Woody's story: fighting prostate cancer
Published 24 Nov 2019

There is no way to prepare for the moment a doctor looks you straight in the eyes and tells you, "You probably have five years to live." Or the next moment, when he slams his fists on his desk demonstratively and says, "You need surgery immediately."

I know this because it happened to me, 18 years ago, after a biopsy of my prostate turned out to be positive for cancer.

Victories Over Cancer: 4 People Share Their Top "Aha!" Moments as Cancer Scientists I was 54 years old, and seemingly healthy as could be. I was running two successful businesses, playing tennis three times a week, and boating and fishing in my spare time. Life was great.

But when I applied for a life insurance policy-and was denied because of a high PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level in my blood, a possible indicator of prostate cancer-everything changed. I went to see the urologist, had a biopsy and found out I had moderately aggressive prostate cancer. Back then, hearing the "C" word-cancer-was like getting a death sentence. I went numb.

In the weeks that followed my diagnosis, I remained numb. I remember driving home from work a few times and completely missing my exit - I was so deep in worry and anxiety.

I was also shrouded in shame.

One of the first things I did after my diagnosis was write to the National Institutes of Health, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Back in 2000, the internet wasn't what it is now, and I wanted as much info as I could possibly get my hands on in order to educate myself about this disease and my treatment options. Yet I was so intent on keeping my diagnosis as private as possible that I actually rented a post office box two towns away and had all of the info I was requesting sent there.

Riding the PSA Roller Coaster

Once I'd read up on my options, I decided to hunt down the best doctors I could find. I'm lucky in that I live just south of Boston, where there are major medical centers. I made appointment after appointment to get as many opinions as possible, before I landed on a Harvard Medical School-trained doctor who recommended hormone therapy, coupled with external beam radiation-a combo plan that would reduce the size of the cancer to make it an easier target for the radiation.

Thwarting Deadly Diseases Before They Start: The New Science of Cancer Interception On December 1, 2000, I started the hormone treatment; between December 1, 2000, and January 31, 2001, they did the radiation.

Immediately after this treatment, things were looking good. My PSA levels dropped, which is what we wanted. When the prostate produces more PSA, it may indicate a problem, such as the potential development or growth of cancer-so low is better. In fact, my numbers stayed lower for the next five years.

Then my PSA levels started to rise. The docs just wanted to keep an eye on it for a while. They were concerned, but not overly so. After a few months of this watchful waiting, my team-a radiation oncologist, urologist and medical oncologist-told me I needed surgery to remove my prostate. And once again, I sat across from a urologist as he looked me straight in the eyes and said, "I can't give you a cure, but I can give you a treatment."

"I was left with no choice but to do what docs call watchful waiting and what I call anxiety-provoking waiting. My PSA was constantly rising, yet my cancer wasn't metastasizing and there was no evidence of a tumor."

had what they call a salvage radical prostatectomy, which is, generally, a complex surgery where they remove the prostate, adjoining seminal vesicles and surrounding lymph nodes. For a year after that surgery, there was no PSA detected in my blood-which is what's supposed to happen once your prostate gland is gone.

But, yet again, there was evidence of my PSA rising. My urologist told me he thought the disease had progressed-and my oncologist told me there was no drug available for someone in my situation. My cancer hadn't reached the point of metastasizing, or spreading, to other organs, but it also wasn't gone completely.

The Next Generation of Cancer Care: How Johnson & Johnson Is Working to Defeat-and Even Prevent-the Disease I was left with no choice but to do what docs call watchful waiting and what I call anxiety-provoking waiting. It's like waiting for a nuclear bomb to go off. My PSA was constantly rising, yet I was having bone and CT scans every 90 days, and my cancer wasn't metastasizing and there was no evidence of a tumor.

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