Treated 2002 • Posted 2004
“My prostate cancer treatment at Loma Linda University Medical Center was one of the most uplifting periods of my life.”
I came to Loma Linda in a round-about way. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2002 after a routine biopsy taken at the end of a 7-year Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (PCPT) I participated in from 1995-2002 came back with a Gleason score of 7. I feel very fortunate because my PSA was a constant 0.9 for more than 5 years and I would not have known I had cancer if I had not agreed to have the routine biopsy. My Kaiser-Permanente health plan did not cover proton beam therapy. [I’ve since learned that Kaiser CAN cover proton beam therapy if the patient is knowledgeable and persistent.] For that reason I elected to undergo a radical prostatectomy. I went in for the surgery in June of 2002 and woke up in the recovery room to learn that my surgeon had aborted the procedure. He found a stricture at the bottom of my urethra next to the main continence muscle, and he was reluctant to cut there for fear of making me incontinent for life. He dilated the stricture, inserted a urinary catheter and sent me home with instructions to wait to see if the dilated area would heal enough to allow surgery at a later date. Needless to say I was pretty depressed. I began seeking alternatives.
I was a poor candidate for brachytherapy (seed implants) because of my stricture. Brachytherapy is not recommended for anyone with stricture problems. Kaiser said the best they could do for me if the dilation did not take would be a combination of external radiation and hormone therapy. I had read enough in my research to want to avoid either of those alternatives and the combination was not appealing. I called a college classmate who had completed proton beam therapy for prostate cancer at Loma Linda in 1994 and has been cancer-free ever since. He spoke very highly of his treatment there and has had no side effects. That sold me on proton therapy.
I went to the Loma Linda University Medical Center in September of 2002 (at age 64) and had 40 treatments of proton beam therapy, which ended on November 20, 2002. Most of the cost was paid by my retired military health coverage. My wife and I rented an apartment in nearby Redlands and enjoyed a 10-week medical vacation during my treatment. I was able to continue my consulting work and stay in contact with my customers via my laptop computer. I've had no side effects, except for more frequent urination during the last two weeks of treatment. That was due to temporary enlargement of my prostate caused by the proton bombardment.
We moved from the California Bay Area to Connecticut and I'm seeing a local urologist twice a year for my follow-up checks. He fills out a form and sends it back to Loma Linda. My urologist says my prostate feels "small, smooth and supple". My PSA was 1.6 at 4 months after treatment, 1.2 after a year, and 1.0 after 17 months. That's a bit high compared to when I was in the PCPT Study, but the trend is in the right direction. My latest reading in March of 2004 (from an independent lab) was 0.6.
Looking back on my experience I should thank the Kaiser surgeon who elected not to do the surgery. Were it not for his caution I would most likely have joined the many post-surgery “leakers” wearing absorbent pads for the rest of their lives. Knowing what I know now, if I had not been eligible for military coverage I would have appealed to Kaiser to cover the proton beam therapy, or if unsuccessful, made arrangements to pay for it myself, or possibly wait a year until I was Medicare-eligible. My prostate cancer treatment at Loma Linda University Medical Center was one of the most uplifting periods of my life.
Don Naples (BOB 11/02)
New Britain, CT 06053