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My journey begins
Anytime you hear the “c” word, it’s life-changing. That happened to me a couple of months ago when I found out that I had prostate cancer. I’ll never forget the doctor’s words, “We did find cancer,” which seemed to make my world start falling in on itself.
Since then, I’ve learned that prostate cancer is extremely common among men and also very treatable. At the time, however, I knew next to nothing about the illness. It is my hope that if you found this blog and have prostate cancer or know someone who does, my experience may help spare you some of the pain and anxiety that I’ve gone through. Along the way, I plan to talk a bit about the medical aspects of prostate cancer, treatment options, and what it is like to deal with the disease.
But first, let me start at the beginning.
My story actually begins a year or so ago. For the past few years, I’ve been getting twice-annual physicals, complete with bloodwork, from my primary care doctor. A couple of physicals ago, the bloodwork showed that my PSA was elevated. Since several different things can cause a high PSA level, my doctor wasn’t worried. He did what I like to call the “digital” prostate exam (if you’ve had one, you know what I mean) and did not feel any abnormality.
I wasn’t worried either. I was clueless.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2022. At my next physical, my PSA was still high so my doctor referred me to a urologist for a closer look. The first thing the urologist did was order a third round of PSA tests. You guessed it. Still high.
At that point, the urologist, who still didn’t seem worried, recommended a prostate biopsy. We did this procedure in the last few days of 2022. I still wasn’t worried. I was pretty sure that I didn’t have cancer. We set the follow-up visit for two weeks.
The biopsy itself wasn’t a bad experience. I won’t say it was painless, but it wasn’t painful either. The best description was “awkward and uncomfortable.”
The doctor rolled me onto my side and went in the back door with an instrument that took twelve samples of my prostate. He also used an ultrasound machine to take a graphical look at the area.
Probably the most disturbing thing about the whole experience was that for weeks afterward, my ejaculate looked like blood. Thank goodness the doctor warned me about this because the first time my wife and I had sex following the biopsy, it looked like a horror movie. I was also warned about the possibility of blood in my urine or stool, but I didn’t experience that.
Over the past few years, I had gotten in the habit of checking MyChart for test results. Often, I’d get the results myself before the doctor’s office would call. With that experience in mind, I thought it was strange that I didn’t see results in MyChart even though it was only a few days before my follow-up appointment so I called the office and asked if the results were delayed and whether we needed to reschedule.
It was shortly after I left that message that the doctor called. He said that they normally waited to give the results in person and asked me if I’d like to hear it over the phone or wait a couple of days until the appointment. I elected to hear it immediately and that’s when I heard, “We did find cancer.”
We discussed the case briefly on the phone and then followed up in the doctor’s office a few days later. My urologist had put together a resource page of information about prostate cancer. He gave that to me and I’ll include it here for you as well (https://app.wellprept.com/kirven-gilbert/condition/prostate-cancer). I spent the next couple of days poring over this site and learning what questions I needed to ask.
I’m going to insert here that I didn’t have any symptoms throughout all of this. The Mayo Clinic notes that blood in the urine or semen, pain when urinating, bone pain, or unexplained weight loss can be early signs of prostate cancer. I had none of these symptoms.
Being diagnosed with prostate cancer set off a flurry of emotions. At the top of the list was shock. I really didn’t expect to be told that I had cancer. The news was numbing.
Fear and anxiety followed close behind. Anytime the “c” word is used, the specter of death looms with all of its associated fears and concerns. Fear for what would happen to my family. Fear of losing my job since I’m a professional pilot. Fear of death itself.
There was - and is - also denial. It was difficult to believe that I had cancer. I was active and fit and thought that I was as healthy as I’d been since I was a kid. It was hard to accept the reality of an unseen illness destroying me from within. Even now, months later, it is still hard to believe.
It was also depressing. My world was shattering and I didn’t know how to handle it. I became more introspective and withdrawn as I processed what was happening to me.
A few weeks into my new reality, I was riding in my truck and I thought to myself that I couldn’t remember the last time that I sang along with the radio. Normally, I sing out loud and strong to my favorite 80s and classic rock hits. I really wasn’t myself. My family sensed it more than I did.
My emotional pattern didn’t follow the traditional five stages of grief. For instance, I never felt angry about my diagnosis, but there were a lot of similarities. Your journey will probably be different from mine, but you will also feel a confusing flood of emotion.
I’m going to stop here for now. Next time, I’ll begin with a broad overview of prostate cancer and different treatment options. After that, I intend to resume my story and tell you which route I took.
As I close, let me tell you this: Prostate cancer is very survivable. If you have prostate cancer, you can be confident that you will get through it. It won’t be easy, however. As I was about to learn, even though I didn’t have any noticeable symptoms, the mental struggle was going to be the toughest part.
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