the disease from experts in their fields; and we persevere through tests, poking, prodding, pill-popping, cutting, and zapping, all with the goal to survive.

As with the Pilgrims, not everyone facing cancer makes it. I’m remembering three of my prostate cancer blogging friends, Jim M., Tim, and Jim, who all passed away this year. Even though we never met in person, I’m more than grateful for their insights, support, and wit. They are missed.

Of course, the fact that I’m still here blogging about my prostate cancer experience nine years after my diagnosis is not lost on me, either. I’m extraordinarily thankful for that fact, and for the members of the medical team who made that possible.

Thanks, too, to family and friends who have been there for me in ways big and small throughout this adventure. A burden shared is a burden halved, and you have made it easier for me.

Lastly, I’m more than humbled by the fact that more than 22,000 people from around the globe have read bits and pieces of my story over the last nine years. It just boggles my mind. Thank you for taking an interest—even if you accidentally stumbled across my website on your iSomething—and for sharing your thoughts, comments, and support.

Whether you’re in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

With gratitude,

—Dan

A to Z: Arizona to Zion

If anyone’s interested in a little diversion, here’s my write up on the trip that I took through Arizona and southern Utah last week. It was good to get away and play with the camera again.

Enjoy!

Travelin' Dan

October means it’s time for another one of my notorious planned impromptu road trips. “Planned impromptu? Huh?!?”

I planned on taking last week off quite some time ago, so I’ve had that on my schedule for a while. The impromptu part comes in when I didn’t make my first hotel reservation until 11:00 p.m. Saturday night for a Sunday morning departure.

The options under consideration for this trip were: 1. A run up north to the coastal redwoods again; 2. A return visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks; or 3. A run to Sedona, Arizona, a place I’ve never been to before. Option 3 won out. I wanted to see something new.

Keep in mind, when I take a road trip like this, the primary purpose is almost always landscape photography, so I’m a little biased away from doing in-town kind of things.

Sedona

Arriving

The high Santa…

View original post 2,116 more words

Day 3,270 – Doctor Visit

Tuesday’s meeting with the urologist was a bit anticlimactic. In a nutshell, we’re returning to the four-month test cycle and we’ll see what the next test will bring in late January or early February before we do anything.

The doctor had no explanation for the swings in my PSA level from 0.13 to 0.10 to 0.16 and reminded me that there could be a margin of error on the readings. (But he couldn’t quantify what that +/- error might be using the assay that they’re using.) He mentioned that riding a bike, other mild “trauma” to the pelvic region, or sexual activity before a PSA test could affect the results. That’s something that I already knew, so I make it a point to avoid any of that for at least a week before the blood sample is drawn to avoid introducing that variable to the picture.

He also reminded me that the historical definition of biochemical recurrence has been 0.20 ng/ml and suggested that it was premature to start thinking about salvage radiation therapy. Even so, he acknowledged that my PSA is definitely trending upward and worthy of continued monitoring so that it “doesn’t get away from us.” He suggested it would be fine to retest in six months; I opted for four.

One of the reasons that he was so comfortable with a longer test cycle and continued monitoring was my lengthy PSA doubling time. He also talked about the possibility that this could be residual benign prostate tissue left behind after the surgery that could be causing the PSA to increase again.

I filled him in on the Ga-68 PSMA PET/CT scan trial going on at UCLA and the option to shell out $2,800 to have the scan done outside of the trial. We talked a little about the successful detection rates at my PSA levels, to which he replied, “You know more about it than I do.”

We also spoke briefly about the potential long-term side effects of salvage radiation therapy, as well as the success rates of having no evidence of disease five years later. Nothing new was learned there.

On the whole, I’m generally on board with this approach—for now. But I will say that, mentally, I prepared myself for the meeting to go in a different direction, so I’m still processing that. If I’m perfectly honest, I’m a teeny bit less confident that waiting another four months is appropriate.

It’s as though I’m taking another step on a tight rope with each successive PSA test. The further out I go, the more the rope sways and it’s just a question of how long I can maintain my balance. Can I make it all the way across, or will I lose my balance and tumble into the abyss of metastasis?

Sure, I can opt to use my emergency safety harness—salvage radiation therapy—at any time, but that comes with costs potentially impacting quality of life: increased incontinence, loss of sexual function, scarring from radiation, etc. And—guess what?—at the end of it, I’ll be back on another tightrope taking another step every 3-6 months with new tests to monitor the effectiveness of salvage radiation. (And there’s a 30%-70% chance that I’ll fall off that tight rope into the abyss, too, depending on which study you look at.)

The trick is knowing when to decide whether you should keep walking on the original tight rope or that it’s time to jump into the safety harness. That decision is complicated by your coaches on the ground yelling conflicting things at you. Coach Radiation Oncologist is yelling, “Use the harness!” and Coach Urologist is yelling, “Keep walking!” Your own mind, filled with reliable information you gathered from Dr. Google, is adding to the confusion. It can be maddening to try and sort through it all and make the best decision possible.

That thought led to the last point of discussion with the urologist on Tuesday. He acknowledged that the field of prostate cancer research is a very dynamic one, and that there’s often conflicting guidance as new therapies are being tested and new discoveries are made. He also reinforced that prostate cancer is an insidious disease in how it behaves and how challenging it can be to treat it.

Prostate cancer is not an “easy cancer.” Far from it.