Monday, January 30, 2017

Suicide - Not An Easy Topic, But an Important One

On a prostate cancer support group that I've been a member of for some time (
I got a response to one of my posts where the gentleman raised the issue of suicide:

"Given this discussion, I'm going to post something on a topic that I've never seen here, realizing that it may not be welcome: suicide. I'm 61, had a G9, RP, repair operation, RT, and ADT. The ADT has largely worn off, but as I result of all this I'm completely unable to engage in sex; I have extensive nerve damage to my entire genital region. 

My med onc says I have a high probability of a recurrence, with will mean a life sentence of ADT, but my experience with it is that it's torture. (Just seeing a pretty girl with her boyfriend is a form of torture as well.) Now, I'm sure cancer in one's bones is far worse. Having said this, if/when I have a recurrence, I *may* deny the ADT, take my chances, and, if it goes the wrong way, blow my brains out. I don't think I'd be the first. "

I replied:

Suicide isnt an easy topic but an important one to discuss as one moves from trying to stay alive by "any means necessary" to accepting that sometimes one just has to accept that we all die from something, sometimes much sooner than we wish to.

I've considered this and fortunately, I have a dear friend who lives in Seattle and we've already agreed that when the time comes, if I choose to do so, I'll take up Washington state residence and take advantage of their physician assisted suicide (going to sleep with a Marilyn Monroe cocktail of barbiturates seems preferable to gun violence to me;) ) laws. I don't plan to wither away and die a slow, painful, bone cancer death.

Thanks for addressing the topic and best wishes to you.


Comments From Those That Have Given

I've been really touched by the outpouring of help I've received from friends as well as people I don't know.

Some of their comments:

My Husband suffers from Prostate Cancer Stage III Gleason 9 is back from year of PSA 0.2 know we have a long road ahead. God Bless you.

Scott I saw your story on my sister's page. Praying God's Continual Strength, Comfort, Love, Healing and Support surround you and shower you with blessings beyond measure.

Good luck buddy...I got ya back!

Hi Scott! Sorry I'm late to the 'let's fix up meatloaf' party! Miss you! XO 

Not much but I hope it helps.

I love you.

Love you so much brother, many people do in fact.

What type of job did spider man apply to? Web developer :) hope this helps (from a friend who ALWAYS has a joke

Dear Scott, I hope this helps a little. 

Love you uncle Scott!

Here's hoping you can get that clunker fixed!!!

To say I'm touched by these and the help is an understatement.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Life Almost 3 Years After Diagnosis...The Ups and the Downs and What’s Current - Part 2 - HOPE

Back to where I left off, so life changed quickly and dramatically in 2014.  I could no longer work, I was sick, in pain and extremely fatigued most of the time. This continues in various forms to this day. My energy is good for about 5 to, on a really good day,  8 hours.  I live in a garage apartment that is basic but safe and relatively comfortable...and I have a wonderful, sweet, almost 80 year old couple as landlords who have become like adopted grandparents to me. I’m really fortunate in having housing that I can afford (relatively speaking) with kind, considerate landlords.

My base income is $1500 a month.  This is from SSDI after diagnosis by my physicians as being disabled due to complications/side effects of chemo.  From that I pay rent, auto insurance, Medicare costs, Medicare supplement insurance,  RXs, Drs copays, food, gas and (God forbid) car repairs.  The base income almost covers basic expenses as long as there are no surprises.  If there are, all bets are off. I feel VERY fortunate to get the amount I do as people I know who are on SSDI often get roughly half that.  Social Security explained to me since I had worked and paid in since I was barely 14 years old,  I qualified for the higher end of payout which maxes at $1700/mo. So my hard work all my life paid off and it keeps me living indoors! But it doesn’t do much beyond that.

I’ve managed to get hooked up with doing food demos at HEB and Central Market grocery stores where on an average month I can pick up $200-300 which allows me to save a little, pay some debts to relatives and medical providers as well as to not be quite so stressed that my bank account will dip below $50. Shoot, in months where I have the extra income sometimes I go see a movie!  At Christmas I had major car issues and a major drop off in food demos and BOOM, my tired back was frighteningly against a wall financially. Only thanks to my kind landlord and generous friends and relatives did I manage to make it. I also enjoy the food demos because my stamina can handle 4 to 6 hours once or twice a week and I get to interact with hundreds of people which helps me feel connected to folks.....and this is vital to good mental health for me.

I spend a lot of time reading, writing, resting and I’ve been strangely comforted by having started a The West Wing watching marathon since I never really watched it when it originally aired and right now, one can fantasize about how those offices would be with good people occupying them. Enough politics.

Oncologist visit Tuesday January 24, 2017 - PSA Rise and the Velocity of the Rate at Which It Is Rising.

I saw the Onc this week to follow up as to my status and any new possible treatments.  Of note was concern  over the “velocity”, or rate at which my PSA level had risen in the months since late August. At the beginning of 2016,  after hormone deprivation and chemo, my PSA was considered, at .95 ng/ml, as unmeasurable.  From January of 2016 to August 2016, the level rose from .95 to 1.49 or about half a point in 9 months.  In the next three months, it rose from 1.49 to 1.97, or the same half point rise that had previously taken 9 months.  At that rate, I will be back at the same level I was at when originally diagnosed as Stage IV (4.91) in about 1 and a half years.

The oncologist stated that an increase or “velocity” of this rate was troubling given my history and that while he was unable to say without MRIs and other diagnostics with 100% certainty that the tumor was off to the races again, he felt confident in saying this was likely the case.  He also reminded me that when diagnosed I was advised that there was no “cure” for such an advanced case of PC that had metastasized like mine and that this was still the case.  He stated the best I could hope for was to delay the growth of the original tumor and delay further spread of the metastasized cells. In a nutshell, this is not something I’ll ever be cured of and it will grow and spread.

Another Treatment to Consider - Provenge - $100,000 to Get Another 4 Months

We discussed the immunotherapy treatment called Provenge which takes an individual's own immune cells and reprograms them to attack the cancer cells.  It’s something I’ll look at as chemo was a one shot deal, and I’m not sure I’d do it again even if it were an option and hormone deprivation is something I tried for 8 months but found the side effects too severe.  The upside to Provenge is that it’s got a good track record and the methodology makes sense to this layman.  It also seems to have relatively few side effects and they seem to not be long term, severe ones. The most common side effects include chills, fatigue, fever, back pain, nausea, joint ache, and headache. On the more serious end of the spectrum, are stroke, extreme bone pain and infection.  Also of note is the average life survival rate increase averages 4 months.  Oh, and it costs about $100,000.  Medicare would pay for 80% of that and while theoretically I would be responsible for the other $20,000 (oh sure, no problem!), I was advised that the manufacturer of Provenge usually finds a way to write off the 20%.  After all, $80,000 is not bad for one patient, right?

In summary

My life is quite different now.  The great health I enjoyed right before diagnosis and beginning treatment - gone.  The wonderful,, enjoyable good paying job that I enjoyed so much - gone. The loving relationship I was in is now long distance and more a case of very good, caring friends.  There are no recreational trips as money for them or going out to eat just doesn’t exist  

On the bright side, I’ve been heartened by the support of family and friends.  The niece and nephew who are busy raising my two great, great nieces have been there whenever the old clunker car gives out. A handful of friends checks in on me and stays in contact on a regular basis.  I’ve made a new, delightful friend here in Cedar Park who goes out of her way to socialize and get me out of the house; she’s like having a new sister and it’s brightened many of my days.  I’ve made several new friends from the grocery stores where I do the work that I can and I so enjoy seeing them the few times a month I demo. I’ve learned that I’m a pretty good economizer and sometimes impress myself with my ability to squeeze a dollar for all it’s worth.  I’ve also been grateful for time with children in my life because they have that wonderful innocence and silliness that we all lose to some degree with age.  They make me laugh and smile.  

So it’s not been a bed of roses and it doesn’t appear that anything will make it so.  But, as Shirley MaClaine once sang, I’m Still Here !

That’s it on the updates to today.  As I consider Provenge, I’ll write more and I’m also working on a Top Ten Things for Younger Men with PC to Consider (it may be Top 7 or Top 15, not sure yet;)  as the increase in men under 55 getting aggressive PC has been a rate of a 6 fold jump in 20 years.  Additionally, getting PC, be it a mild case or an aggressive case is quite different for a guy in his 40s than it is for a man in his 70s.

Finally, heartfelt appreciation to those who have helped financially.  Asking people for money is not an easy thing for me as I’ve always been able to cut it on my own.  But times are different now and while I haven’t quite raised enough to repair my sole means of transportation, I’m much closer than I was.  So if you have a spare $5, I’d appreciate your considering throwing it my way or in the direction of someone else who needs a small hand up.  It not only helps financially, it helps emotionally.  You can give via YouCaring right here

Much love to friends, family, the readers of this blog and anyone who has been affected by this dreadful, life altering disease.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Life Almost 3 Years After Diagnosis...The Ups and the Downs and What’s Current - Part 1

Soon it will be 3 years since my life changed dramatically.  In January 2014, I was happily ensconced in my tech support position at one of the best start up software companies in Austin, Kinnser Software, where I was a delighted to be employee #43 (they now have over 300 I think).  I was also a year into a wonderful, loving relationship that had brought me some of the greatest joy of my life.  I was eating good, wholesome, home cooked meals most days and I was running about 8-10 miles a week and hitting the gym 3-5 times a week.  I FELT GREAT!!! No inkling of any kind of illness.  At all.

Then I went for my yearly physical.  My wonderful PCP noted my PSA had jumped at what he described as a “troubling” rate.  After a urology exam, MRI and prostate biopsy they showed an advanced tumor that was a Gleason 8. Gleason scores range from 2 to 10 and indicate how likely it is that a tumor will spread. A low Gleason score means the cancer tissue is similar to normal prostate tissue and the tumor is less likely to spread; a high Gleason score means the cancer tissue is very different from normal and the tumor is more likely to spread.  Mine had indeed spread to both lungs and was outside the gland, known as “extracapsular”. It was also described as an aggressive, virulent strain of adenocarcinoma. In other words, a really bad, very serious cancer.

So I jumped on the hormone deprivation therapy (chemical castration) and chemotherapy (docetaxel) train.  Long story short, they did what they were supposed to do:  they reduced the size of the tumor, rid my lungs (as best medical imaging could tell) of the cancerous nodules and I was in a state of being “stabilized”, but not in remission.

I survived 6 rounds of chemo and I did two, four month rounds of hormone deprivation.  Most women had more testosterone than I did during those 8 months.  I decided I could not handle the side effects of the chemical castration which included extreme fatigue, weight gain, muscle loss, absolutely zero % libido and just a general feeling of malaise.  So I opted out of that “therapy”.

The chemo was brutal.  I lost my hair, I had little to no appetite and my energy was non-existent.  I also began to experience what’s known as “chemo brain” which, generally speaking, is a loss of cognitive function and horrible lapses in memory. I also began to experience neuropathy (pain from damage to nerve endings) in my arms/legs, hands/feet, wrists/ankles. This side effect continues to this day and is THE most debilitating thing to come out of all this.  I take two different narcotic painkillers just to function and get routine stuff done.  Docetaxel has been used for a couple of decades for women with metastatic breast cancer and so many report suffering these and other side effects for years…...long after treatment ends. For many who are lucky enough to see their cancer go into remission, they still struggle with the damage done to their bodies by the “cure.”

That is the story up to date in a summarized form.  More detail can be found in some of the earlier 85 posts on this blog (yes, I’ve been at this a while now).

In summary:

Hormone Deprivation Therapy

No question an effective form of treatment.  For many PC patients, it keeps the cancer at bay for a long time, in some cases years.  The side effects from having no testosterone are severe but probably more tolerable for an older (60s-90s) man who has already started to see a natural decline in the hormone as a result of age.  For a “younger” man (30s-50s) though, it can be devastating.  I decided I’d rather live a shorter period of time feeling more like me than a longer period of time feeling like a eunuch.  So eight months was enough of HDT for this “young” man.

Chemotherapy - Docetaxel

No question this “therapy” did it’s job but it’s a brutal process.  The nausea, the hair loss, the fatigue, the thrush in your mouth, the feeling like you always have the flu, the cognitive decline, and, worst of all, the extreme neuropathy make me wonder if the additional time it bought was worth it.  Does it make sense to make yourself feel really sick and in extreme pain all the time to buy a few extra months (average life expectancy increase after undergoing docetaxel treatment is 4 months.  Yes, approximately 120 days)?  Given the quality of my life now, I can honestly say that if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do it.  Maybe if I had kids and they hadn’t grown up, gotten married had my grandkids, I might feel differently.  But now it’s just me and I hurt all the time;  that’s not a good quality of life.

Cannabis Oil

In late August, after working with a wonderful, kind, talented friend who did a video for me and my dear brother to raise the funds via a YouCaring (think GoFundMe) campaign, I obtained a roughly 4 months supply of high grade cannabis oil.  I took a gram a day split between an oral dose and a suppository.  On the positive side, roughly two weeks after  starting to take it, the WORST part of the neuropathy, that which was in my palms and the soles of my feet, was greatly reduced. I wasn’t and am not pain free by any means, but I was better to the point where I could start going to the gym and using the elliptical machine and, once in awhile, I could “run” for a few minutes.  I could also walk about a mile in the neighborhood at night.  It was a HUGE improvement.  On the negative side, my PSA, which had been rising at a steady rate since I ended the chemo shot up in at an enormous rate during the four months.  The “trajectory”, as it’s called,  was indicative of the tumor being quite active and growing like a well fed, hungry baby.  So cannabis oil, while it had it’s benefit, wasn’t the panacea I’d hoped for.

That’s it for today.  I saw the oncologist yesterday and there is more to share but I’m exhausted and this is enough for anyone who is interested to digest.  More to come tomorrow regarding my current status, another treatment option that has been offered, my lifestyle on disability and other EXCITING reading!  ;)  Thank you all for your support and, if you have a few dollars (I mean $5 would be huge to me!) to help me improve my transportation situation and pay some medical bills, please click where it says “I need your help” and, as Willie Nelson likes to say, throw me a bone.  Best wishes all and talk to you tomorrow.