Dennis Armstrong’s story

Synopsis
Had been having PSA tests for a while, with unremarkable results; PSA rose suddenly to 5.4 in November 2008 and subsequent digital rectal examination suggested the presence of a possible problem. Referred to urologist who conducted further examination and performed a biopsy which identified cancer in one of twelve cores taken, and calculated Gleason of 3 + 3. Subsequent CT Scan and Whole Body bone scan showed no evidence of metastatic bone disease, but MRI confirmed the existence of prostate cancer, but with no evidence of extracapsular extension, seminal invasion, lymphadenopathy or suspicious oseous lesions. Following consultation with my GP and urologist, decided to undergo radical prostatectomy in March 2009. Examination of the prostate post-operation indicated that the cancer was actually larger than initially thought, but there was no evidence that it had spread beyond the prostate capsule. Subsequent regular testing has yielded undetectable PSA.

Moral of the story
Find a GP who you trust and insist on regular PSA testing. Keep as fit and healthy as you can, and become informed about the sort of illnesses and diseases that can be encountered as you age. Stop believing that you are bullet-proof and start talking freely about your physical and emotional state: there are a lot of people out there who can provide useful support and advice.

Full story
I had thought I was indestructible. The only time I’d ever been into hospital was as a school student, to have an appendectomy. Because I had a family history of heart disease, I had always made efforts to remain fit and healthy, and after almost forty-five years of work, had taken only a total of four or five days of sick leave.
For years, I had requested my GP, a social acquaintance, to give me more thorough medical examinations like the annual medical examinations I had experienced during my Army days, but he, being a very busy practitioner with lots of sick patients, would always put me off – “you’re fit and healthy aren’t you? I will do a more detailed check next time you come in”. Next time, it would be the same story. Eventually, I decided I wanted more assurance than that, and changed my GP.


My new GP was much more thorough. He began monitoring what I saw as my risk areas, and in addition, after explaining the need, wrote PSA on the bottom of the pathology request form. The results came back. There were no worries about the PSA, but there was a need to try to reduce the hypertension and cholesterol a little. His insistence on regular monitoring of all risk factors from then on helped me to feel reassured that finally my health was being managed.

In November 2008, the PSA reading suddenly increased to 5.4 - a level at which a DRE was warranted. This led to a referral to a urologist, followed by further tests and scans, then a biopsy, indicating the early stages of prostate cancer. Then began the emotional roller-coaster: anger, anxiety, despair and confusion. Despite my having worked for many years in the health sector, I knew virtually nothing about prostate cancer, so had to begin a search on the internet for information. That provided a lot of sometimes conflicting and confusing information. Fortunately, my specialist provided me with an information kit being developed by PCFA: that gave more reliable information.

Still, I didn’t tell my mates what was going on. I didn’t see that they needed to know about such a personal issue. However, I had to tell the people at work, all females except for one other male, why I wasn’t going to be around for a while. To my surprise, they were very knowledgeable, supportive and reassuring, reducing my anxiety and self-pity by telling me about others whom they knew who had experienced prostate cancer. After discussion with my specialist and GP, I decided that a radical prostatectomy was the treatment that best suited me.

I had key-hole nerve-sparing surgery in early March 2009, was up out of bed the next day, home on the third day, and made a rapid recovery. Certainly, there were disappointments and set-backs along the way, but I refuse to remember them, because everything is relative! I was able to return to part-time work after three weeks, and headed off with my wife on a scheduled overseas holiday after seven weeks. Since then, monitoring by my specialist and GP has provided assurance that the problem appears to have been dealt with.

On the day I returned home from hospital, I sent an email to friends and relatives outside my immediate family, explaining what had been happening to me. I asked them to send on my email to others who might need to know, and begged those in the risk categories in terms of age or family history to start regular monitoring of their PSA. I was amazed at the responses: two friends came back and explained that they had recently had treatment for prostate cancer, but had told no-one but their immediate families. Others thanked me and confessed that it had been years since they had seen a doctor, but, urged on by my story, promised to begin regular medical monitoring of their health. Several others told me that they were about to begin treatment for recently diagnosed prostate cancer, but, again, had told no-one but their immediate families. Since then, I have had a succession of telephone calls and emails, some from people I’ve never met, asking me to talk them through my experiences, and to help them sort out how they should approach their diagnosis of the condition. I have now been a mentor to quite a few men as they have commenced their treatment.

I’ve come away from the experience with the conclusion that we men really need to pay more attention to managing our health, and need to be more open with others in discussing our situation. There is a lot of willing assistance out there, but to benefit from it, we need to stop being so coy about our health, and to stop believing that we are lesser individuals because we happen to have been diagnosed with this or any other medical condition.

I’ve become a crusader for the cause, and now take every opportunity to get involved in efforts to make people aware of the need for early detection and treatment of prostate cancer and to support others who have been diagnosed with the condition.

26 June 2010

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