Today’s visit with the urologist went about as expected—just a routine review of the salvage radiation therapy, its after-effects, and what’s next.
He was pleased with the drop in my PSA and thought that it may drop even further given how soon after the test was taken after the completion of the radiation. He stressed that we’ll have to establish a nadir in the next year to get a true starting point to determine the effectiveness of the radiation. He was okay with doing another PSA test in November in advance of my radiation oncologist follow-up visit.
Regarding my urinary frequency and urgency, he said I was pretty much where I should be after the radiation, and that it could take up to six months for things to truly calm down. I mentioned that the radiation oncologist put me on tamsulosin / Flowmax, and that it seemed to help a little with my frequency issues.
But I also told him that I stopped taking the tamsulosin over the weekend because my incontinence was up while I was on it and I just wanted to see what it’s like without it. So far, so good.
I did talk about my back and rib pain and once again asked if it could be related to the Eligard. Once again, he thought it was highly unlikely. He also ruled out the possibility that it could be metastases given where my PSA level is at. He did do a bit of a hands-on physical exam to rule out kidney stones (been there, done that, this is not kidney stones). He also made the comment, “Hey, I do plumbing”—I cracked up—and he was glad that I’ll be speaking with my primary care physician about it next week.
He didn’t want to put me on any additional medications for the urinary issues because of side effects that they may have, and we never explicitly spoke about whether to continue the hormone therapy or not. We did, though, talk about this first six-month dose wearing off in the next few months, so it wasn’t as though the topic was completely ignored.
Going forward, I’ll get another PSA test sometime in November; have my follow-up with the radiation oncologist shortly after (yet to be scheduled); and follow-up with urology on 13 December 2022. (I did avoid a 3:30 p.m. appointment like today because traffic sucked driving home.)
Header Image: Cathedral Rock and Oak Creek near Sedona, Arizona
The title of this post may be a tad misleading. My PSA results were okay; my disappointment is with something else.
My PSA came back at 0.05 ng/ml. The lab calls anything <0.03 ng/ml “undetectable.”
I’m not quite sure how to feel about that. It’s back to where it was when if first came detectable seven years ago, but I was kind of hoping the hormone therapy would have knocked it all the way down to undetectable. It’s going to take considerable time for the salvage radiation therapy to do its thing to the PSA.
The urologist scheduled this PSA test back in May when I received my Eligard injection. The radiation oncologist wanted me to have a PSA test just before our follow-up appointment in late November/early December (that appointment date won’t be determined until late October).
For the first time in my ten years of dealing with VA San Diego, I’ve been disappointed with how things are being handled.
Late in the evening on Saturday, 3 September (our three-day Labor Day holiday weekend with no work on Monday), I emailed my primary care physician about the back pain I was experiencing. His assistant acknowledged my email on Wednesday, 7 September, saying he would pass my email to the doctor for action.
I never heard from the doctor last week or Monday of this week, but Tuesday, 13 September, I received an email informing me that a prescription had shipped. That caught me off-guard because I wasn’t expecting anything.
In a nutshell, the doctor had simply gone ahead and prescribed a muscle relaxer and an MRI based on my email alone, without any discussion with me at all. That annoyed me because he wasn’t looking at the larger picture.
The muscle relaxer has common side effects of:
dizziness, faintness, or lightheadedness when getting up suddenly from a lying or sitting position
increased need to urinate
passing urine more often
unusual tiredness or weakness
The side effects in bold are those that are most concerning to me, because those are exactly the side effects from the radiation and Eligard that I’m trying to reduce, not add to them.
Additionally, I’m already on medication to control my blood pressure, and the Flomax (Tamsulosin) also lowers blood pressure. This muscle relaxer also interacts with both to further lower blood pressure.
Had my doctor and I had a conversation before he issued the prescription, we could have addressed those concerns.
His nurse called me on Tuesday morning and said someone would call me to set up a video conference call with the doctor, and as of today (Thursday), I’m still waiting for the call.
Perhaps the real reason that I’m so frustrated is that I feel as though I’m getting to the point in this disease where the treatments are beginning to impact my quality of life more than the disease itself did prior to the treatments. That sucks, and it’s difficult to reconcile.
Yes, I know it’s very early after the radiation therapy and things will likely improve with more time, and I also know that I’m getting way ahead of myself but, even so, I can’t help but feeling that I am at least one step closer to “the treatment is worse than the disease” phase, and that’s something I’ve wanted to avoid for a long, long time. With luck, these current side effects are temporary, and I’ll have many steps to go before that really kicks in.
Header Image: Clearing storm at Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming
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.
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.
My visit with the urologist this week went about as expected.
We talked about my PSMA PET scan results—negative—and he was of the mindset that those would be the expected results at my PSA level. The scan isn’t reliably sensitive enough when the PSA is hovering around 0.2 ng/ml.
With my steadily increasing PSA, he said that there’s cancer there somewhere. In his view, it’s likely location is still in the prostate bed, but we can’t rule out that there aren’t micro-metastases elsewhere.
In reviewing the totality of my case, he commented, “This is one of the trickier cases I’ve seen.” I don’t believe he was too offended when I replied, “No shit, Sherlock.” I guess my frustration of dealing with this over the years came out a little too strong.
What puzzled him about my case is how long after my surgery the PSA returned and how slowly it was increasing over the years. That led to a discussion about PSA doubling time and how my doubling time is shortening at an accelerating rate.
As part of that discussion, I asked him how many data points should be included in the PSA doubling time calculations, and he typically uses only the last three to get a current snapshot of where it is now. (I re-ran my numbers when I got home, and using the last three PSAs, my doubling time is 19.9 months.)
Of course, the engineer in me had to play with that a little, so I went through my PSA spreadsheet and calculated the PSA doubling time if I used the last three values after each test. The results were all over the place:
His recommendation, of course, was salvage radiation to the prostate bed.
He thought that salvage radiation still had a chance of being curative at this point, and given that I’m 64 years old, he thought that I would have plenty of years ahead of me should I choose to go down that path.
We talked about long-term side effects. He thought that there was a 20% to 30% chance that my stress incontinence would worsen, as would my sexual function given where it’s currently at now. He wasn’t confident enough to speak about the chances of rectal issues, at least in the numbers that I was seeking. I expressed concern about the incontinence, and he reminded me that they can take care of that with an artificial sphincter. Great. Another surgery.
I did ask how much longer I could kick this can a little farther down the road, and he didn’t seem to think that that was a good idea at this point. My stomach turned into knots.
We agreed to set up the consult with the radiation oncologist, as well as retest my PSA in early April.
Wednesday afternoon, I received a call from the scheduler trying to set up the radiation oncologist referral. She gave me the option of going to Naval Medical Center San Diego—where I used to work and had a previous referral—or going to University of California San Diego (UCSD). As good a medical treatment facility as NMCSD is, I opted for UCSD. If nothing else than for a second perspective, plus I believe UCSD will have more state-of-the-art equipment and a lower turnover rate in medical teams.
Thursday, morning, UCSD called and we’re set up to meet next Thursday, 17 February 2022. I was a little surprised when they told me that it would be at their Radiation Oncology center that’s about three-quarters of a mile (one kilometer) from my house instead of their main hospital in San Diego.
As you regular readers already know, I’ve been fearful of getting to this point for a while now. Whether my fears are irrational, unfounded or not, I don’t know, but they’re real for me.
My fears center more on having very real, quality of life-impacting side effects from the radiation than on whether or not the radiation will be curative. For some inexplicable reason, my gut intuition is that something will go awry and I’ll be in that 1% or 3% or 10%—or whatever it is—group that gets to experience those side effects impacting quality of life. The radiation oncologist is going to have to give a strong sales pitch to convince me the risks are minimal.
There will be ton of soul-searching and thinking in the days and weeks ahead.
Well, happy freakin’ New Year and Happy Birthday! <Sarcasm font>
My PSA continued its upward climb from 0.22 ng/mL in October to 0.26 ng/mL yesterday.
Additionally, my PSA Doubling Time fell from 45.3 months to 41.5 months. Still not bad, but that’s including all of my PSA values from December 2017 through present. That may be giving me a false sense of security, so I ran the numbers for just the last two years (February 2020-present), and that PSA Doubling Time is 26.6 months.
What’s really frustrating is that the 68Ga PSMA-11 PET scan just five weeks ago didn’t see anything. Anywhere.
I’m definitely going to have to mull this one over. At what point do the actual PSA value and PSA doubling time outweigh the PSMA PET scan results of not seeing anything? Or do the scan results prevail? I don’t know.
I hope that your 2022 is off to a better start than mine and, yes, I celebrate my 64th trip around the sun this month.
I found this to be an interesting article about the PSA test and all the controversy that comes with it and its use.
As someone who has lived with PSA tests in their life for eleven years, I can relate to much of what she’s said in her article. Just read through this blog and you’ll see that PSA anxiety is a very real thing.
But in those eleven years, I’ve also learned that the PSA test is merely a tool used to give you a data point. It’s just one of many data points that should be used in your decision-making process, either before initial treatment or after. Like any tool, you must be trained on how to use it properly.
There is no such thing as a “good” cancer. However, I do believe that prostate cancer is far more nuanced than many other cancers. When you hear those three words, “You have cancer,” the near universal response is, “Get it outta me! Now!” But with prostate cancer, that many not be the appropriate response in some cases. That’s where patient education at diagnosis has to become much better. It’s a huge paradigm shift for a cancer patient—and even some medical professionals—to realize that doing nothing (aside from routine monitoring) can be an option in certain cases.
That’s something that I’ve learned over the years.
I’ve been blessed to have a type of prostate cancer that has been so slow growing that it’s allowed me to be around for eleven years after diagnosis. Would I do anything differently? I may have postponed my surgery a little longer to watch what my PSA was doing over a longer period to establish a trend. However, given that the doctors felt a tumor during the digital rectal exams, that told me that I was dealing with something more than a few random cancer cells. There was a mass, and it needed to come out.
Obviously, I’ve made the choice to monitor as my PSA has slowly increased over the last six years since becoming detectable again, even though some were quick to recommend salvage radiation therapy. With luck the PSMA PET scan on 30 November will reveal whether that was the dumbest decision of my life or whether I may be able to continue on my current plan of doing nothing but monitoring or whether it’s time for salvage radiation.
Lastly, a few other things that I’ve learned in the last eleven years is that every patient’s case is unique and that even the medical professionals can’t always agree on the best course of action. You just have to do your own research and go with the best information you have available to you at the time. It’s your body, your life, your choice.
No surprises here. My PSA went up slightly again from 0.21 ng/mL to 0.22 ng/mL. The only surprise was that I was able to get the results online a day earlier than usual
This also dropped my PSA Doubling Time from 48.1 months to 45.3 months. Not a biggie there, either, but still moving in the wrong direction.
UCLA also required a basic metabolic panel be done in advance in of the PSMA PET scan, so I got that knocked out, too. I’m supposed to bring a copy of the results to the scan and now I can print them out and not rely on the administrative gremlins to get them to me.
My appointment with the urologist is on 9 November and we’ll see how that goes.
There’s really not much to report this month other that I’m simply biding time until the PSMA PET scan at UCLA on 30 November 2021.
I did receive confirmation that the doctor put in the order for the basic metabolic panel test and another PSA test, so I may get those knocked out this week to make sure they go well. I have to bring a hardcopy print out of the BMP test results to the scan, so better to get it done early to make sure that I can have a copy made available. If I can’t print it out on my own, then I’ll ask for it to be available during my appointment with the doctor on 9 November. (That was my next regularly scheduled appointment. I had hoped we would be discussing the PSMA PET scan results by then, but that’s not meant to be.)
Work will be keeping me extraordinarily busy through mid-December so, in a way, that’s a plus. It should keep my mind off of all of this. I just need to make sure that work takes a back seat to any appointments or tests.
On an unrelated note, I was able to get my seasonal flu shot and my Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot last week. I did take them together and felt a little wonky for about 36 hours (fatigued, felt as though I had a temperature but didn’t). Who knows whether it was the flu shot or the booster that caused that (or both), but it really doesn’t matter. I’m better and I’m better protected.
Anticipation for this appointment really did a number on me for some reason. I was nervous to the point of feeling queasy as I was driving to the San Diego VA Medical Center, which is quite unusual given how many times I’ve done this. I guess that this was different because my PSA had broached that dreaded 0.2 ng/mL mark.
Okay. I started this post (above) while sitting in the waiting area waiting for my appointment, and afterwards, my plan was to sit down at home this evening and summarize what we discussed. But the doctor just called a few minutes ago with some information that completely changes how I’m going to approach this post.
In a nutshell, one of the things we discussed was re-running the PSA test to see if last month’s 0.21 ng/mL was a real reading, or if it was an anomaly like the February 2020 drop from 0.16 ng/mL to 0.08 ng/mL. She even asked me if I had had an orgasm or rode a bicycle or did other similar activities before the June test. I had done none of those.
I asked to have the test re-run for peace of mind and she put the order in the system. She said that she should be able to see the results later this afternoon before they’re posted online, and instructed me to call her later in the day. She just returned my call with the results: my PSA came in at 0.21 again, confirming the June result. (You can also see that my PSA doubling time dropped to 48.1 months from 52.8 months in June.)
I’m not pleased that I’m hanging out in the 0.21 range, but I am pleased to have the confirmation. Now we know what we’re dealing with.
During the consultation, we talked about possible courses of action. The first was to get the results and, if they were still hanging in the 0.16-0.18 range, we’d continue to monitor, perhaps bumping the frequency of PSA tests to three or four months instead. Obviously, that plan got tossed out the window.
If the PSA came back with a confirmatory value, we agreed that scans to try to locate the cancer would be an appropriate next step. That was a great opening for me to talk about the Ga-68 PSMA PET scans at UCLA, but more on that later.
One thing that I’ve noticed in my years of being cared for at the VA Medical Center is that they do seem to be a tad slower to embrace some of the new technologies, definitions, and treatment options that are out there. Their protocol for someone in my situation is a bone scan in combination with a CT scan, so that’s what I’ll be calling to arrange tomorrow.
I argued that it’s very unlikely that the bone scan will pick up anything at my PSA level, and my doctor’s response was that we might be surprised. Ditto for the CT scan. If both scans are negative, the protocols would allow us to proceed to an Axumin PET scan done at the VA Medical Center. If the Axumin PET scan came back negative, then we may be able to figure out a way to get the PSMA PET scan at UCLA.
Of course, my preference would be to go straight to UCLA and skip the bone, CT, and Axumin scans altogether, but if those are the protocols that may get me answers I’m seeking, then I guess I need to follow them. Even so, I may try to push for the PSMA PET in place of the Axumin (I even mentioned to her that I may be willing to pay for it myself if the VA and my own insurance didn’t cover it).
One of the questions that I asked was about when the actual PSA value trumps the PSA doubling time when it comes to deciding to take action. Clearly, each case is unique and there is no definitive answer, but my doctor’s take on it was that she wouldn’t let a PSA go above 1.0 ng/mL without taking some action.
She did, however, bring up the fact that it’s becoming more widely accepted to do exactly what I’ve been doing—continuous monitoring. Too many patients are being overtreated with salvage radiation therapy with no guarantee of it being curative. She referenced how the American Urological Association (AUA) and National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines have been evolving over the years in a way that supports monitoring over action in some cases.
When I brought up the Ga-68 PSMA PET scan, it seemed that I may have been a little more up to speed on the topic than she was. We talked about it being FDA approved at UCLA and she reminded me that, just because it’s approved doesn’t mean it’s covered under the VA or private insurance yet. I agreed, and that’s when I mentioned I may be willing to pay for it myself.
I brought a hard-copy of this paper on the Ga-68 PSMA PET scan and left it with her for her review. We also reviewed the chart showing what the scan was picking up at various PSA levels, and where it was picking it up.
I found it interesting that one of the first things she looked at with the paper was who the authors were. I guess quacks write papers, too.
It’s been one helluva weird day, that’s for certain. It started with me feeling uncertain and queasy and, in a bizarre twist, I feel as though I’m ending it on a high note.
Sure. No one wants to have recurrent cancer. It sucks. But now I feel the uncertainty brought on by PSA results bouncing around for the last six years is finally coming to a close, and I can really begin to focus on what happens next. There’s a sense of direction, albeit down a path none of us would like to go down. (Yes, there’s lots more uncertainty ahead, I’m sure, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.)
Tomorrow I’ll call to get the bone and CT scans set up and, once we know the dates, I can arrange a follow-up appointment to review the results.
If they come back negative, then we try the Axumin or PSMA PET scan if possible. Of course, I’ll be doing some reading on Axumin scans in the interim (I really haven’t focused that much on them as an option, so I need to learn more about them).
Having cancer sucks. Having more definitive information doesn’t.