Prostate Cancer: The Killer that Shouldn’t Be

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John Griffith
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This article originally appeared under a different title on Texas Oncology’s website in September 2020, during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. The version here is a bit more edgy – let’s call it PG13. The version on Texas Oncology is PG, but both versions perfectly express the message. If you are over 40, get a PSA every year.

“Left unattended, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and colon or prostate cancers are performance stoppers and man killers – and you can’t perform if you are dead, right?”

If you are a man between the ages of 40 and 60 and learn you have prostate cancer and deal with it before it has colonized new locations, your chance of being alive in five years is nearly 100%, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Localized prostate cancer is like a mangy, stray, sickly kitten hanging around your house’s back door. Remove it, or at the very least, monitor it. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it.

If ignored, that mangy stray kitten can grow into a ferocious lion that will eat you as metastatic prostate cancer. If prostate cancer colonizes new locations in your body, the ACS reports a 66% chance you will die within five years.

Prostate cancer is number 3 on the “Things that Kill Men” list. I find this statistic disturbing because it should be much further down – and I would know.

How it All Began

On August 29, 2019, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Before that day, my healthcare interests were all about performance. I cared about regrowing hair, better physique, and improving my libido. Preventive healthcare made me feel fearful, vulnerable, and less manly.

Listen! There is nothing wrong with focusing on performance-based healthcare. But left unattended, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and colon or prostate cancers are performance stoppers and man killers – and you can’t perform if you are dead, right? 

About two months prior, I was seduced by an advertisement promising to restore my manhood through testosterone replacement. Two days later, I was front and center at a clinic ready to receive the “elixir of man” – until my lab tests came back with an elevated Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA). I had to be cleared by a urologist before I could begin hormone replacement. 

I arrived at my appointment with the urologist for my very first prostate exam. I was a ‘virgin,’ full of fear. I imagined the worst, but honestly, this was a straightforward procedure, “in and out,” in minutes. As I was buttoning up my pants and wondering if I was going to at least get a hug, the urologist said with a bit of concern, “I want to do a biopsy. If that comes back favorably, I can clear you, and you can start your testosterone.” 

Two weeks after my biopsy, the results came back – prostate cancer. It was time for me to go on the offensive.

Placing My Care in Those I Trust

I placed my care in the hands of Tobenna “Toby” Nwizu, M.D., a hematologist and medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Allen and Rowlett, with whom I had an existing relationship for a non-cancerous blood condition.

Dr. Nwizu is a highly-skilled, jubilant physician treating very sick cancer patients. I had the opportunity to witness Dr. Nwizu and his staff interact with their patients; to my surprise, his patients were energetic and lively. They were chatty, witty, and funny. I recall thinking, “Surely, this place must be an anomaly.” It is not at all what I imagined a cancer center to be. 

How could I not place my care in Dr. Nwizu’s hands?

Dr. Nwizu counseled me, discussed options, and soothed me with his smile, optimism, and humor. He then ordered a bone scan and several MRIs to determine if my cancer had spread beyond the prostate. As stated previously, metastatic prostate cancer is a dangerous lion that will most likely eat you up in 5 years.

Six days later, Dr. Nwizu called and the news was good. My cancer was still living at home in the prostate. The odds were in my favor.

Dr. Nwizu introduced me to Anand Shivnani, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Texas Oncology–McKinney. After discussing my options with Dr. Shivnani, I selected stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), a cancer treatment that delivers extremely precise, intense radiation doses to cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. The timeline for this radiation treatment is condensed into two weeks consisting of five sessions. 

Dr. Shivnani and his staff were electric, and the overall vibe was one of authentic positivity. It was another one of those happy spaces in a place I didn’t expect to be happy. I completed my last SBRT session with Dr. Shivnani just 66 days after being diagnosed.

Right before my treatment began, my PSA had soared above 10, and (I believe) was on the verge of becoming metastatic. Since my SBRT therapy, my PSA results have plummeted, most recently (July 2020) to .47.

Listen Up!

Now, my brothers, my parting pleas for all men over 40.

  • Anytime you see a doctor and there is lab work to be done, request a PSA if you have not had one within the past year. 
  • If your PSA comes back high, see a urologist. An elevated PSA is not an indication of cancer. A biopsy is the only way to know. Your urologist will tell you if a biopsy should be performed.
  • If you are diagnosed with cancer, deal with it swiftly.
  • Strive for positivity. Emotional health is a big part of your physical health.

In the words of the most remarkable Vulcan ever, “Live long and prosper.”