Making Space for the Important Things in Life
(Read time: 5 minutes)
Featured on CURE
A Navy veteran and football coach tackles prostate cancer diagnosis, with family’s support.
Steve seemed to have it all. After a career in the U.S. Navy, he and his wife of 38 years were living in St. Johns, Florida, enjoying life with their two sons. At the time, his youngest son was playing college football in western Kentucky and Steve would regularly make the 13-hour drive, without stopping, to watch the games.
After his son transferred to a college in North Carolina, Steve continued to visit, appreciating the shorter six-hour drive. However, despite the significantly shorter trip, he found himself needing to stop to use the restroom five or six times each way. Knowing this could be a sign of a prostate condition and that prostate cancer ran in his family, Steve thought to himself, “I have to go to the doctor.”
Receiving a difficult diagnosis
Steve scheduled an appointment with his urologist for an exam and screening. Not wanting to upset his wife, he didn’t share with her that he was getting tested for prostate cancer, instead planning to tell her when he got the results. His testing included a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test — a blood test that can help aid in the detection of prostate cancer in men ages 55 and older.1 The test measures the amount of PSA, a protein made by normal cells and cancer cells in the prostate gland.1 His initial test indicated that his PSA levels were slightly elevated. Three months later, his levels were even higher. Steve’s urologist then performed a biopsy and, in December 2016, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men behind skin cancer.2 In fact, about one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.2 Individuals diagnosed with prostate cancer may not have symptoms, but signs may include increased frequency or difficulty starting urination; trouble emptying the bladder completely; or weak or interrupted flow.3 If detected and treated early, prostate cancer has a relative five-year survival rate of 98 percent.4
Taking on prostate cancer together
Steve sat his family down to share the news with them all at once. While his wife and sons felt overwhelmed and the next steps seemed daunting, Steve knew this was something that they would all get through together.
“When I first saw a doctor, he discussed surgery to remove my prostate. Hearing about some of the side effects, I didn’t think that was the right option for me,” Steve recalls. “I knew that I wanted my family to contribute to the conversation during this stressful time and my wife, who had heard about additional treatment options from a local doctor on the radio, said, ‘Let’s go talk to another doctor.’”
They visited another specialist, Dr. Scot Ackerman of Ackerman Cancer Center, who talked them through the options for treating Steve’s cancer, based on how his cancer had progressed, his age and additional health factors. In Steve’s case, Dr. Ackerman recommended radiation therapy — an approach chosen by more than 60,000 American men with prostate cancer every year.5
Minimizing the side effects of radiation
When treating prostate cancer with radiation therapy, the goal is to kill the cancer cells while avoiding damage to surrounding healthy tissue.6 Due to the proximity of the prostate and the rectum, radiation therapy to the prostate can unintentionally cause damage to the rectum, which may lead to issues with bowel function.6 Damage to other surrounding organs may also lead to urinary and sexual function issues.6
Dr. Ackerman recommended radiation therapy and SpaceOAR™ Hydrogel — an absorbable hydrogel that is designed to create a temporary space between the prostate and the rectum during prostate cancer radiation therapy. By creating this space, SpaceOAR hydrogel is intended to reduce the radiation dose delivered to the rectum and may help minimize potential side effects of radiation therapy to the bowel.7
SpaceOAR Hydrogel can be placed in an outpatient procedure in a doctor’s office, hospital, outpatient clinic or surgery center.8 It is made mostly of water and a small amount (<10 percent) of polyethylene glycol (PEG), a material commonly used in medical implants. SpaceOAR Hydrogel stays in place during the course of radiation therapy for about three months and is naturally absorbed by the body after about six months.8
“I’m grateful that I was able to get the treatment I needed and was also able to continue working while receiving treatment,” Steve shares. “My quality of life is great. I’m glad that I am able to do the activities I enjoyed before being diagnosed with cancer.”
Enjoying life beyond prostate cancer
Nearly six years after his initial diagnosis, Steve is in remission from prostate cancer. In addition to spending time playing golf and coaching football, he now uses his experience with prostate cancer to mentor other men who are going through the same process.
“My advice to anyone facing down a prostate cancer diagnosis is don’t panic,” he says. “Prostate cancer is scary but it is not a death sentence. Talk to your physician to explore your options and make sure you’re getting the best treatment for you.”
To find a doctor and learn more about how SpaceOAR Hydrogel works during radiation therapy for prostate cancer, visit find a doctor tool.
As with any medical treatment, there are some risks involved with the use of SpaceOAR Hydrogel and results from case studies like Steve’s are not necessarily predictive of results in other cases. Please talk with your doctor about the potential risks and benefits associated with SpaceOAR Hydrogel. A complete list of potential side effects associated with SpaceOAR Hydrogel can be found here.