It’s been well over a year since my last treatment for prostate cancer, and, as of my last quarterly blood draw, my PSA is still undetectable ( < 0.01 ng/mL ). If there are still prostate cancer cells floating around inside me, they’re in smaller amounts than the PSA test can detect. I am in remission, where I hope to be for a very, very long time.
Although my medical treatments have been mostly paused ( more on that in a bit ), I still find myself sticking to the same routines and diet that I kept while being treated. I still maintain a Whole Food Plant Based Diet ( WFPB ) and abstain from alcohol and processed sugars, but I’ve started allowing myself the occasional serving of fish. I’m still a big fan of intermittent fasting ( IC ), but I’ve found myself indulging in breakfast again from time-to-time.
I also continue to exercise, probably more so than while being treated. With the cessation of hormone therapy came a surge in testosterone, so I’ve bumped up my exercise and weight routines, probably a little too much. Back and muscle pain has been a problem made worse by working a desk job. I’ve started doing daily stretching/yoga, bought a standing desk, and even started seeing a chiropractor to help loosen things up. Admittedly, each time I pull my back out I can’t help but think that it’s cancer-related, but eventually I come to the same conclusion : I’m just getting older – and probably overdoing it. If there was one upside to the hormone therapy I was on, it was the steroids I had to take while on them. In retrospect, I feel that they likely masked a lot of the muscle pain I am now experiencing.
As part of my “Non-Treatment Plan”, I meet with my oncologist, Dr. Tyler Stewart, every six months. I have to admit that I much prefer these appointments to the earlier ones where we discussed medication, radiation, surgery – and invariably ended with my pants around my ankles and an enormous horse syringe shoved into my butt cheek.
“You need to see Dr. Hofflich again.”, Dr. Stewart said aloud as he reviewed a report on the exam room’s computer screen.
Dr. Hofflich, the latest member of my cancer team, is an orthopedic doctor who Doctor Stewart brought on board a little over a year ago after a scan indicated that I had early osteoporosis.
“Yeah, my latest bone density scan (DEXA) was a little lower, wasn’t it,” I admitted.
“I don’t get it! I exercise. I eat a high calcium diet. I even started running – well, for a while.”, I complained.
“I don’t want you to break your hip at 50.”, he said, flatly.
“Yeah, I know. I know…..”, I grumbled.
“So much for my so-called ‘Non-Treatment Plan'”. I thought to myself.
“Hey, are you still in a band?”, Dr. Stewart asked, turning away from the computer screen.
“Huh?”, I mumbled, distracted.
“A band? Are you still playing music with your friends?”, he asked again.
“Oh… yeah! Yeah, we get together every week. We’re not very good, but we have a great time not being very good!”, I exclaimed, “Why do you ask?”
“The other doctors and I started a band, too!”, he smiled from ear-to-ear.
“No kidding? That’s awesome!”, I said, matching his smile.
“Yeah! It’s me and some of the other oncologists.”, he continued.
At this point my imagination took over. I pictured a Gary Larson-esqe comic of doctors in lab coats rocking out in an exam room, stethoscopes swaying haphazardly from their necks.
“Check this out!”, he smiled.
He then showed me a video on his phone. It wasn’t exactly how I pictured it, but they sounded good, and, wait…
“Are you singing?”, I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah, I’m the lead singer!”, he said, with pride.
I laughed, encouragingly.
“You guys aren’t half bad. I love it!”, I added.
We talked a while longer, mostly about lingering side effects from surgery and radiation. You can’t rip out a prostate and bake the carnage with radiation without lasting damage, after all.
Fortunately, some of my concerns were mitigated by a routine and uneventful colonoscopy last year. Radiation might have baked my prostate, but my colon, aside from some scarring, survived unscathed. At this point I’ve gotten used to the frequent bathroom trips at night and the inevitable burning sensation from eating spicy foods. Incontinence following surgery hasn’t been a problem, but not for lack of effort – I still do daily Kegel exercises for twenty minutes, and I’ll probably be doing them for the rest of my life. There are other problems, but Dr. Stewart has a treatment plan for those too, and I’m slowly coming to terms with it.
“Well, that’s it, I guess.”, Dr. Stewart said as he got up to leave.
I got up to follow him.
“You can head out, too, but Danielle will be in shortly with your paperwork.”. He smiled.
“Yeah. I’ll stick around, I’d like to see her!”, I said.
Danielle, Dr. Stewart’s nurse, has been by my side for the entire ride. Admittedly, she’s spent a lot of that time behind me administering injections, but she always had the most awesome cheerful disposition – and never missed, either.
“You look a lot different without a hazmat suit on and a horse needle in your hand!”, I told her as she entered the room.
She laughed and we caught up for a few minutes before I headed out.
On the way home I stopped to pick up Poke Bowls at “Poke One N Half” in La Jolla. Jodie and I had started frequenting the restaurant three years ago following each of my appointments. I’m not a big fan of sushi, but visiting the place had been a way to unwind after what had been some pretty stressful discussions.
“Wow, your prices have gone up!”, I told the cashier while paying for the meal.
“Inflation”, she responded, flatly, spinning around the credit card machine to reveal a screen requesting a tip amount.
I entered a tip and pressed “Enter”, my eyes bugging out slightly at the total bill.
“Well, at least I only have to do this every 6-months now, ’cause that was expensive.”, I said under my breath.
Yet one more reason to be thankful to be in remission – as if I needed another one.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life.
Previous : Nine Months Later
P.S. Here are some sketches and character designs I created in preparation for the above illustration.
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