Friday, August 12, 2011

My Turn

Me at 16 years old at our Boot Road, Downingtown, PA house -1958

On Monday I picked up my new glasses at Lenscrafters at the Dover Mall in Dover.  The glasses were perfect if a bit expensive.  Earlier this year Bill and I took our annual trip down south to visit his home town in Georgia, my brother and family in Greenville, South Carolina and take a genealogy research swing up through the Pisgah Mountains through North Carolina and Tennessee, my father's ancestral roots.

After returning home from our trip south I updated my will, living will and power of attorney to conform with the laws of my new home in Delaware. Bill and I built a river birch tree oval garden island in our back yard, something I always wanted to do.  And the biggie, I had a new colonoscopy inspection which I came out of clean.  I was good for another five years!

Last month I made my first trip to my longtime friend's house in Claymont for a reunion with our other longtime friend from Florida.  I had been putting off this trip because he lives in a heavily industrialized, congested area right outside of Wilmington, Delaware.  I'm not comfortable traveling on multi-lane superhighways where the average speed limit is 75 mph.  But this was for a good cause because we were meeting up with another longtime mutual friend who had recently lost two friends and wanted to see us "one more time" before one of us was gone.  I managed to give over my Hurdle of Fear and made it to my friend's house and we had our successful reunion in Pennsylvania.  When I returned home that night, I was vastly relieved that I would probably never have to travel that route again.

As Bill and I walked out of the mall to the parking lot into the blazing heat of the midday summer sun, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I had completed the last of my "chores" that I had set for myself this year.  I plan to "coast" the rest of the year working on my family genealogy research, taking pictures and posting them for my Find a Grave account, and finally getting ready to go on eBay and sell off some of my treasures that I have accumulated in my seven decades on this planet.  Yep, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

Then yesterday in the mail I get a benign envelope in the mail from:

Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Medical Center
1601 Kirkwood Highway
Wilmington, DE 19805

I opened it up and there were three pages of the results from the "labs" that I took at the regional VA Medical Care facility in Georgetown on June 15th of this year.

I thought this was unusual sending me the results in the mail.  Usually I go to the VA and ask to have it printed out.  In my twelve years with the VA I never had my lab report mailed to me.  I gave it some brief thought then dismissed the reasoning, figuring the VA had  new procedure.  They do that from time to time.

I started to read the report but as anyone who has ever gotten one of these reports knows, they are confusing.  The main thing is to read how your "score points" compare with the range of safety score points.  In the past I'm usually safely within all areas save one, which is the bilirubin levels, which are consistently high.  Several years ago it was discovered I had "Gilbert's Syndrome" which is a non-life threatening condition.  Bilirubin levels has to do with your liver.  I've never had any symptoms and long ago I ceased to be concerned with my high bilirubin levels.

I was curious as to the rest of my test results but I figured I would take my time and read the whole report at work last night, during one of my long periods of inactivity.  Reading this report would be a good way of kiling time (no pun intended).

So, yesterday evening at the hotel, after I had checked in the last of the guests that were due in I pull out the report and start to read it.  It doesn't make much sense to me but I still go through it line by line.  Then at the bottom of the second page I read this:

"Dear Mr. Tipton
Your lab tests are OK, except for an increase in your PSA and a mild elevation of your LDL "Bad" cholesterol.  For your PSA, please call to schedule a repeat test as well as urine culture.  If the PSA remains elevated, we should have you see the urologist at Wilmington or you may want to see a local urologist through your primary physician.
Dan Fisher, MD"

What is this?  I read it again.  Then I look through the report for the results of my PSA test.  I find the results from the last PSA test I had taken 8/25/2009.

Test Name                       Result              units              Ref. Range                       
PSA - HYBRITECH         3.4                 ng/mL            0 - 4                                    

Okay.  I was within the range like I usually am in all my lab tests except for the bilirubin test.

Then I look through the three pages of this report for the results of my test this past June.

I can't find it.  In the meantime the phone at the front desk rings.  My 20th caller of the evening asks the question "Do you have rooms this weekend?"  NO.  Someone walks in the front door and wants to know if I have a room tonight.  I tell him we do and how much it would cost him.  He makes a sour face and gives me the thumb down sign, turns around a leaves.  Really, some people can be so rude.

Then the front desk is quiet again.  No phones, no rude people walking up to the front desk to give me the thumbs down sign.  I read through the report again for the results of my most recent PSA test.

There!  I see it.  It's at the top of the page.  I wonder why they put it there.  This is what it said:

Test Name                       Result              units              Ref. Range                       
PSA - HYBRITECH         8.3      H           ng/mL            0 - 4                                       

Yes, you read it right.  My result was 8.3 which is WAY OVER the range.  Really WAY OVER.  

I read it again, not believing what I'm reading.  It says the same thing.  I go to the bottom of the page and reread the "Dear Mr. Tipton" blurb.  Maybe I misread something.  

I read it three, maybe four times.  It says the same thing.  I didn't miss what the message was.

Now let me put this "news" in context.  Just this week a very good friend of ours just left for his home in Pennsylvania to have a bone test to make sure his recently discovered prostate cancer had not spread (it hadn't, thank goodness).  He found out he had prostate cancer by a standard PSA test the likes of which I was reading for myself last night.  

We had him over for dinner a few days before he left for his Pennsylvania home.  I felt bad for him because I knew his summer at his home down here was probably shot because of all the complications of treating his prostate cancer.  That was a fact confirmed this morning when I talked to him on FaceTime and he told me that in two weeks he will begging fifteen weeks of radiation treatment, five times a week.  There goes the summer.  As I mentioned earlier, the good news was his doctor did a bone check on him and his prostate cancer had not spread.  

I called the VA this morning to schedule another PSA test just to make sure that the last PSA test wasn't a fluke.  I have an appointment next Friday at the Georgetown clinic.  

So why am I writing about this?  Please, not for "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" sympathy.  No, I write in my blog about my life.  The good, the bad, my frustrations, my joy, and my sadness.  As regular readers of my blog know, I write about EVERYTHING and ANYTHING.  Well, just about.  I don't write about all the details at work because my boss or co-workers may read it nor do I write about all the juicy details of my neighborhood or family drama (of which there is plenty, believe me).  

I write about my Life.  This is my Life.  

So how do I feel now?  I have to admit a little scared.  No, I'm not afraid of death I'm just afraid of the process of dying, how you get there.  Just last week I mentioned to my neighbor the way I want to "go" is in my sleep.  I don't want to die in an undignified fashion, helpless and dependent on others. I prefer to be here one day then gone the next day.  If I should die tomorrow I would have no regrets because I have lived a long and good (for the most part) life.  I have been very, very fortunate for a kid who came from very humble beginnings, semi-lazy and of limited maturity and average intelligence. That I haven't done too bad I can probably attribute to my endearing personality and semi-good looks.  The personality probably enabled me to make friends who helped me greatly in my career and my All-American uniquely goofy looks was how I initially caught the attention of and hooked the best man who ever came into my life, my Life Partner Bill, who changed my life for the better.  Without Bill and don't know where I would be today.  I know I was one of the Fortunate Few to find the love of my life at such an early (22) age.  

So there it is, my next challenge in life.  As I said earlier, please don't feel sorry for me or pity me.  There are thousands of other men just like me facing prostate cancer in their senior years.  Prostate cancer is the number one killer of men.  Breast cancer is the number one killer of women.  Just last week I found the grave site of a former co-worker who died at the age of 51 (too young) from breast cancer.  If there is any solace at all, it is the fact that prostate cancer isn't as deadly as breast cancer.  Small consolation as I face what the following weeks will bring.

So now it is My Turn.

My reflection in a gravestone at White's Chapel Methodist Church Cemetery at noon today while I was taking pictures of gravestones for my Find a Grave account.  I will continue my "hobby."  


  1. anne marie in philly5:27 PM

    go after it, ron; don't let it get you, YOU GET IT! (says the 22 year cancer survivor)

    could be a false positive also; getting a second test is wise. AND a second MD opinion.

    keep us posted!

  2. Catching this early is key! Good luck Ron! I'm keeping you in my heart and thoughts... ((HUGS))

  3. Tiger Yogi,

    I'm ready for the next phase in my never boring life Tiger. It's always something. Thanks for your good wishes. All appreciated.

  4. Anne Marie,

    You're giving me hope!! Thanks!

  5. Ron,

    An elevated PSA doesn't automatically mean it is cancer. There are other causes of an elevated PSA, including age. It can be an inflammation or enlargement of the prostate. It may not be anything. The majority of men having high PSA elevations do not have cancer. Around 25% do., meaning around 75% do not. I'm glad you can get a follow-up fairly soon. Better to know than to worry. Please keep us informed.

    I wasn't sure I wanted to read your whole post, man.


  6. My father had prostate cancer (with a very similar PSA result to yours) at 64 and fourteen years later, is still rarin' to go.

    At nineteen, I had a "massive involvement" of a Stage 4 metastatic malignant melanoma ... at the time, the survival rate was 0%. Thirty years later, I'm still kicking!

    You can beat this, Ron! And, I promise, something positive will emerge. This is hard to describe but it might be sort of a 'serenity' or a different attitude towards life.

  7. you write very well about this difficult discovery--i want you to know that i am glad you shared this so candidly, but that i also have nothing but hope that you will come out of your next test with a clean bill of health. stil, i guess we will all have our turn..

  8. Here's hoping the test was indeed a fluke. I'll keep my fingers crossed!

  9. How you could have done without this bummer! Thinking of you, Ron, and fervently hoping you'll be telling us of your 'sigh of relief' before very long.

  10. Lar,

    I didn't know that an elevated PSA wasn't always an indicator of cancer. I hope it isn't. However, I have a funny feeling that my time has come. I hope not. I retake the test and if the PSA is still high then I go for a biopsy. My friend went for the biopsy and it was discovered he did have cancer. But when he got his bone test, it was discovered the cancer hasn't spread. One thing is for sure, I'm not going to "coast" for the next few months. Just another concern. Like Bette Davis famously said "Getting old isn't for sissies."

  11. Buddy Bear,

    Thank you for your comment about your father's experience with his prostate cancer. I hope I have a similar outcome. I would like to stay around for awhile, stirring things up

  12. Walt,

    I too am hoping the test was a fluke. I've been having troubles with my prostate for years. The only medication I take is for my enlarged prostate. I hope this PSA test is a result of that medication or some other reason other than an indicator of cancer. If not, then I'm ready to take whatever treatments necessary. I'm not ready to depart from the scene quite yet. I haven't even started on my autobiography!

  13. Tony,

    At first I wasn't going to say anything about my latest challenge. But then I thought "What? Am I going go be like one of these strong and silent heroes from the movies?" I gave that a thought for about two minutes and said "The hell with it. This is my life and this is what's happening." The only thing I'm concern about is that I don't want anyone to think I'm soliciting sympathy. I'm not. There are many people who are much worse off than I am. I've had a really good life. If my time has come, so be it. I have no regrets. I just would prefer it not to be too painful or humiliating. If it gets to that point, I would like to go out with dignity. As I said before, I do not fear death. I just fear how I get there.

  14. That's a nice gravestone.

    Fingers cross!

  15. I'm sorry to hear of your elevated levels. It might not be as bad as you think it is. Get another test done and go from there.
    A few things are on your side if it does turn out to be the big "C".
    You are catching it early, it's one of the most treatable/curable cancers, and it's a slow grower.
    Not that I'd every call cancer good, but you did NOT get one of the bad ones. ;-)

  16. Tai,

    I like that gravestone. I may get one like that for myself.

  17. slugmama,

    I know that if this old man is going to get a cancer, then this is the one to have. Actually, I've sort of been expecting something like this to occur eventually. I'm going to go through The Steps and need what has to be done. I'm not really all that upset about the whole thing. To me it is all part of aging and life. This is just the next step. Still, I would prefer that this is a false alarm because I would like to stay around a little longer.


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