Have you checked your PSA lately?

December 22, 2008

All my life, whenever I'd been threatened with the possibility of a serious illness, it turned out to be nothing ... until July 23. That's when I found out I had prostate cancer.

Like everyone who gets that news, I was shocked and afraid. The Cword is synonymous with death, isn't it? At least that's the knee-jerk fear.

The upside for me was that we caught it early. After the biopsy, my tumor was classified as low-grade and early-stage, and I began to investigate my options. I'll get back to that in a minute.

I'd like to say I had been vigilant about getting a PSA test and physical exam every year, and I had been, except I skipped a year because my PSA score had been low for a few years running.

So, it was a bit of blind luck and good doctoring that led to what has turned out to be an excellent outcome for me. Remember: I had zero symptoms, no clue that anything was working on me.

At an unrelated appointment in early February, my new physician noted it had been two years since I'd had any blood work done. She reminded me that a man my age, 58, should have it done every year to check, among other things, cholesterol and PSA levels.

Being a man of reasonable intelligence, I got the blood work done.

Of course, she called me back a week later and told me everything looked good except that my PSA, which had jumped from 2.8 to 4.1 in two years, was a little worrisome. She suggested I see a urologist.

I did that in May. After finding no irregularities during the physical exam, he ordered another blood test. He called back the next week to say my PSA had climbed from 4.1 to 4.5 — a big jump in three months, he said. We'd better do a biopsy.

That's when I started realizing it might not be "nothing" this time around. Sure enough, my worst nightmare came true.

With biopsy results in hand, I made appointments with a urinary oncologist, radiologist and surgeon. I got a second opinion. I scoured the Internet for information and met with four men who'd been through it and were gracious enough to share their stories with me.

I discovered I had a lot going for me, not the least of which is my relative youth. Equally important were the facts that I was generally very healthy and active and, like I said, my cancer was discovered early.

With this disease at an early stage, a man has options. They include watchful waiting, which means doing nothing and checking the PSA level every three months. Then there are treatments, the three most widely used being external beam radiation, implantation of radioactive seeds, and robotic surgery to remove the prostate gland.

The two main potential side effects of all the treatments are urinary incontinence and sexual impotence — two things no male wants to be associated with in any way, shape or form.

After much soul-searching, I opted for surgery, which took place Oct. 14.

I'm happy to report that my story is about as good as it gets when it comes to prostate cancer. My body is functioning like it's supposed to, and chances are good I will never have to deal with this disease again.

But I'm here to plead with all men and the people who love them: Don't be lazy like I was about getting annual PSA checks and physical exams. Be diligent in making sure everything is A-OK in Prostate Land.

Early detection is the key to long-term survival and normal functioning.

This holiday season, I have a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which are awesome doctors: internist Annie Ewbank, urologist Peter Knapp and surgeon John Scott, all of whom counseled me well and performed at exceedingly high levels.

I'm thankful for unbelievable technology. While it's a little unsettling to think of five little robotic arms slicing and dicing your insides, the DaVinci robotic surgical system is nothing short of miraculous, especially when in the hands of someone who has used it thousands of times.

And finally, I'm thankful to be alive. If I had kept my head in the sand and my cancer had been discovered two or three years down the road, my outcome could've been a whole lot worse.

Take care of yourself. Happy Holidays.


 Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.

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