The number of new cases worldwide in 2018 surpassed 1.2 million1 and it is second most commonly diagnosed cancer in men worldwide. Living with prostate cancer, whether you are a patient or a caregiver to someone with the disease, could affect how you conduct your life and relationships.
When you are diagnosed with cancer, you might have lots of emotions and questions on your mind. Communication with trusted friends or family members, as well as with your healthcare professional could help alleviate some anxieties or answer any questions you might have. All patients suffering from cancer are unique and so are their or their caregiver’s, experiences of the disease. Speaking about your cancer might help you to cope with the disease and it could also help others in a similar situation.
Here are three stories of two patients and a caregiver recounting their experience with prostate cancer:
Supporting my father through his prostate cancer
My father was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in 2010 when was 77 years old. Our family was shocked. My father had always been diligent about attending 6 month checkups to test his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, but from one visit to the next, the PSA levels showed up higher than usual. He had a biopsy and the Gleason score was 9, meaning the cancer had already metastasized. We couldn’t believe that such an aggressive form of cancer could develop in a short space of time between tests.
My father started androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) immediately. We all thought that, despite the metastases, prostate cancer was a manageable disease, considering the many treatment options. We were lucky that for the first three years, the ADT treatment helped to control his PSA levels, but after three and half years, he developed bone metastases.
His doctor helped him to manage different side effects from the treatment but he changed a lot – he was down and wasn’t as optimistic as he used to be. Physically he had a lot of problems with his muscles and his bone metastases were painful. He stopped riding his bike and often complained of feeling dizzy.
I tried support him as much as possible. I visited him more often and cheered him up. He always knew he could come to me if he had any questions or concerns about his treatment. In 2014, we had our last family trip to Cancun. It had always been my father’s dream to see the Caribbean Sea and I’m glad he got to do that before he died.
The effect my father’s cancer had on our family
My Mom worked tirelessly to make everything as comfortable as possible for my Dad. She cooked for him, managed the household; her life was centered on him and his disease. My father worked until the day before he had to go to the hospice. My mother couldn’t take care of him anymore; he could barely walk, the metastases had clouded his brain and he was confused.
When my father passed away, my Mom struggled to cope with losing him. They were married for over 45 years and she felt as if her purpose in life had completely gone. If there’s one thing I learned, it is to support your affected family members as much as you can. My father clearly needed support – both emotionally and physically – but so did my Mom.
My father’s story motivates me to do everything possible to help patients in my professional life. I still work in Regulatory Affairs at Bayer, and I push hard to file drugs for approval as early as possible, especially in my home country of Brazil. I know firsthand how much a medicine can change not only the lives of patients, but for those that love and care for them as well.
Prostate cancer is not limited to the over 50s
There is still the belief that prostate cancer is a disease that only affects older men, but I was 48 when I was first diagnosed. I had radical prostatectomy, and began preventative treatments soon after. It is not common to be checked for prostate cancer until age 50 although men can check with their doctor and get a simple blood test for Prostate-specific antigen (PSA levels) regardless of their age.
After my diagnosis, it was difficult for me to communicate that I had prostate cancer. I wasn’t sure how everyone around me would react or if they would treat me differently because of my diagnosis. It was most difficult to tell my family, but I am fortunate to have them close. Even now, while I am in treatment, talking about the side effects is a hard topic to discuss with anyone.
It has also been difficult to keep up with my everyday life and continue to do the things I enjoyed most. My energy level has been much lower and the treatment side effects can limit all activities.
My advice to other men would be to communicate with your doctor, get second opinions, and ask a lot of questions. Let your family and friends help and know there is a ton of information out there today. It can be beaten!
Acting quickly can make a difference
I was diagnosed with prostate cancer when I was 57 years old. Luckily, the disease was caught early on. I went to see the doctor since more frequent urination was interfering with my sleep.
My primary care physician initially thought there was nothing to worry about but referred me to a urologist to be on the safe side. My prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level was 4, which was not necessarily considered high. A biopsy found prostate cancer and the Gleason score showed that the tumor could become aggressive.
When I found out, I couldn’t believe it. My father also had prostate cancer, but he was older than me – in his 70s – when he was diagnosed. I called my wife and told her right away; it’s not something I could have kept a secret. My urologist suggested a prostatectomy right away as the tumor was contained within the prostate and luckily had not spread. The surgery was performed two months after my diagnosis. I was in quite a lot of pain afterwards and had a few post-surgery issues, but in time I healed well and have been free of cancer since then.
Nowadays, I get my PSA levels checked every year by my primary care physician. I would recommend men to get their PSA levels checked regularly and to act quickly if cancer is detected. For me, the surgery was the best option. I would make the same decision if I had it to do over.