Patient's Perspective: Running Scared and the Wake-Up Call
By James Ridley
Prostate Cancer Survivor
Albert Einstein once said, "We cannot get to where we dream of being tomorrow unless we change our thinking today."
Little did I know that statement was going to change my life.
It all started in the fall of 2018 during a routine physical. Everything checked out well until I heard, "Your Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) score is 50!" At that point, I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. The physician began to explain to me that for someone my age, my PSA score should be around 3.5, and 50 was very high! He immediately contacted a urologist and scheduled an appointment for me that day.
In one visit to the doctor's office, I went from being a vibrant, healthy male in excellent physical condition to a prostate cancer patient.
I met with the urologist who recommended a biopsy. When he described this procedure, I was very hesitant and delayed three weeks before scheduling the procedure. I didn’t have any symptoms or signs. After the biopsy, my pathology report indicated a high Gleason score which confirmed prostate cancer. He suggested that I should act very quickly before the disease spread. I flew to Ohio shortly after to discuss my health plan options with my family. I said, "Pray for me."
I was in complete denial. I met with several different urologists months later. They told me to act quickly and suggested a radical prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate) which had possible side effects I was not willing to accept. Let’s keep in mind, that I had never had surgery in my life. I had also never faced the challenges presented by COVID-19 in 2020. Dreadfully, I continued to delay another year.
In 2021, I finally decided to become my own advocate and began doing exhaustive research to determine if there were reasonable alternatives to surgery. I hoped for a procedure with a lower probability of serious side effects namely impotence or incontinence. I was contacted by a friend. We discussed the four major treatment options for prostate cancer and decided on one exciting option. It was painless. It involved no invasive surgery and the success rate of thousands of patients treated over many years was comparable to "the gold standard" surgery. I also discovered with this treatment that long-term side effects, if any, were minimal.
I scheduled an appointment with a urologist in Cincinnati, Ohio at UC Health. During our consultation, Dr. Redmond indicated that my PSA had climbed even higher. The good news was the cancer was still localized or encapsulated. He also recommended that a collaborative option for treatment would be Moffitt Cancer Center since I live in Tampa. My health insurer considered Moffitt as a "center of excellence," so I was all for it.
This was my wake-up call. I lost a friend to prostate cancer and I knew I needed to find a medical team that I trusted. I met with Dr. Richard Levine at Moffitt who had a wonderful bedside manner. He talked to me like a friend and got to know me. He noticed that it had taken a long time for me to make a decision and said that he would help me execute a plan. I had complete trust and confidence in his advice. I felt very comfortable with his plan of action.
He shared that my prognosis was good. He ordered scans to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread, and they came back stable. He offered to partner with the providers at UC Health to create a plan so I could get my treatment with my family’s support. With this dream team in place, I was ready. That gave me the unflinching courage to follow through. I received 28 treatments of proton therapy in Ohio with no concerns about serious side effects. As I write this, I am happy and grateful to report that I am cancer-free. My PSA score 0.6!
If you're reading this and you are in denial about a cancer diagnosis, like I was, here’s what I want you to know: Every great athlete has a coach. That coach can see things that you can’t see. But if you follow the instructions, you will be met with success. Prostate cancer is not something to play around with because you never know when it will metastasize. Black Americans are more likely to die from prostate cancer. Don't wait to get treatment. Even if you don’t have symptoms, do something about it. Don't keep the diagnosis to yourself. You'll feel better and so will your family. Now, I am excited to go to my quarterly visits with Dr. Levine, who I trusted to save my life.
On New Year's Eve of 2021, I was able to share my testimony on the stage of Bible Based Church. The worst thing you can do is stay in denial. When in doubt, find empowerment by picturing yourself sharing your testimony on a stage like I did!”
If you're concerned about your prostate cancer risk, if you already had a PSA elevation or abnormal DRE, or both, please contact the Genitourinary Oncology Program. Call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.