Editor's note: The following article is the second and final part of the series by Rod King, who recently completed 45 prostate cancer radiation treatments.
When you walk into Northeast Indiana Prostate Cancer Center (NEIPCC) it's like walking into someone's family room. There are upholstered, comfortable chairs, a couch, a coffee table with timely magazines, a big screen TV, a nice area rug over wood flooring and a stone fireplace. Coffee and snacks are available, too. Wow! Not your normal doctors' waiting room.
According to Northeast Indiana Urology (NEIU) urologist Dr. David Pollifrone, “the room was specifically designed to be comfortable and homey because these men are here for radiation therapy treatment every day for nine solid weeks. We want them to feel at home and relaxed. That's also where we hold our monthly support group meetings.”
An important step in the process starts at home before leaving for NEIPCC. I had to drink 20 ounces of water 30 to 45 minutes before the treatment to fill the bladder to capacity to push the prostate clear of the small intestine and support it in the proper position for radiation.
NEIPCC doesn't operate like other doctors' offices, either. My radiation treatment appointment was at 1:40 p.m. I usually arrived five minutes early, checked in, took a seat, opened the book I was reading and only got two or three paragraphs read before being called to go to the changing room. I thought I could finish that book in nine weeks but didn't come close. After putting on blue scrub pants, it wasn't more than three or four minutes before my name was called and I was walking in my stocking feet a short distance up the hall to the treatment room.
No waiting there either! There was just time for a little small talk before stepping up to the treatment table, verifying the name and date of birth on the Styrofoam leg cradle and making sure the photo on the monitor was indeed me. I'd lay back and pull down the scrub pants and undershorts under a towel while radiation therapists Melissa Querry, Shannon Michel, Tisha Brewer or Shauna Figert, depending upon who was on duty, positioned me under the radiation head.
The Styrofoam leg cradle (each guy has his own), which was made for me at one of my X-ray visits, is to keep the patient in a precise position and eliminate any possible movement. It's just part of NEIPCC's security system to make sure they have the right radiation plan for the proper individual.
The radiation therapists got me lined up on the table with the coordinates of my individual plan and the three little tattoo dots via laser. Once that was done, they left the room, the lead-shielded door slid shut (the entire room is shielded) and they did further adjustments via computer remote control in the next room. The machine whirred and hummed and moved around me to seven pre-arranged spots, paused and zapped the nasty cancer cells. The whole thing takes about 12 minutes. You pull up your pants, step off the table, tell the ladies you'll see them tomorrow and you're on your way. As I emerged, the next person was waiting to enter. With all the water I drank, the first stop after treatment on the way to the changing room was always the restroom.
Wednesdays were for checking vital statistics before treatment and answering questions concerning any side affects I might be experiencing. After each Wednesday treatment I met with radiation oncologist Dr. Robert Bradfield to discuss how things were going. He explained things such as the fact that the real culprit in prostate cancer is that men produce testosterone, and that constant stimulation causes cancer cells to grow. We talked about prostate cancer being the overall slowest growing cancer, and the fact that men in their 60s who receive radiation will probably have less than a 10 percent chance of prostate cancer affecting their life span, and just 3 percent in men over 70. In my case, he said heredity played a big part in developing prostate cancer. He strongly suggests that others whose fathers have had it should begin screening (PSA testing) now. We occasionally got off the subject and discussed stuff like the NCAA Tournament, the long wet spring and the book I was trying to finish.
I was intrigued by his comment that “cancer cells are like kamikaze pilots. They're out of control and sooner or later they kill themselves. The cancer cells don't actually die,” he explained, “until they attempt to divide and multiply, go through mitosis. If cancer cells can't reproduce effectively, they're dead.”
Asked if radiation is better than surgery, Dr. Bradfield replied that every individual is different, making one kind of treatment better for a specific person and not another. “The cure rates are about the same, but some men can better tolerate radiation than a stressful three-hour surgery and an extended recovery period. With radiation there is less chance of urinary incontinence,” he said.
My 45th and last therapy session was May 7 and I received a certificate verifying I completed the required radiation treatment. I'm not, however, completely done. This month I'm scheduled for a PSA test, which is only a benchmark at this time because the numbers will not have started to go down yet, and then a hormone shot in July. I'll need to return every six months for the next couple years for hormone shots.
I'm glad I chose the radiation path. My life wasn't greatly affected, and I never experienced tiredness or fatigue or had redness of skin in the radiation area. I will, however, still be getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, but not as often. I attended the monthly Prostate Cancer Center Support Group for Men recently. There were about 10 of us ranging from those who had already had surgery or completed radiation treatment to those just starting radiation, or who were on a watch and wait program. I learned that because my PSA Gleason scale reading was on the high end I'm not necessarily out of the woods. If all goes well (I feel great!) and my future PSA readings decline, after five years I hope to be able to say that I'm a prostate cancer survivor!