It took seven emergency room visits, two urgent care visits and two private appointments before doctors understood why I was suffering from bouts of excruciating pain. My chest X-rays, lab tests and an abdominal CT scan all came back normal. Then I had a sonogram.
The day after the sonogram, I was immediately referred to a surgeon. He felt my abdomen, and told me my gallbladder was swollen to the size of a melon. Then he pulled out the sonogram and he showed me a large stone lodged in the neck of my gallbladder. He said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but your gallbladder has to be removed.” I had surgery the following week.
As I compared and contrasted my experience with gallbladder and prostate surgery, the differences were striking. With my gallbladder, I experienced painful symptoms. I knew something was seriously wrong. I saw many doctors and went through blood tests and diagnostic procedures. It took time, tests and multiple doctors before I received a diagnosis.
With prostate cancer, I was symptom-free. I went in for a prescription refill. A doctor I’d never seen before insisted on performing a prostate exam, even though I’d already had this exam within the previous six months. I was stunned when he told me that he felt “a suspicious lump” and that he needed “to schedule [me] for a biopsy.”
It took time and multiple exams and physicians to get a correct diagnosis for my gallbladder. My prostate cancer was discovered on a routine visit to a urologist, then confirmed with a biopsy.
When I went to a surgeon to discuss the results of the sonogram of my gallbladder, the surgeon made it quite clear that my gallbladder had to be removed as soon as possible.
With my gallbladder, I wasn’t asked how I wanted to treat this problem. My doctor made the treatment decision based on my diagnosis. All my life, I thought doctors were trained and paid to make treatment decisions.
When I went to my urologist to discuss my prostate biopsy results, he asked me how I wanted to treat my prostate cancer. I thought he was joking. I didn’t feel qualified for or capable of making that decision.
I left the appointment with my urologist frustrated, angry, frightened, confused and scared that I was responsible for making the treatment decision about the most serious disease I’d been diagnosed with in my lifetime. What’s more, I knew absolutely nothing about prostate cancer or the ways in which it was treated. How could I possibly make the correct treatment decision, based on my diagnosis, when I was totally ignorant?
All I knew was that I wanted to be treated as soon as possible. When he told me to come back in a week to discuss my decision, I felt as though I was living a nightmare.
I met my urologist a week later to discuss my decision. There was no way I was going to make a treatment decision before I heard from the doctor, whom I trusted with my life.
When he adamantly refused to tell me how I should treat my prostate cancer, I had to get his opinion another way. So I posed a question to him: “If you just received my biopsy results, how would you treat your cancer?”
Without hesitation, he said, “I’d go for surgery.”
That’s the treatment option my wife and I were thinking would be best. With his input, our decision was confirmed.
With the variety of treatment optionsavailable, how to treat your prostate cancer may be one of the most difficult decisions you’ll make in your lifetime.
For the majority of men, taking weeks or months to consult with a variety of doctors will not affect your outcome or long-term survival. But it is important to ask your doctor if delay will affect your outcome or survival.
Several factors make it difficult for men to decide how to treat their prostate cancer. Among the challenges:
Cancer is a frightening word. By the time you are old enough to receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer, the odds are that you’ve known a friend or family member who has died of cancer. Your personal experiences with cancer will influence how you perceive your diagnosis and how you should treat your cancer.
If you know little or nothing about prostate cancer, it’s nearly impossible to understand how to treat your disease based upon your diagnosis rather than your fears.
So many treatment options exist that it’s difficult to know and understand which treatment option would be most effective.
Quality of life issues are associated with different treatment options. Losing urinary control, sexual desire, experiencing penile shrinkage or erectile dysfunctionare frightening possibilities.
If someone were to ask me what was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my lifetime, there’s no doubt I’d say choosing how to treat my prostate cancer is right up there.
There’s no single right way to treat your prostate cancer. Before you make your treatment decision, consult with a variety specialists. Take time to read about the various prostate cancer treatments. Talk with men who’ve chosen different options.
Us Too is one of the many helpful organizations around to help men diagnosed with prostate cancer get the information and support they need.
If you base your decision about treating your prostate cancer on your specific diagnosis and information, rather than your fears of cancer, you’ll discover the right treatment choice for you. This blog originally appeared in Prostate Cancer News Today