Prostate cancer is treatable when caught early – but the choice of treatment impacts both the patient and their support system.
Prostate cancer is the second-most common form of cancer in men — about 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed at some point in their life. While it is the second-leading cause of death from cancer among men, being diagnosed with prostate cancer is far from a death sentence if it’s caught early.
“How I was diagnosed was the rate of increase in my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test over a period of about five years,” says retired Rear Admiral Garry Hall, a former special assistant to the president on the National Security Council. “My doctor said, ‘I don’t like the rate of increase of your PSA,’ so we did a biopsy, and the surgeon said, ‘Admiral, you have prostate cancer.’”
Hall attended an information seminar at Walter Reed Hospital where he was offered a range of treatment options. “Walter Reed could provide 40 sessions of radiation — that’s eight weeks, Monday through Friday in the morning,” he says, “and I’m thinking, how the heck am I going to do work in the White House and go to Walter Reed for eight weeks, Monday through Friday? The other option was putting radioactive seeds in my prostate. That involves a radioactive seed about the size of a grain of rice, and they put 75 to 100 of those seeds into your prostate.” This makes the patient slightly radioactive, and Hall worried about the impact this would have considering the sensitive nature of his work in the White House.
With these unattractive options before them, Hall’s wife Darlene surprised him by asking about a treatment option called CyberKnife. “I’m married to a wonderful woman,” Hall says. “I didn’t realize that after my diagnosis she immediately went to Google and does this research that I didn’t know about.”
CyberKnife is a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment option that delivers radiation to cancer cells with extreme precision by using a linear accelerator directly mounted on a robot that moves around the patient. This precision helps minimizes the side effects because more healthy tissue can be avoided and significantly shortens the length of time required for treatment. For example, instead of the 40 sessions required by traditional radiation treatments, the CyberKnife (Accuray Incorporated, Sunnyvale, CA) can treat in just five sessions, which can be as short as 15 minutes each, over the course of one to two weeks. And CyberKnife isn’t just used to treat prostate cancer, it can be used to treat both cancerous and non-cancerous conditions throughout the body.
Hall reached out to a fellow veteran who had undergone CyberKnife treatment and decided it was the best choice for him.
“You go in, lie down on a table,” Hall explains. “When everything is in alignment the CyberKnife starts. For the next 45 minutes, you’re in a dimly lit room with beautiful music playing while the CyberKnife hits you from thousands of different angles just going click, click, click. 45 minutes* and you’re done. For five days over a two-week period, I had my treatments and would go right to work. Absolutely zero impact on lifestyle, on workstyle, or family life.”
Just as important to Hall was the zero impact the treatment had on his family and friends. “When you have cancer, your family has cancer,” he explains. “Everybody is affected, and everybody is involved.” The short duration of the treatment coupled with experiencing almost no side effects meant that his support system didn’t have to experience the stress and emotional turmoil normally associated with cancer.
Hall’s PSA numbers went down immediately, and five years after his treatment it’s so low there’s essentially no evidence of cancer. He’s well aware that a routine blood test saved his life. “You know, it’s not like a growth that you can watch,” Hall notes. “It’s your prostate. So you don’t know what’s happening. I tell men, know your numbers, get an assessment, ask for the PSA test.”
*Treatment times may vary, but the CyberKnife is capable of treating in as little as 15 minutes. Represents the genuine experience of this patient. Individual results may vary. Please consult your physician to see if the CyberKnife treatment is right for you.