Friday, October 13

A test in the nick of time

You don't usually thank your wife for nagging, but this year I'll make an exception. Merry saved my life when she kept at me to go for a prostate test.

Early results were inconclusive. I had a worryingly high level of PSA (prostate specific antigen) in the blood. Nobody could find a trace of a tumour, and I had no symptoms, so I was treated with antibiotics to get rid of possible infection.

The PSA stayed high, so my doctor sent me to a urologist. More tests, then a biopsy where he took lots of samples. They all came back clear, and Merry and I celebrated with a good wine.

But a couple of months later, a rise in the PSA reading to 95 set off another alarm, so it was back for another biopsy. This time a pathologist found one tiny tumour in one of the 18 samples taken by the urologist.

The bad news was that pathology showed the cancer was aggressive, and the rapid rise in PSA suggested a bigger tumour somewhere, perhaps hidden between the prostate and the bladder.

Next referral was to a radiation oncologist. His examination indicated swelling in the pelvic lymph nodes. Had the tumour already begun to metastasise, spreading into other parts of the pelvis? It seemed likely.

Then came almost miraculous news. I'd been put on a course of Androcur, a drug which stops the body producing testosterone. The aim was to shrivel the tumours so they'd be better targets for radiation treatment.

But the drug worked far better than that. My PSA plummeted from 96 to 2.4 – that's two-point-four – and imaging showed the tumours had shrunk so much they were almost indiscernable. It's likely I won't need radiation, and Androcur may keep the cancer suppressed for years to come. I'll know more when I'm next tested in February.

There is, of course, the obvious side-effect. And now, of course, I'm noticing the world is full of women with warm smiles and inviting eyes. Sigh.

The point of this post, apart from letting friends know how I'm going, is to note that in some cases, such as mine, there's only a small window of time between the earliest that detection is possible and the latest when treatment will be effective. A checkup by a doctor, who will continue to monitor any PSA abnormality, is good sense.

Merry's nagging meant my cancer was discovered within that window. Thanks, love.

And fellas, “be a man”. Don't worry about the doctor's finger. Actually, I found the procedure excruciating – not the finger, but the dreadful jokes my GP told to take my mind off what was going on.

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