A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

‘You do have some prostate cancer.’ Manly advice from a survivor

Jim Elliott

Jim Elliott, who recently underwent surgery for prostate cancer, shares his story and the importance of screening.

You never forget certain words – like cancer. Particularly if it’s YOUR cancer being discussed. But here we were in an exam room, my wife Sue and me, hearing all about my prostate cancer.

My primary care doctor, Dr. Mohammad Haleem, had first alerted me two years ago to a slightly elevated but otherwise routine test for PSA, or prostate specific antigen. We agreed to continue monitoring it because the PSA is notorious for being unreliable and I have no family history of prostate cancer.

After two years of rising PSA results, Haleem referred me to Dr. Chirasakdi Ratanawong, a Marshfield Clinic urologist and urological surgeon. He recommended doing a biopsy of tissue samples taken from inside the prostate. We agreed.

It couldn’t be prostate cancer

I still had no symptoms. It was all just a false alarm. Nothing to worry about. Or so I thought.

“You do have some cancer,” the doctor said, reviewing the biopsy results. I’d been wrong and foolishly overconfident over the last two years. The conversation turned from having cancer to deciding what to do about it.

Three treatment options

Ratanawong explained the treatment recommendations vary for each patient but generally include doing nothing and continuing to nervously monitor PSA results; being treated with radiation therapy, either with radiation beams or radioactive seeds placed in the prostate; or undergoing surgery to remove the prostate completely. Based on my age, the location of the cancer and other factors, he recommended surgery.

Illustration - Mustached man on green backgroundLet’s get some respect here

As a writer, I had done articles about prostate cancer. It wasn’t one of the more aggressive, fast-growing cancers and can lie dormant for a long time. I’ve heard that some cancer patients give it no respect, like it’s not a real cancer. Even the PSA test itself is controversial.

But it’s still cancer. Ignore it and it can kill you. Catch it early and it can spare you.

Sue and I chose robotic surgery; get it all over and done with. And it worked. Test results and a pathology report revealed that Ratanawong got it all. I was home free, save for some annoying after-effects that hung on for months. But I was now one of more than two million prostate cancer survivors nationwide, with some time off to think about it.

If there’s any lesson to be found here, it’s to follow your doctor’s advice about screenings in general. Yes, the PSA test can be misleading, but in my case it worked.

And I’d always prefer a false alarm vs. the alternative of not detecting it.

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