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.

DSC00602

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

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.

Ga-68 PSMA PET/CT Imaging Issues

I stumbled across this page/video, PSMA PET/CT- Struggling with Increased Sensitivity, of a presentation about bringing Ga 68 PSMA PET/CT imaging online from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) Annual Meeting. It’s definitely worth the 23 minutes to watch it if you have any interest in imaging for prostate cancer.

Ga 68 PSMA PET/CT scans definitely can see much more than current imaging technologies and is fast becoming the new “gold standard” of prostate cancer imaging. But, as with anything new, there are things we have to understand to use the technology to its full advantage and to not misinterpret what it’s telling us.

One of the statements in the presentation that struck me was, “Just because you can see it, doesn’t mean you should treat it.” The presenter described the following scenario:

“So this is a patient who’s eight years after a prostatectomy with rising PSA and when the gallium PSMA PET scan is done, we see focal intense uptake in a solitary mesorectal node, which measures two to three millimeters and we’re really seeing micro metastatic disease. And I think the title of the slide is just because you can see it, doesn’t mean you should treat it because we don’t know how long that lymph nodes been there for. This is not in the classical nodal dissection. This lymph node could have been there five years ago and maybe it hasn’t changed and we don’t know that. So it’s easy now to say let’s cut it out because we can see it or let’s give it stereotactic radiotherapy, but I look at an image like this and think if it’s taken eight years for this lymph node to get to two to three millimeters, this is extremely indolent disease and perhaps it’s best left alone.”

He also talked about early interventions taken as a result of the PSMA PET/CT scans that may have caused more problems for the patient than necessary without changing the outcome (i.e., continued recurrence after the procedure).

Again, I found this to be very enlightening as I’m heading into my appointment this week and considering going to UCLA for their PSMA trial.

 

Day 3,260 – Research Articles on Prostate Cancer

One of the cool things about working in a hospital is that I can access full versions of some of the scholarly articles on prostate cancer that are normally blocked to the public by their publishers. At the end of the day today, I pulled the full versions of each of these articles for a little light bedtime reading about salvage radiation therapy, toxicities, and imaging:

Long-term Outcome of Prostate Cancer Patients Who Exhibit Biochemical Failure Despite Salvage Radiation Therapy After Radical Prostatectomy.

Improved toxicity profile following high-dose postprostatectomy salvage radiation therapy with intensity-modulated radiation therapy.

Long-term outcomes after high-dose postprostatectomy salvage radiation treatment.

Multimodality Imaging of Prostate Cancer.

Salvage radiotherapy after radical prostatectomy: Long-term results of urinary incontinence, toxicity and treatment outcomes

Outcomes of salvage radiotherapy for recurrent prostate cancer after radical prostatectomy.

I skimmed a couple of them on the bus ride home this evening (as much as you can skim on a bouncing bus), and I’ll go through each in a little more detail before my appointment a week from tomorrow.

When I pull articles like this, I consider a few things when reading them:

  • When was the article published? Obviously, more recent is generally better, although you can’t discount data from earlier studies entirely.
  • What type of research was done? Was it a retrospective study of historical medical records or was it a full-blown trial?
  • How many patients were included in the study? Fewer patients (<100) may yield less reliable results than those that include several thousand.
  • Over what time period did the study look at patients? Studies that looked at records from the 1990’s into the early 2000’s will reflect the treatment options and technologies available at that time. Studies done more recently will reflect the impact of newer treatment options and technologies.
  • Who conducted or funded the study? Who’s conducting a study and how it’s paid for could, in theory, perhaps skew the results (e.g., Big Pharma wanting to push a new drug).

So I’ll be going through each article, gleaning whatever I think may be of value for the appointment, adding to my list of questions to be asked.

Please don’t ask me to share the full versions of the articles here or elsewhere. Not only am I cancer-averse, I’m litigation averse. I’m not keen on a copyright infringement lawsuit because I posted something on this blog/website that I didn’t have permission to do. 🙂

That said, I may try to summarize some of the findings in future posts, with full attribution of any quotes, of course.

Off to read a bedtime story or two…

Month 107 – Looking Ahead

A little over a week ago, I hopped online around 10 p.m., checked my latest PSA results, and wrote my last blog post. None of that made for a good bedtime story.

The next day, I was exhausted from not sleeping well after receiving the news—so exhausted that I skipped out from work about an hour and a half early so I could go home and rest. Ever since then, I’ve been fine. I’ve accepted the new number and the fact that, once again, the only thing that I can control is how I react to it. In my heart, I expected the number to go up from the last test, and it did.

I did take a little time to search for some newer articles about salvage radiation therapy but they, like the PSA results, didn’t make for good bedtime reading either, so I put that on hold for now. I’ll be working on my list of questions for the doctor on 22 October, and we’ll go from there.

I’m pretty sure the writing is on the wall that that salvage radiation is in my future. It will take a while to get appointments set up for the radiation oncologist and to do any imaging that we can, and when you throw in the approaching holidays, I just don’t see radiation starting before the end of the year. I could be wrong. (Or, if things do happen quickly, I may just force the start to the beginning of the new year. Who wants to be getting zapped through the holidays? Seriously.)

In the mean time, I’m doing okay. Really. Just one appointment and test result at a time…

Day 3,248 – PSA Results

I jumped the gun and got my PSA test done about a week earlier than I planned. I had a  appointment scheduled on Monday to follow-up on my thumb surgery back in February , and I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and get the blood drawn after my appointment.

About 9:00 a.m., the doctor that I had my 1:30 p.m. appointment with called to check in and see how I was doing and if I really needed to come in. “How’s your thumb?” “Still attached and working,” I replied. After a brief discussion in more detail, we mutually agreed that there was no need for me to come into the office.

That kind of put a damper on my getting two birds with one stone, but I decided that I would go to the lab anyway, as I had already planned the afternoon off. It just made sense.

I wish I hadn’t.

My PSA took a considerable jump up to 0.16 ng/ml. I wasn’t expecting that.

PSA 20190930

The trend function on my spiffy spreadsheet thought it would come in around 0.137 ng/ml so that’s kind of where I had prepared myself to be mentally.

I used the Memorial Sloan Kettering PSA Doubling Time calculator to recalculate my PSA doubling time (it uses values of only 0.10 ng/ml and above), and my PSADT dropped from 155.6 months to 43.1 months. Still a respectable number, but definitely moving in the wrong direction.

Needless to say, this sucks.

My appointment with the urologist is on 22 October and we’ll definitely talk about imaging possibilities and ask for another referral back to a radiation oncologist to discuss salvage radiation therapy.

Crap.

Projecting risk for metastasis after radical prostatectomy — THE “NEW” PROSTATE CANCER INFOLINK

I came across this article in one of my feeds. There isn’t an “Ah-ha!” moment in it, but it’s good to see research confirming what many have known with data.

A new paper in Clinical Genitourinary Cancer has provided us with some more detailed information about risk for metastasis in men with recurrent prostate cancer after first-line surgery.

via Projecting risk for metastasis after radical prostatectomy — THE “NEW” PROSTATE CANCER INFOLINK

Month 106 – Almost Time

Work is insanely busy for me right now, so this will be a shorter post than usual. (“Thank you!” you say.)

I’m coming to the end of the six months since my last PSA test (and the first six month test frequency in many years), so it’s almost time for my next visit to Dracula. I’m looking at my calendar and I’m thinking that I’ll go somewhere around 7 or 8 October, but anticipation may have me try to squeeze it in a little earlier. Perhaps even the tail end of September. Either way, I have an appointment with the urologist on 22 October to review the results.

I’m not even going to try and predict where the next marker on the chart will land. My spreadsheet failed me wonderfully last time out. As I recall, it predicted a value of around 0.14, and I came in at 0.10. One result at a time…

As a refresher here’s my PSA chart:

PSA 20190326

Last week, I stumbled across a comment in a Facebook prostate cancer support group that talked about rising PSA, and the author recommended reading/viewing Dr. Charles “Snuffy” Smith’s article, “When Recurrent PCa isn’t Cancer.” Dr. Smith is the editor-in-chief of the website, Prostapedia.

The video was published four years ago, but Dr. Smith seemed to reinforce the notion that my continued surveillance of my PSA without taking other action may not be as crazy an idea as many may think it is (including myself, on occasion). Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of others out there who would argue otherwise, too.

Even though there are a thousand opinions out there, we patients sometimes forget that we really can control our treatment path, as long as we do it in a well-researched and well-thought out way, assessing the risks and rewards. I get to decide what to do in the end. It’s my body and my life, after all.

Stay tuned.

High-dose vitamin D: negative results from a randomized clinical trial — THE “NEW” PROSTATE CANCER INFOLINK

Here’s an interesting trial with surprising results.

Data from a recently published, Canadian, clinical trial of high-dose vitamin D as a method to strengthen bones in healthy adults who do not have osteoporosis have had significant and unexpectedly negative results.

via High-dose vitamin D: negative results from a randomized clinical trial — THE “NEW” PROSTATE CANCER INFOLINK