Zapping Session #1 – Done!

Just a quick post-zapping session post…

My appointment was at 9:45 a.m. and I arrived at the facility at 9:30 a.m. and met a friend who was there to provide a distraction and moral support—it was great to have him there.

I checked in and had about a ten minute wait before I was called back to the zapping room. There, the technicians explained what was going to happen and had me lie down on the table. We had a little challenge getting me lined up initially. I’m 6′ 1″ / 185.5 cm tall, and all of my height is from my waist up, so I had to scoot up on the table to get aligned.

They told me to wear gym shorts or sweat pants—something easy to pull down without metal (i.e., zippers) or items in my pocket. They put a sheet over my private parts, had me pull down my shorts to mid-thigh, and lined the lasers up on my new tattoos.

After that, they went into the control room and slid me into the machine. I stayed there for a good five minutes or so as they evaluated the fullness of my bladder (just right) and my positioning. They adjusted the table a few millimeters, all under the radiation oncologists supervision, and he gave them the green light to zap away.

The head of the machine rotates around the table, first in one direction and then in the opposite direction, buzzing as its delivering the radiation. That lasted probably around 5-8 minutes or so. It’s not like being in an MRI or CT scan tube at all. No need to feel claustrophobic.

As soon as they were done, they moved the table back to the start position, I got up, and walked out and hit the nearest toilet to empty my bladder. Easy-peasy. All totaled, including the drive there and back, I was gone about an hour.

The only surprise that I had was the paper copy of my zapping schedule that they handed to me. They have me scheduled for 39 sessions instead of the 35 that I thought we were doing. That has me ending on 30 August 2022. No biggie, I guess.

Lastly, they gave me a little ID card with a barcode on it and I simply scan it to check in for all my future zapping sessions.

I’ll have to admit that, a few days ago, I wasn’t all that emotionally worked up about this, and even this morning I thought I was pretty okay. But I can tell now just from the tension releasing from my body right now, I was far more worked up than I thought I was. The subconscious can do some weird things.

Going forward, I’ll probably not post about this after every session, but only when there are noteworthy things to report (like shorting out a multi-million dollar machine if I pee all over it or if/when the side effects start kicking in).

I need a nap. Or a beer. 🤣

Be well!

Day 4,178 – PSA Results & Stuff

I went for my pre-physical appointment blood work yesterday and was surprised to have the results back today. It used to take the VA two or three days to post them online.

In any case, my PSA climbed once again from 0.33 ng/mL on 11 March to 0.36 ng/mL yesterday, 18 April. PSA doubling time dropped from 14.4 months to 12.7 months, indicating a continued acceleration which makes sense.

I did schedule my mapping with the radiation oncologist and, in my discussions with the urologist about the PSA test, we agreed to reschedule my 10 May appointment into September after the salvage radiation therapy was completed. My schedule now looks like:

  • 21 April – Appointment with PCP for a lube, oil, and filter change.
  • 3 May – Eligard injection.
  • 16 June – Body mapping with radiation oncologist.
  • 13 September – Urology appointment

We didn’t set an actual start date for the zapping, but I suspect it would be a week or two after the mapping and it would last through July and into August.


My emotions in the last week or so have run the gamut.

I can’t seem to get it out of my head that, once I start down this path, my life as I currently know it will be gone. Much of that is probably unfounded and a gross exaggeration, as the rational part of me knows that the chances for long-term, quality of life-impacting side effects are minimal. Yet the emotional side of my pea-sized brain is dwelling on that and I can’t seem to shake it.

Of course, that leads me to anger over this insidious disease and the impact it has on your life. Aside from the aches and pains associated with my vintage, high mileage body, it’s difficult to reconcile that within me there’s the army of cells wanting to kill me even though I’m feeling generally well. The fact that you have to take drastic action to fight off those cells—again—makes the situation even more aggravating.

Part of this, too, stems from the timing. I retired at the end of October, and there are things I want to do and places I want to go. The uncertainty of not knowing how my body will react to the hormone therapy and salvage radiation makes me hesitant to plunk down $10,000+ for a bucket-list trip to New Zealand now that its borders are beginning to slowly open. Maybe by October (New Zealand’s spring), I’ll know whether I can endure a fourteen-hour flight.

I know that, like the countless men before me, I’ll get past this and adapt accordingly whatever the outcome. What choice do we have? In the interim, I’ll continue to play as my body under treatment allows me to play.

Venting session over. Thanks for listening, and be well.

Month 136 – PSA Results & SRT

Well, kicking the can down the road is no longer an option. My PSA shot up like an Apollo Saturn V rocket (yes, I’m dating myself).

Between 5 January 2022 and 11 March 2022, it jumped from 0.26 ng/mL to 0.33 ng/mL. That’s a 27% increase.

Yes, I had the PSA test done about three weeks sooner than I had planned. I had to see the doctor for another issue, and they did full blood work-up for that. They included the PSA test in that battery of tests, too, so I got my results earlier than expected.

Needless to say, I was hoping that this PSA test would have proved the 0.26 ng/mL to be an outlier, or at least to be consistent, but that wasn’t to be. It’s clear that the rate of increase is accelerating and that’s not good.

Based on that, I called UCSD Radiation Oncology this morning to schedule an appointment with the radiation oncologist to discuss starting salvage radiation therapy. It was a tough call to make on a Monday morning.

On a lighter note, the receptionist who took my call was great (answered on the first ring and went straight to her!—no menu tree to button-push your way through). I am not a morning person, and she was far too bright and chipper for a Monday. When I told her that I was ready to schedule radiation, she responded with a cheerful, “That’s great!!” “You said that far too enthusiastically,” I responded with my stomach in knots at having to make the call in the first place. Oh well.

The enthusiasm continued by scheduling the appointment with the doctor and the body mapping session back-to-back on the same day: Friday, 25 March 2022.

Oh. She gave me a homework assignment, too: Try to have an empty rectum and a full bladder for the mapping.

I will admit that part of me wants to press the doctor about having additional imaging done before we start radiation, but I also know that the cancer continues to grow while we’re waiting for the scan and its results. It doesn’t cost anything to ask the question.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the next chapter in this journey is about to begin. Wish me luck.

Day 4,117 – Radiation Oncologist Consult

This afternoon, I took a leisurely stroll down to my local radiation oncologist’s office…

That sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke, but it’s not. I walked the 0.9 mile / 1.5 km walk from my home to the UCSD Radiation Oncology center for my first consult there.

My original appointment was for 3:30 p.m., but at 11:40 a.m., they called and said they had a cancellation and asked if I could come in at 2 p.m. Sure. Let’s get this over with.

The radiation oncologist (RO) was very welcoming and very direct in talking about my options, which I appreciated very much. He’s been pretty much exclusively zapping prostates since 2010, which helped build up confidence in his experience and abilities. When he mentioned that he studied at University of Chicago (my hometown), we got off topic and talked about deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches for a moment.

The key points from the conversation:

  • He recommended proceeding with the radiation at 70 Gy for 7 weeks (IMRT/IGRT), but thought it wasn’t necessary to begin it immediately.
  • He said given my numbers and the negative PSMA PET scan, he would zap only the prostate bed and not the pelvic lymph nodes.
  • I should not let my PSA get above 0.5 ng/mL before starting radiation. Of course, starting sooner rather than later would be better.
  • The risk of long-term side effects appears to be lower than what I had in my mind.

When talking about the likelihood of success, the RO chuckled a little when I mentioned the nomogram numbers. Apparently, he isn’t a fan of nomograms. When I mentioned that the urologist at the VA said that salvage radiation was possibly curative, he chuckled at that, too. He was pretty blunt when he said that salvage radiation would be a “50-50 crap shoot” when it comes to long-term suppression of the cancer. The reason we do it, though, is to squash it hard enough and long enough to significantly slow its progression and buy years of life.

We talked at length about quality of life and life expectancy. He asked if I expected to be here in 10 years, to which I replied, “I don’t know.” My dad and his mom both died unexpectedly at the age of 69—that’s only 5 years away. Will I follow in their footsteps? Who knows. He thought that not doing salvage radiation may be an option if my chances of not living another 10 years are good. But if I thought I would live beyond 10 years, then do the radiation now.

It was interesting that throughout the discussion, he talked solely about salvage radiation without mentioning hormone therapy other than it being the next step after radiation. But then near the end of the conversation, he recommended six months of hormone therapy for me starting at the end of radiation to “really knock down the cancer.” I’m not sure I was expecting that.

We agreed that it would be okay to wait until my next PSA test in early April to see what that shows. But he reminded me that the cancer is there and it is growing. He offered me his card and said to call if I had any other questions.

All in all, I’m pleased with how the discussion went. The RO’s candor was refreshing and I was impressed with the UCSD staff and facility. I left feeling more at ease than I was when I went in. (In fact, little gremlins were doing a jig in my stomach a good chunk of the morning before the appointment.) Am I 100% sold that this is the path I want to pursue? Not yet. But I’m much closer to it than I was when I woke up this morning.

The whole, “When do you think you’ll die?” conversation was a little unnerving and simultaneously thought-provoking. It’s been a while since I’ve had a full-blown physical, so it may be worth checking under the hood to see if everything is in order before starting radiation.

In my mind, if the April PSA comes back higher than the 0.26 ng/mL in January, I’d be more inclined to start sooner. But if it comes back at the 0.21-0.22 ng/mL that it was in June, July, or October, I may be inclined to kick the can down the road a little longer. I don’t know.

As I told a friend yesterday, it’s time to go sit on a mountain top and process all of this information.

More to come.

Be well!

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.

Life After Radical Prostatectomy: 8.5 Years Later

So it’s been 8.5 years since my radical prostatectomy on 4 January 2011. How am I doing?

Status

My PSA dropped from 0.13 ng/ml to 0.10 ng/ml at the last test back in March, which was quite the pleasant surprise. That’s more in line with three tests prior to the 0.13 test, so perhaps the 0.13 was the anomaly. In any case, we agreed to test in six months instead of the four month cycle that I had been on, and I’m okay with that. Two extra months of not worrying about PSA is a good thing.

Emotions

There isn’t a day that goes by where cancer doesn’t pop into my mind at least tangentially. The good news is that with such a slow upward trend in my PSA (PSA Doubling Time of 155 months or so), I’ve been able to shift my thinking to managing this more as a chronic illness than something to panic over. That’s been emotionally liberating. Of course, I may be playing with fire and my test in October will snap me out of that mindset.

Incontinence/Urinary Control

There really hasn’t been much change in this area. Still the occasional stress incontinence squirt and the post-pee dribble if I don’t go through my routine to drain my urethra. I’ll stick a pad in my underwear if I know I’m going to be more physically active, as that tends to cause a few leaks as well. On the whole, it’s more a nuisance than a real quality of life problem.

One of the good things is that I rarely have to get up in the middle of the night to empty my bladder, which means that I can sleep through the night. Mind you, though, that I need to get better at getting more than 6-7 hours of sleep per night, and that may change the equation a little.

There are times during the day, though, where I can have a sudden need to urinate right now, even though my bladder is far from its capacity. It’s an occasional thing, fortunately, and I’ve always been able to make it to a toilet in time.

Sexual Function

This is one area where I seem to be regressing a little. Erections aren’t as strong as they used to be; now they’re in the 60%-75% range. Again, that’s without chemical assistance. I may talk with the doctor about this the next visit.

Summary

My shift in thinking of this as more of a chronic illness has really been helpful. The stress and worry aren’t nearly at the levels that they once were, so that’s good. But that lasts only until the next PSA test, and then we take the latest factoid and go from there.

Life After Radical Prostatectomy: 96 Months Later

So it’s been 96 months since my radical prostatectomy on 4 January 2011. How am I doing?

Status

My PSA resumed its upward climb last month after a brief hiatus between April and August. It certainly wasn’t unexpected, yet I was holding out hope that I could have had three consecutive PSA readings at the same level. It just wasn’t meant to be. That means that I’m one step closer to having to make a decision about what’s next.

Emotions

At this point, I’m at peace with where I’m at regarding the cancer returning. What’s actually been gnawing at me since my last post like this six months ago is something completely different—relationships.

Relationships require effort and commitment by both parties and lately, I’ve been asking myself the question, “At what point does one stop investing in a relationship when you get little or no return?” I don’t know that I have the answer to that question. I don’t want to burn bridges, but time is the most precious thing we as cancer patients have, and we want to invest our time as wisely as possible.

The sad thing is that I’m beginning to ask that question of the people who are the ones that I’ll  need to turn when the cancer advances to the point where I’ll need assistance. (Remember, I’m single and the thought of facing this alone scares the piss out of me.)

Incontinence

Speaking of piss out of me, let’s talk incontinence. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) I have noticed a slight increase in stress incontinence episodes and, if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I would attribute that to the fact that I have gained weight again. I really think there’s a correlation there, so I’m going to work on losing some weight and see what happens.

I’m still 90+% dry, but when I sneeze, cough, or lift something of even moderate weight, the likelihood of a few drops leaking out has gone up slightly.

The other time that I have issues is immediately after emptying my bladder. (I don’t know why I haven’t talked about this before, but it’s been an issue for quite a while.) If I don’t go through a little routine at the urinal to “milk” any residual urine from my urethra after emptying my bladder, the chances are good that I may have a squirt of urine as I’m putting everything away.

Sexual Function

My ability to achieve decent erections has remained pretty constant through the last six months. I’m in the 70%-85% range now. Good enough to achieve an orgasm, but questionable for much more than that. Some days I can get lucky and get in the 90% erection stage, but those days aren’t common. Of course, all of that is without any chemical assistance.

Summary

I’ve got a lot on my plate in the months ahead. I’ll continue to research imaging trials and salvage radiation in anticipation of my next PSA test in April. I’ll also evaluate my relationships, looking inward first to see how much of this may be my problem, to see where I should invest my precious time. I have no doubt that 2019 will prove to be an interesting year.

Month 93 – Questioning Recommendation

Regular readers of my blog know that I tend to overthink things. Big time.

I’ve had a few days to think about what the radiation oncologist said in his email—about continued monitoring being a very reasonable approach—and I began to question that bit of advice. Not necessarily its validity, but more along the lines of why the change of heart with the doctor?

When we had our consult in May, there was no doubt that his recommendation was to start salvage radiation therapy right away. He presented a pretty strong argument that early treatment is better than delaying. My numbers now are the same as when he gave his “treat now” recommendation, so why the sudden change to “okay to monitor”? Is he just appeasing me, telling me what he thinks I want to hear? Or does this one data point of a stable PSA really justify changing a treatment recommendation?

Don’t fret. As I said, I overthink things.

I’m perfectly content with the “continue to monitor” approach for the foreseeable future. I really don’t question the integrity of the radiation oncologist either. Even if he was appeasing me, part of being a good doctor is listening to the patient’s concerns and understanding that the patient’s perspective needs to be at forefront of any treatment decision. I only met with the doctor once, but given his take-charge personality, I’m confident that he would have argued more forcefully if he truly thought I needed radiation therapy right away.

I’ve put aside my little bout of cynicism and will focus on enjoying the next four months.

Speaking of four months, that’s the other little cloud that rained on my post-PSA parade. “Crap. I’m back in PSA limbo land yet again.” Mentally, I had prepared myself for the PSA to have gone up again and that I would be one step closer to making the zap or not to zap decision. It’s still emotionally draining even after almost eight years of dealing with this. Oh well. Suck it up, buttercup.


On a fun note, I was toying with the idea of driving out to the 96° F / 36° C desert tonight to try and capture the Perseid meteor shower with my camera (I’m writing this on Friday night). But after three hours in the dentist’s chair this afternoon, that ain’t gonna happen. I’m zonked. Perhaps Saturday night.

Here’s what I captured after an hour and a half of standing alone in the desert last year. A near-full moon was rising and illuminating the mountains, but it was beginning to be too bright to see meteors.

Perseid in ABDSP

 

 

Month 87 – Adapting and Researching

Ever since my December meeting with my doctor to review the latest uptick in my PSA reading to 0.10 ng/ml where he told me I need to begin to think about salvage radiation therapy, it’s as though the clock has been turned back to when I was first diagnosed. That makes this all very real once again. We’re getting closer to having to make a decision to move from monitoring to action.

My emotions have been all over the place—from mad as hell at the world to ready to bawl at the drop of a hat—and I felt compelled to research as much as I could, as fast as I could even though my next PSA and doctor’s appointments aren’t until April. On the good news front, the peaks and valleys on the emotional roller coaster have diminished some over the last two months. They’re still there, but not as bad as they initially were.

IMG_4828
San Diego at Night

I’ve been spending a good amount of time (perhaps too much) researching and hanging out in the advanced prostate cancer section of various online support groups. That’s been both helpful and a tad frightening. It’s been helpful because I’m new(er) to the advanced prostate cancer discussion, and I’ve been learning more about the different treatment options, protocols, and latest research. It’s been frightening because reading the first-hand stories—while valuable and necessary—has stoked my fears of the treatment side effects.

I did come across one thing in my research that I’ll definitely discuss with my doctor in April.

We know biochemical recurrence after prostatectomy has been widely defined at 0.2 ng/ml for quite some time, yet more and more research is indicating that salvage therapy should begin early in order to have the best chance of success. Some suggest starting SRT before hitting the 0.2 ng/ml threshold.

Of course, as we all know in the field of prostate cancer, nothing is clear-cut. You can easily find research that has conflicting recommendations.

I came across Stephen J. Freedland’s 2005 study (co-authored by Alan Partin and Patrick Walsh—heavy hitters in the prostate cancer world from Johns Hopkins) that shows I may not have to do anything other than continue to be monitored given my status (PSA = 7, PSADT > 15 months, time to recurrence > 3 years). In fact, he writes:

“It is amazing to me that for a man who has all the low-risk features – if his PSA doubling time is greater than 15 months, his Gleason score is below 8, his PSA comes back after three years – his odds of being alive 15 years later are 94 percent.” These men do not need treatment, he adds. “If we know that 94 percent of these men are alive and well 15 years after surgery with no further treatment, anything we do to treat them is unlikely to improve on that, and probably would only affect the quality of life.”

That’s quite encouraging for someone fearful of side effects and loss of quality of life. Combine that with the Pound study done in 1999 that said it takes on average eight years to metastasis after BCR and, on average, another five years to death after metastasis without any additional treatment, and you’re building a stronger case for doing nothing other than continued monitoring for those of us who are averse to treatment side effects. At least in my mind at the moment.

You can read an abbreviated summary of the Freedland study in the Johns Hopkins newsletter, Prostate Cancer Discovery, here, and the full study as published in JAMA here.

I’m slowly adapting to this new path that I’m on, and I’ll work to find the right balance to stay away from the online support groups and the Google machine to maintain a sense of sanity. I fear, however, that controlling the emotional roller coaster is going to be far more challenging from this point forward (steer clear or pass the tissues). Just a hunch.


One related footnote. I’ve not yet met with a radiation oncologist since my PSA started going up in September 2015. If it stays the same or goes up again in April, I’ll ask the urologist for the referral just to start the conversation and learn more from his/her perspective.

Three Weeks

It was an emotionally draining day at work today.

We provide support to patients and their families at a local hospital, and a case worker came to our office looking for activities for a patient in his early twenties and his parents to do over the weekend. Normally, that’s a common request. However, the case worker explained that the patient had only a few weeks left on this planet, and the doctor was urging him and his parents to get out of the hospital and do something—anything—with their remaining time together.

I was crushed.

I’m pretty good about compartmentalizing patient stories and not letting them affect me too much. Not this time. It hit too close to home, at least conceptually. Of course, the young age of the patient added to my reaction as well.

If your doctor told you to go out and make the most of your last three weeks on Earth, what would you do?

Talk about a reality check on your own mortality.