For those of you who have been monitoring this website, you may have noticed the number of blogs posted have diminished this past week. The reason is I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple of months ago, and I have since been busy taking steps to combat my cancer.
The love and concern that has been shown to me by my family, relatives, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances has been overwhelming. Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me, "How do you feel?" Due to the frequency of the inquiries, and the length of time it takes to respond to them, I am going to start referring people to this blog when they ask, "how do you feel?"
A couple of weeks ago, I went through an operation to remove my prostate, however, after the doctor made the incision, he found microscopic traces of cancer cells in my lymph nodes. The way I understand it, my prostate cancer cannot kill me unless it has reached one of my vital organs (heart, liver, lungs, etc.). I was told that my cancer has not. What is troubling, however, is my PSA level was 26.8. A PSA level of 20 or more is usually a strong indicator that the cancer has spread, hence the radiation treatment. However, other then microscopic traces of cancers in my lymph nodes, there are no other signs that the cancer has spread. But I do not know for sure; only time will tell.
After my operation, I was sent to the Altru Cancer Center. I met with a Dr. Winchester, and he told me I would have to undergo 37 radiation treatments. In preparation for my treatments, I had my body tattooed (among other things), or mapped so technicians would know what area of my body to expose to radiation. We agreed my radiation treatments would start November 17, and I will have a total of 37 treatments with weekends, Thanksgiving, and Christmas days off. Because I am from out of town (the treatments are done in Grand Forks), he made it easy on me by letting me pick the times of the 15-minute treatments.
November 17, the date of my first treatment, has come and gone, so I have already started my radiation treatments. My weekly radiation schedule is: Monday afternoons at 4:00; I spend Monday nights in Grand Forks; my Tuesday treatment is at 9:00 in the morning, after which I drive home. I return Wednesday afternoon for a 4:00 PM treatment, then spend the night in Grand Forks. Thursday, my treatment is at 9:00 AM, and I drive home. Friday, I return for my final weekly treatment at 4:00 PM.
Two colleagues of mine, Dr. Garl Rieki and his wife Dr. Judy Rieki, have generously offered me the use of their spare bedroom in their basement (at no cost to me, I might add) until December 10 when they move to Minneapolis. After that, I will rent a motel room for the remaining four weeks of my treatments.
I have done a lot of research on prostate cancer, and what I found makes me extremely optimistic. First, I am not alone. Most men, if they live long enough, will experience some type of prostate cancer. Second, most prostate cancer is slow growing and highly curable. Third, many friends and acquaintances have told me they know someone who has prostate cancer and is doing well. My old friend and mentor, Dr. Berg, who came to visit me last week, reminded me he had prostate cancer and received radiation treatment for it. That was 20 years ago and he is still fairly healthy.
Naturally, I wanted to find out what my chances were of surviving prostate cancer, so I searched the web for statistics. Here are excerpts from an article titled, Prostate Cancer Key Statistics, from the American Cancer Society, 2008.
➢ Prostate cancer is the most common cancer, other than skin cancers, in American men.
➢ About 1 man in 6 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, but only 1 man in 35 will die of it.
➢ More than 9 out of 10 prostate cancers are found in the local and regional stages (local means it is still confined to the prostate; regional means it has spread from the prostate to nearby areas, but not to distant sites, such as bone).
➢ The 5-year relative survival rate for men whose prostate cancers have already spread to distant parts of the body at the time of diagnosis is about 32 percent.
➢ Five-year survival rates refer to the percentage of men who live at least 5 years after their prostate cancer is first diagnosed. Keep in mind that many patients live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis.
➢ According to the most recent data, for all men with prostate cancer, the relative 10-year survival rate is 91 percent and the 15-year survival rate is 76 percent. - Source: American Cancer Society
I felt much better about my chances of survival after reading this article - of course, there is still the uncertainty of not knowing if my cancer has spread to other parts of my body.
Last week, I was invited to speak at a pow-wow about my cancer. The other two speakers were cancer survivors. When they finished, I stood and spoke. I have tried to recreate my speech below. Although, I have added to what I said at the pow-wow, the central message is the same. Here is what I said.
I am honored to have been asked to speak today. The other two speakers talked about surviving cancer. Because I was recently diagnosed with cancer, I cannot talk about surviving ... maybe in five years I will be able to.
My first reaction to discovering my cancer was shock. My next reaction was disbelief and denial. I thought it couldn't be true. After reality set in my immediate thought was a quick trip to the doctor and everything will be all right. However, when I went on-line and read up on prostate cancer, I realized I still had to undergo an operation to remove my prostate, which would result in all kinds of nasty side effects. The operation to remove my prostate was suspended midway through the procedure when my lymph nodes were tested and microscopic traces of cancer was found. The doctor did not take my prostate, but I was told I was going to have to go through radiation treatment.
The hardest part was telling my children. What I dislike most about my cancer is not the fact I might eventually die from it, or the side effects that result from it, but the sorrow and sadness it has caused my children. I am not scared to go to the Spirit World. Why should I be? My son, my mother, and my relatives are there. However, I understand my children love me very much. They also expect me to live forever, and those are the reasons they are taking the news so hard.
I think my children did not understand my reaction, or maybe my lack of reaction, when I first found out I had cancer, and then my seemingly calm acceptance of news that it had spread to the lymph nodes. I do not want to go to the Spirit World until I have lived another 15 - 20 years. But what they do not understand is when I grew up, most adults did not live past sixty. So, I never expected to live long, either. The way I see it, if cancer does kill me, I will be living out my normal life span, anyway. In addition, I am partially paralyzed on my left side due to a broken back, and my disability may well worsen as I grow older, something I dread. So what are a few years, more or less, when you're old?
There is a saying that goes something like this, "Life is a bitch, then you die." Well, my life hasn't been a bitch. Sure I had my ups and downs, but the Wakan Takan has given me a wonderful life and many blessings.... I can't complain. I have four wonderful children, and many beautiful grandchildren. I have been a third grade teacher, a GED instructor, a tribal college academic dean and college president. I have been the first Spirit Lake tribal member born and raised on the Spirit Lake reservation to receive a doctorate degree. Four years ago, Dr. AnnMaria De Mars, my sister, April, and I founded Spirit Lake Consulting, of which I am now the sole owner. I can't and I won't complain now that I have cancer. For me to feel sorry for myself and get angry is to disrespect the Creator and all the blessings he has given me over the course of my life.
I want to say I have received nothing but positive support from my family, friends, relatives, and tribal members. Indians are the most generous of all people. Their kindness, sympathy, and generosity are overwhelming. How can I feel sorry for myself with so many people demonstrating their support for me?
In closing, I have a firm belief in Wakan Tanka. Wakan Tanka does not make mistakes. It is my belief in Wakan Tanka that helps me accept the good with the bad. I enjoy life when it is good, and I persevere when life is rough, and my belief in Wakan Tanka will help me accept whatever direction my cancer takes.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
I am happy my radiation treatments have started. I am anxious to put them behind me.