Day 2,210 – PSA Test Time

Time to buckle up for the next ride on the PSAnxiety roller coaster. I had my blood drawn this morning for my next PSA test. Now we wait, typically three days before seeing the results online.

On the good news front, I’ve been completely unemotional leading up to this PSA test. I’m not sure why, but it’s been a refreshing change from the last PSA tests.

My appointment with my doctor is on 29 December, and I’ll post my results as soon as I have them (and geekily update my spiffy little PSA chart).

Month 69 – On Reflection

It’s been a week since my last PSA results came in—it seems like eons ago—and I really have been able to just ignore them for pretty much the entire time. That’s good.

With the yo-yo movement in my PSA over the last 4 tests, I can’t conclude much of anything aside from the fact that there will be more PSA testing in my future.

PSA Trend 20160803

The engineer in me reflected on the last year of testing looking for some logical explanation.

I do remember that a year ago, just before the September test, I made the mistake of having an orgasm within 24 hours of the test. I thought that may have explained in the increase from undetectable to 0.05 ng/ml. But then the doctor threw in the possibility of the new ultra sensitive PSA test skewing the results. Two variables that weren’t present for the previous undetectable test.

For the December and April tests, I eliminated one variable by abstaining from orgasms for a nearly a week before the blood draw. The doctor asked me to abstain for two weeks for the August test, and I did.

If the next PSA test 3–4 months from now stays in the 0.05–0.08 range, I’ll be more inclined to think that this is a result in the change to the ultra sensitive test and nothing more. (Part of me wants to go to another lab for an independent test and see what it produces, but that will just introduce one more variable when we’re trying to eliminate them.)

At 0.05–0.08 ng/ml, I’m still well below the widely accepted biochemical recurrence threshold of 0.2 ng/ml. That generally makes me breathe a sigh of relief, and I think that I can come to terms with living with those numbers if that’s all it is.

But a UCLA study published in May 2015 showed that, under certain conditions, the ultra sensitive PSA threshold of 0.03 ng/ml was a good predictor of recurrence.  Yes, it was a small (247 patients) retrospective study, but that little fact has stuck in the back of my mind and gives me concern. (I wrote in more detail about it in my Day 1,768 post.)

There was also a Johns Hopkins study published in February 2016 that also indicated that low PSA levels measured by an ultra-sensitive PSA test were predictors of recurrence.

So I’m going to just wait until the doctor appointment on 23 August and see what she has to say about all this. It will be interesting—maybe even entertaining.

Day 2,093 – The Results

PSA Trend 20160803The results are in: 0.05 ng/ml.

I simultaneously breathed a humongous sigh of relief and got pissed off. “Will you make up your freakin’ mind already!?!?” Yes, I’m elated that my PSA actually came down from 0.08 to 0.05, but I’m pissed that this raises more questions than it will answer, and that I’m going to have to keep riding this wild roller coaster for the foreseeable future.

This round was particularly tough, emotionally. I usually never get worked up in advance of the blood draw but, before heading off to the clinic Monday morning, I was so nervous that I ate one spoonful of yogurt and decided that, if I continued, I’d be seeing that yogurt again going in the opposite direction.

When I finally saw that the results had been uploaded to my provider’s website tonight, my hand on the mouse was shaking and I truly didn’t want to click on the link to get the news. Not good. (By the way, I learned that my provider only uploads the data once a day, around midnight Eastern Time. That sucks.)

It will be interesting to see what the urologist has to say on 23 August. I’m sure part of it will be, “Let’s retest in December.” Yippee. I’m still quite concerned that I have a detectable PSA (albeit a low value) where I didn’t have before. What’s up with that?

Well, I’m spent. It’s time to call it a night. Thanks to everyone for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers.

Month 67 – Back to “Normal”

What a two months it’s been.

I’m finally back into a more normal routine after getting knocked off my horse with my PSA increasing to 0.08 ng/ml in April. The raw emotions have subsided and have been replaced with a constant, low-grade concern as I wait for my next PSA test.

One ironic thing that won’t let me completely purge the notion of cancer from my mind is the fact that my office is in a hospital and, every morning on the way to my office, I walk down a long corridor that leads directly to the “Radiation/Oncology” suite. And every day, I’m reminded that radiation may be in my future.

The urologist set my next appointment for 23 August, but she put the blood draw order into the system for any time after 1 July. I won’t go that early.

The engineer in me wants to make sure that the PSA tests are evenly spaced for easier analysis (geek, I know). The last two tests were almost exactly 4 months apart (3 December 2015 & 6 April 2016), so I plan on going in for the blood draw on or about 3 August to keep things consistent. It might make calculating PSA doubling times easier.

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I came across this article: Is standardization of the PSA cut point for biochemical recurrence after surgery a good idea?

Yet another study offering conflicting and confusing guidance. <sigh>

When you introduce cancer into your vocabulary, it’s impossible not to think about the end of life at the same time. Sure, none of us want to jump the gun and rush things, but it’s a natural extension of the word cancer.

My father died peacefully in his sleep 19 years ago next week. My mother, on the other hand, went through a grueling end ten years ago as mesothelioma and emphysema took away her ability to breathe.

When it comes our time to go, most of us would opt to die as my father did—quietly and quickly. Sure, it was hell on those of us who remained behind because no one ever expected it to happen; he was just 69 years old. For him, however, there was no extended suffering or pain.

The California End of Life Option Act went into effect this week, and I’m thankful that I now live in a state where I can have a say in how my life ends if this cancer thing ultimately gets the better of me.

Yes, I’m getting waaaaaay ahead of myself. The only question is whether more courage is required to make that end-of-life decision or to suffer through cancer running its natural course.

Mom wasn’t afraid of dying, but her biggest fear was that of suffering at the end. Her fears came true. I know she would have jumped at the chance to make her own determination on how to avoid that suffering if the option was available to her.

Again, I hope that I don’t have to worry about this for a very, very long time. I’ll settle on worrying about the next PSA test results for now.

Day 2,017 – Bone Scan

Today was the big bone scan day and all went according to plan. Get juiced up at 10 a.m. and come back at 1 p.m. for the scan. Near the end, I asked the technician, “Do you see anything that warrants concern?”

“Nope. Clean as a whistle,” he replied. I breathed a giant sigh of relief.

Of course, the technician’s interpretation is not the official interpretation, but I’ll take it for now.

Interestingly, after getting injected with the radioactive glow juice and before the actual scan, I went down to the urology department to make an appointment with the urologist, and there was this 30-something pregnant woman filled with attitude and for whom empathy was a foreign concept. When I asked to make the appointment, she pulled up the calendar and saw that I was already scheduled for late August. “You don’t need an appointment. You’re already on the calendar.”

I tried explaining that waiting 3 months for the results of a test that I was taking today was NOT going to happen, especially considering those results could show possible metastasis (at least in my mind). She had none of my argument initially, but eventually went off in a huff to talk to the doctor about setting up an appointment earlier. It’s set for 2 June. It kind of pissed me off, but I chalked it up to the kid in her womb kicking her in the kidney. (Way to go, kid!)

But now that I know what the technician told me, I’m going to email the urologist and have her confirm the official results. If everything was clean, I’ll cancel the 2 June appointment and just go back into wait until the next PSA test mode.

After leaving Ms. Panties-in-a-Wad, I had three hours to kill, and I opted to walk a mile and a half to the University Towne Center shopping mall. I figured it would help calm me plus help distribute the glow juice through my body.

As I’m walking along the north side of La Jolla Village Drive, the sidewalk just stopped and a narrow dirt path was all that was left to walk on for a city block. I thought that it was odd that posh La Jolla couldn’t afford 600 feet of concrete for us poor pedestrians.

As I was walking that path with waist-high weeds on either side, I had a flashback to my childhood. A friend of mine and I would play in the “prairie,” which was nothing more than a couple of adjacent, overgrown vacant city lots. There were dirt paths and mounds for our bikes, and the same tall weeds. It was a place for a youngster’s imagination to run wild with adventures.

After lunch, I made it back to the hospital for the actual scan. I arrived about 25 minutes before the scheduled time, and the technician was standing right there when I checked in. “Let’s do this,” he said, and off we went. Fine by me.

As I reclined onto the table, I couldn’t help but notice this colorful butterfly painted on the ceiling directly above the scanner. For some crazy reason, the German word for butterfly, Schmetterling, popped into my head and just stayed there.

Once the scan began, I started emerging from the tube, and the only thing that I could see what that silly Schmetterling on the ceiling. I thought, “Hmm, a metamorphosis? Emerging from my tubular steel and plastic cocoon and turning into a butterfly?”

So that was my day. How was yours?

Day 2,015 – An Upbeat Day

Finally. An upbeat day!

I don’t know exactly what caused the change in my attitude, but today was perhaps my first really upbeat day in the six weeks since learning my PSA crept up. I was happy all day and even able to bring a little silliness to the office. It felt good.

I hope it continues through the bone scan on Thursday and the wait for its results.

Day 2,012 – Living Defined

A fellow prostate cancer blogger, Tim, highlighted a quote from my last post: “Everybody dies. But not everybody lives.” But it was Tim’s comment,  “I wonder if [the author] includes tidying the garage, six trips to the dump and a couple to charity shops in [living],” that became an “a-ha” moment for me when I first read it.

I absolutely believe that “tidying the garage, six trips to the dump and a couple to charity shops,” can be included in living.

Sure, each of us should push ourselves to experience things outside of our comfort zone as we go through life, whether we’ve been diagnosed with cancer or not. It’s how we grow and learn. But sometimes those of us in our situation feel pressured to create and tackle that bucket list of crazy things that we must do before checking out to ensure that we’ve lived our remaining days to the fullest.

I wasn’t planning on climbing Kilimanjaro, paddling the Amazon, or bungee jumping off the New River Gorge bridge before my diagnosis, so why should I feel compelled to do those things now? Will doing those things make my life more complete or make me feel that I’m living? Perhaps. But doing those things that we enjoy the most—even the mundane decluttering—is also living.

In fact, we’ll likely cherish those moments that we routinely derive pleasure from much more than crapping in our pants as we plummet a few hundred feet head-first towards a boulder-strewn river, with the only thing between us and certain death being a giant rubber band tied around our ankles. (Can you tell bungee jumping is not on my bucket list??)

We already have enough stress and pressure in our lives dealing with the cloud of cancer; we don’t need to add to it by trying to live up to contrived societal expectations set in some trite song lyric—Live like you were dying.

So my epiphany this morning was that I get to define what living means. Living means doing those things that make me happy.

You can send me a postcard from the summit of Kilimanjaro. I’ll live by strolling along the beach, creating a complex spreadsheet, photographing desert flowers, or going on one of my infamous cross-country road trips to color in my map.

My road trips (in blue) through all 50 states and 8 Canadian provinces (plus a run down Baja California, Mexico).

Month 66 – Cancer Survivorship

I was going to use this interesting article from the New York Times: Cancer Survivors Celebrate Their Cancerversary, as a basis for last month’s regular post, but then I got my PSA results and things went to hell in a hand basket. After reading the article, I originally wrote:

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m one to remember dates and anniversaries, but I generally fall into the category of reserved celebration, I guess. Yes, I’m around to hit another milestone, but that damned little cancer recurrence cloud will be over my shoulder for the rest of my days.

Little did I know that that cloud would begin to grow in size, mirroring the growth of my PSA.

It’s been a difficult five weeks, and I’ve struggled with what to write for this post. That’s because I’m still struggling to figure out what’s happening and just how I’m responding to it. It’s hard to articulate something when you haven’t exactly figured out what you’re feeling. It’s been all over the place.

The raw emotions have subsided, but there have been two lasting side effects of the notion that my PSA is creeping closer to recurrence.

First, it’s been as though I’ve taken a bad spill and the wind has been knocked out of me. I feel as though the I’ve been sprawled out on the ground, disoriented, for the last month, trying to regain my breath before I can get back up and function normally again.

Part of me wants to simply stay on the ground, but the other part of me is trying to snap me out of that mindset and to engage in life at full speed ahead. As the surgeon, John Healy, in the NYT article said:  “Everybody dies,” he said. “But not everybody lives. I want you to live.”

So do I.

The second side effect has been that the anger remains at various intensity levels. My fuse is generally shorter and I don’t tolerate silly very well at the moment. And “silly” can be even the littlest of things. I really have to watch how I interact with those around me so as not to have them bear the brunt of my frustration with my current situation. I’m not the same person I was in March.

Keeping this hidden from those around me may be adding to that sense of anger, so perhaps it’s time that I come clean with them. And if it doesn’t alleviate it, at least they’ll know why I’ve turned into someone who will give Jeff Dunham’s curmudgeonly character, Walter, a run for his money.

My baseline bone scan is scheduled for 19 May, a week from tomorrow. I’m not overly worried about it at the moment. Of course, I’m sure there will be more than a twinge of “what if” while waiting for the results.

I just realized that we didn’t schedule a follow-up visit with the urologist to review the results. I’ll have to get that sorted.

Day 1,995 – Hard Conversations

Sunday, I popped back into the museum where I worked up until January to see my old colleagues and friends. It was good to get caught up and to hear how things were going since I left.

Of course, they inquired as to how I was doing, and that led to a small dilemma for me. Do I tell them about what’s been transpiring, or not?

I lied and told them that things were just fine with me. As I did, it immediately took me back to the days of being back in the closet and having to pretend to be something I’m not all over again. It wasn’t a good feeling at all.

My intent in going there was to let at least one or two of my closer friends there know what was going on, because, as one fellow blogger recently wrote, “A burden shared, is a burden halved.” (And as therapeutic as venting on this blog has been, it’s always better to have a real shoulder to cry on.)

But after spending a little time with my museum friends, I realized that it wasn’t the appropriate time or place to share what I’ve been going through, so I didn’t.

So far, I’ve only told two of my friends (a husband and wife team) face-to-face, and four others via email. That’s it.

Telling my friends in person was more difficult than I expected. The words hung up in my throat and didn’t want to come out. By saying aloud that I had early indicators that the cancer might be returning, made it real.

I could tell the same thing was happening on Sunday with my museum friends as I got closer to uttering those words—they didn’t want to come out. (Hence, another reason not to say anything.)

I’ve yet to tell my sister and her family that all of this is going on; they’re still reeling from my brother-in-law having had his massive stroke in August. They’re emotionally exhausted right now, and I don’t want to add to that burden until I know something more definitive. (And, yes, I know that they have a right to know at some point and, no, the chances of them reading about this here are pretty slim to nonexistent. Trust me.)

The support that I’ve received from you has been incredible, and I’m truly thankful for it. But right now, I need some additional local support on this roller coaster ride. To get that, at some point, I’m going to have to come out of the “cancer may be returning” closet and have that hard conversation with those closest to me.

[Yes, I know I’m getting waaay ahead of myself, but that’s the way this crazy mind of mine works. I like to be prepared. It’s really, really annoying at times.]

Speaking of closets and hard conversations, here’s an interesting 11-minute video on the very topic.

Day 1,988 – The Day After

It’s the day after my appointment with the urologist, and I’ve come to learn how truly amazing is our capacity to experience the full spectrum of emotions simultaneously. Specifically, I felt a strong sense of being at peace today while still being mad at the world.

I know the doctor never explicitly stated that the cancer is coming back, but her concern and her actions tell me that I’ve taken my first steps down that path. Sure, it may take six months, a year, or even longer of traveling to that magical 0.2 ng/ml biochemical recurrence destination, but in my mind, once you start down that path, there’s little you can do to get off it.

Salvage radiation or androgen deprivation therapies may slow the rate at which I progress down the path, but, in my mind, the ultimate destination will be the same. The question is whether it will allow me enough time to die with prostate cancer and not from prostate cancer.

Am I getting ahead of myself? I don’t think so. Something in my gut tells me that this is really happening. And, no, that’s not giving up—it’s just accepting reality. Having a healthy outlook on death and dying came from my mom who, coincidentally, died—or, to use her word, “croaked”—ten years ago tomorrow. (She left my sister and I a note with instructions that started, “When I croak…”)

The sense of peace that I’m feeling comes from having much of the ambiguity removed. Sure, there are plenty of tests ahead that will either confirm that I’m on the path or add doubt as to whether and how fast I’m progressing down the path. And there’s plenty that even the experts can’t agree on concerning the therapies, and that will be maddening. But now I feel as though I have a sense of purpose—something to focus on—and that’s where the peace comes from.

Do I want to be on this path? Hell no. I’m mad as hell that I’m in this situation. But the anger will subside, and then I’ll focus on two things: 1) Living and 2) figuring out the best course of action to slow or stop the progress of this monster.

And if 4, 8, or 12 months from now, I’m proven to be a complete idiot because there was no recurrence, then I’ll take that, too. It certainly won’t be the first time nor will it be the last.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have four months of getting really, really smart about salvage therapies, their effectiveness, their risks, and their side effects.