Thursday, June 14, 2012

This Father's Day: The Hardest Thing I’ve Had to Do


Robert Lustig, MD, is professor of radiation oncology at Penn Medicine, prostate cancer survivor and proton beam therapy patient. At Penn, Dr. Lustig was able to have proton therapy for prostate cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center. In this blog, he discusses his diagnosis, and how difficult it was to tell his kids he had cancer.

A few years ago I went to the urologist for a problem unrelated to my prostate. I was not at all concerned about prostate cancer as my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) was less than 1.

While my presenting problem was minor, the urologist felt a scar on my prostate and recommended a biopsy. Two days after the biopsy, I read the diagnosis, prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN).

PIN can be a precursor of prostate cancer or may actually regress spontaneously. Six months later, a repeat biopsy confirmed my prostate was normal, and I let out a great sigh of relief.

I continued to monitor my PSA, which increased slightly but remained below 1. Two years later at a follow-up appointment, my urologist recommend a repeat biopsy, as some of the newest data recommended a repeat biopsy to confirm there was no malignancy.

I expected the third biopsy to be normal, but instead, I learned I had prostate cancer.

I checked to see that it was my report, and I read it again.

Now, how to tell my family?

My wife is a social worker in the medical field and has spent many years working with cancer patients, so telling her my diagnosis and discussing my feelings was easy. But how do I tell my children? How would they feel? How scared would they be? Their father’s mortality would suddenly jump out at them. My wife and I spent some time talking about how to tell the children.

I have two daughters, and at the time they were 27 and 33.

My youngest came home for a family discussion, and I explained to her that I had a low grade prostate cancer diagnosed at a very early stage with a very high rate of cure. I told her I would be receiving proton beam therapy at Penn, and I did not expect to miss a day of work. I assured her I would be around for a long time.

While I do not believe in keeping health secrets, the three of us agreed not to tell my eldest daughter as she was due with her first child in less than a month. This health secret was only temporary and absolutely necessary.

About a month after her delivery we again sat down as a family and told her that I would be treated for early stage prostate cancer. She obviously had similar concerns as my youngest but at least they could talk to each other.

Today, I am one year post proton beam radiation therapy for my prostate cancer.

My PSA is 0.28. I never missed a day of work.I still have the “what if the cancer comes back” thoughts, but less frequently.

Telling my children I had cancer was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. Difficult situations occur in life. But they pass and life goes on.

Read more about Dr. Lustig’s story, and watch a video in which he discusses his experience with proton therapy at Penn Medicine. Get 10 tips for talking to kids about cancer.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer?

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with prostate cancer?

Penn Medicine is one of only 10 centers in the United States to offer proton therapy. Proton therapy treats prostate cancer with external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor. The radiation dose that is given through proton therapy is very precise, and limits the exposure of radiation to normal tissues. This reduced exposure leads to the possibility of decreased toxicity, side effects and complications for patients.

Learn more about proton therapy for prostate cancer, and how proton therapy offers potentially less side effects for men with prostate cancer.



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