Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 5:26 AM
Wow, this is just like Ben Casey or Doctor Kildare. I’m flat on my back on a hospital gurney being wheeled through a maze of corridors heading for an appointment with a surgical knife. Make that two surgical knives. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
All I can see are a series of ceilings, punctuated by the occasional anonymous face of a passing doctor or nurse. It’s an image that’s familiar to TV viewers of hospital dramas of the 1950s and 60s. I suppose my younger colleagues in the news room associate such camera angles with “E.R.” or “Scrubs”. Or maybe they don’t even watch TV shows anymore and download YouTube videos on their i-phones, instead.
The rush of modern life feels relentless, these days. There was a time when I would buy the latest gadget --- computer, video camera, keyboard --- and devour the instructions, learning every nuance of the device. But lately, I’m starting to feel like that grandparent who isn’t quite sure how to set the VCR timer. And don’t ask me how to spell TIVO.
The reality of my prostate cancer diagnosis has swept by me in a similar fashion, but I’ve been in the good hands of knowledgeable doctors and friends who have helped me navigate the choppy waters of medical terminology. Step One was to get the PSA test, a blood analysis which detects the presence of something called the “Prostate Specific Antigen” --- an indicator that cancer may be present. My PSA results were high enough to prompt my urologist to call for Step Two, a biopsy --- an out-patient procedure where the doctor uses a needle to take out a dozen core samples from the prostate itself.
A majority of my core samples proved to be cancerous. I got that news the day after Memorial Day Weekend, and this time, instead of devouring the facts about the latest electronic gadget, I began submerging myself in information about treatment options. There were several.
First of all, I could just get the prostate cut right out --- a full-blown hospital procedure. There were also a couple of options involving radiation. In one case, a concentrated, high energy beam is used to kill the cancer. This involves several clinical visits, but no surgery. In another case, tiny radioactive seeds are implanted inside the prostate with a needle in order to attack the cancerous tissue. An inside job. There are also options that involve freezing the cancer cells to death or treating them with hormonal therapy.
The choice of what treatment to use is based on a person’s age and how far the cancer has progressed. Prostate cancer grows at such a snail’s pace that an older man who gets the diagnosis is more likely to die of something else first. Given my age (“David Barnett, 2-20-1952”), I chose to cut it out and…hopefully…be done with it. If I subsequently keep up with my PSA test for the next five years and my numbers stay down, the odds are very good that I’m clean.
This is just a bare bones description of the treatment options. The medical choices I’ve made apply to my personal situation. They are based on my own interpretation of what would be best for me. If you or a relative is faced with prostate cancer, it’s best to go over the options with your doctor. Perhaps the most important decision you can make is to get tested in the first place. I found that out in spades a couple weeks before I was scheduled to go under the knife.
After my biopsy came back revealing a high degree of cancer, my urologist scheduled some more tests, just to give a clearer picture of what was going on inside of me. I got a whole body bone scan to make sure the disease hadn’t broken out of my prostate and traveled elsewhere. A CT Scan was also done of my abdominal area to search out traces of the disease right in the neighborhood.
As it happens, they found something. A very small something in the tail of my pancreas. Further analysis revealed that it wasn’t a growing cancer, but it was something that needed to come out, as soon as possible.
And so, here I am, flat on my back, being wheeled down the Ben Casey corridors, heading toward the first of two surgeries. The prostate will come out first. And then, my primary surgeon will step aside to make way for the pancreas expert. There’s a chill in the air as we enter the operating room. A member of the anesthesiology team greets me with a smile.
That’s the last thing I remember.