Monday, January 16, 2012

Prostate Update

Me on the beach last summer (in my Spo Shirt) , I'll be back this year

As regular readers of this blog know, for the past several months I have been going through my own Prostate Cancer Drama.

This past summer the results of a routine blood test at the VA showed that my PSA score was very high.  It was 8.4.  The range should be 0-4 so I was quite a bit above average.

My doctor notified me immediately and suggested that I either make an appointment with a urologist at the VA (which would be in Wilmington, DE - 89 miles away) or a local urologist.  I elected to go with a local urologist in case I decided to undergo treatment for prostate cancer.

I made an appointment and saw a local urologist.  The first thing he told me was:

"Mr. Tipton, I want you to understand that a man your age (I am 70), that if you do have prostate cancer the odds are that you will probably die from some other cause." 

Of course my first reaction to the phrase "A man your age..." was to turn around and look over my shoulder to see what OLD MAN he was talking to.  Then I realized he was talking to me!

Then he said "Do you wish to go forward?"

I thought about it for a minute or two then I said I did.  He proceeded to give me a digital rectal exam.  Whenever I have one of these exams I think we should at least have ONE DATE prior to the "exam" but we didn't have time for that.

After what seemed like a LONG TIME "up there", he pulled out his latex covered forefinger and announced "Your prostate is smooth and soft.  If it was hard (and he indicated this by tapping his knuckle) or I felt something on it, then we have some concern"

Great!  So I was prostate cancer free?  Not so quick the good doctor seemed to say by his facial reaction.  He told me my "Free PSA Count" (whatever that is) was high.

He again asked me if I wanted to continue?  Again, after thinking about it for a few seconds, I said "Yes."

I arranged an appointment for a biopsy of my prostate gland.  This is a procedure where the doctor takes out twelve pieced of my walnut sized prostate gland to check and see if they are cancerous.

After I left his office I started to ask around friends and relatives who have had this kind of experience with their prostate gland.  As expected I got many different stories, each situation is unique.  I checked the Internet (which doctors hate for you to check) and I read the stories that perhaps the PSA score and the treatments that follow treating potential prostate cancer haven't made a significant difference in preventing prostate cancer deaths.  My mind had a lot of information to sift through before I made my final decision.

About a week before my scheduled prostate biopsy in December (19th) I cancelled the appointment.  Then a week later, after reading more information I rescheduled another appointment for a prostate biopsy.  This one was to take place January 6th, 2012.  All during this time my mind was still unsettled if I was doing the right thing.  I just wasn't feeling right about taking this step.  Something was holding me back.

I cancelled my January 6th appointment for prostate biopsy.  I think this had as much to do with the fact that my cousin Steve Tipton was scheduled to have his prostate glad removed only to discover that when he went to a different surgeon that he didn't have prostate cancer but instead had a prostate infection called prostatitis!  He went back to his original doctor, who of course was angry that he went to another doctor, and after rechecking the MRI's, confirmed that my cousin Steve did not indeed have prostate cancer.  And here Steve was going to have his prostate removed!

The second incident that caused me to rethink my prostate biopsy (which is a very invasive procedure) was a meeting I had at a Christmas dinner at a friend's house in Pennsylvania.  This man was the new boyfriend of Ruth, who was a longtime friend of mine.  She knew of my Prostate Drama and she told me that her friend had had his prostate removed.  She also told me that he is now wearing Depends...for the rest of his life!

So here is the deal folks.  Besides the risk of getting an infection from the biopsy procedure (and I do have a history of getting infections from hospital procedures, one of which almost resulted in my death at 17 years of age), the possible side effects of prostate cancer treatment are:

  • impotence
  • urinary problems (can't control your peeing thus Depends)
  • bowel problems
Some choice huh?  Frankly, I don't need to deal with any of these situations.

After the Christmas dinner I made the decision not to go through with the prostate biopsy.  If I do have prostate cancer (which the high PSA score doesn't necessarily mean that I do), I'll just have to live with it.

I felt relieved after I made this decision but still there was that little nagging thing that "The cancer may be groaning Ron, you're going to die."  Of course I'm going to die.  We're all going to die.  Most of us just don't know what we're going to die from.  But I did make the final decision not to take that downward spiral of medical procedures that had a good possibility of me suffering more from the treatment of a cancer which I may or may not have than the actual cancer.

Then last week I received a note from the brother of an old friend.  He informed me that his brother died in October.  His brother was the man who hired me at Girard Bank back in 1965.  We became friends over the years but had lost touch except for the annual Christmas card, the past ten years or so.  

I called his brother on Saturday to ask his cause of death and where was he buried.  He told me that his brother died of prostate cancer.  He said his brother had been treated for prostate cancer thirteen years ago (with implanted seeds).  He said his brother began losing weight this past year (40 pounds, he wasn't heavy to begin with) but the doctors couldn't figure out why.  They misdiagnosed him.  They didn't find out he had prostate cancer until after his death.  He said that his brother's prostate glad was "had a lot of scar tissue".  This was form the radioactive seeds.  

Here is the interesting part.  His brother was 83 years old when he died.  Thirteen years ago, when he got his radioactive seed treatment for his prostate cancer he would have been 70 years old, the same age as I am now. 

Here is the question.  Did the prostate cancer treatment delay his death from prostate cancer or have no effect?  They don't know and I don't know.  What I do know is that if I live to 83 years old I will feel that I've had a good, long life.  In fact, now at 70 years old I feel as if I've had a good long life.  If I died tomorrow, I have no regrets.  I have far outlived many of my relatives, friends and co-workers.  I am literally living on Bonus Time now and I am thankful for it.  I just don't feel the need to risk my quality of life to treat something that neither I nor the doctors are sure that I have.

Now here are the latest developments.  Since that original blood test where I had the high PSA score of 8.4, I had another blood test at the urologist's office and it was 5.1.  Still high.  Last December I had another blood test at the VA in Wilmington.  That score was 4.4!  On January 4th I had another blood test at the VA office in Georgetown, DE.  That score was again 4.4!  Sill over the preferred limit of 4.0 but NOT THAT MUCH!  Now the VA is telling me not to concern myself with a followup with a urologist because my PSA score is "within the range."  My PSA score may still be high but at least I'm going in the right direction!

So here is the deal folks, I may or may not have prostate cancer.  If I do then it is one of the slowest growing cancers and I will probably die of something else.  If I don't, I'll still die of something else.  One thing is for sure though, I'm not going to undergo any procedure that will result in me spending the rest of my life dealing with the side effects of the procedure.

I'll be around for a few more blog posts.  I'm not ready to go quietly into the night just yet.

Video below is me showing my brother how my iPhone works.  I'll be doing a lot more of Big Brother Showing Little Brother How Things Work in the future.  


  1. You sound reasonably comfortable with your decision, Ron - and therefore in my books it was the right one. Your reasoning is faultless and I sincerely wish you well for times to come - (this from someone who knows that his own turn is just around the corner). It's scary to think about it but reading how people like you deal with your situation makes thoughts of the future a bit more bearable.
    Thanks for the positive effects of your blog, which may not be evident to you.

  2. Looks encouraging to me. I'm glad for you.

  3. You got a good head on your shoulders, Ron. You've showed how important it is to get 2nd opinions. I can't believe how different those numbers came in. That's ridiculous! And yes, I'm afraid that you probably will die from something. In fact, I could finish up this comment and then fall down the stairs chasing the kids. See, you might even outlast me.
    I'm glad I read this post.
    Your Friend, m.

  4. Ray,

    Yes, I am comfortable with my decision not to go through with a biopsy thus triggering off a bunch of other medical procedures which probably aren't necessary. In our culture we're conditioned to accept whatever the medical establishment has done it in the past. The difference here is that there are cracks in the seams of the PSA testing theory of detecting prostate cancer. I may yet die of prostate cancer, I won't know that until I do but one thing I know for sure, if I started this "spiral" of medical procedures to detect and treat prostate cancer I would probably end up worse than if I did nothing at all. Thank you for you comment that my blogs have a positive effect on the readers. I try very hard not to post negative or down blogs. I don't feel that I always succeed. Your comments are encouraging.

  5. Thank you Cubby. I appreciate your good wishes.

  6. Mark,

    Thank you. After my cousin Steven Tipton's own experience with his prostate cancer I thought it best to get a second opinion. I got an opinion from my doctor at the VA and a doctor at work. I've also had three blood tests since and my PSA score has gone down each time. In fact, my PSA score is now almost the same as my friend Bob who recently underwent radiation treatments for prostate cancer. Of course now his prostate gland has scar tissue whereas mine does not. My friend who died recently of prostate cancer had a lot of scar tissue on his prostate gland. One wonders how much good his radiation treatment did him. Lots to consider before undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. I feel comfortable that I made the right decision. I may outlive all of you yet!

  7. Good thing you listened to that guiding voice in your head. It looks as if you have done the right thing and now you know to keep a closer check on your levels.

    I agree that when it is your time to go, it is your time to go. I hate that term "premature death". As a death cannot be planned (suicide aside)it cannot be premature.

    I don't know if it is the book because I have never read the series, but in one of the Lord of the Rings movies, one of the hobbits chastises the big wizard for not being on time, and the big wizard says something along the lines of "A wizard never arrives late, or early. A wizard arrives precisely when he means to."

  8. Keep eating those tomatoes; you will bury us all.

  9. Hula Hank,

    I like that quote from one of the wizards "A wizard never arrives late, or early. A wizard arrives precisely when he means to." That quote goes into my Permanent Book of Quotes. Thanks for sending it.

  10. Dr. Spo,

    I make a fresh tomato salsa EVERY night. I love it! Chopped tomatoes, one slice of chopped onion and just a touch of jalapeño pepper. NO SALT. NO SUGAR. NO CILANTRO. I slop that stuff right down. LOVE IT!

  11. Its good that you are doing your own research and not relying entirely on a doctor's advice. Sometimes doctors are wrong. I'm REALLY glad to know that your blood tests have been showing improved levels!

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