When Tom Regan learned that he had prostate cancer, it brought back memories of his father, who 20 years before had lost his life to the disease. Tom assumed that he was destined for the same fate. After seeking the advice of family and friends, he decided to put his care in the hands of Peter Schulam, MD, PhD, Chairman and Professor of Urology and Director of the Prostate and Urologic Cancers Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital. As a result, hope returned and his outlook began to change.
Due to the recent controversy surrounding PSA testing, Tom’s primary care physician gave him the option of not having his PSA tested as part of his routine physical. Afraid of receiving bad news, Tom declined a PSA test, a decision he came to regret. Several years later, a new primary care doctor did not give him the same option, and a routine blood test revealed his PSA was elevated. He was sent to Smilow Cancer Hospital where more tests and a biopsy confirmed that Tom had high-grade prostate cancer, meaning it was likely to grow and spread, but was localized to the prostate. Tom described the next few days as a fog of tests, meetings with doctors, and scheduling of appointments, which included a second opinion at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Getting a second opinion was important for Tom, and it reassured him that he was doing the right thing, but it was the first meeting with Dr. Schulam, combined with his experience and expertise, that drew Tom back to Smilow for his surgery. He met with Dr. Schulam numerous times to discuss what to expect. “Dr. Schulam was amazing and answered all of my questions, some I didn’t even know I had,” Tom explained. “He insisted on meeting with my wife to reassure her and answer all her questions as well. This greatly reduced the level of stress and anxiety at home.” With his surgery scheduled, and treatment plan in place, Tom began what was the most difficult part for him, the waiting.
Prior to his surgery Tom had heard of the daVinci Robot and knew what to expect, but was still apprehensive about its potential adverse effects. A month after his robotic radical prostatectomy, where Dr. Schulam removed his cancerous prostate gland, Tom had for the most part resumed normal activities. “It was such a different experience than what my father went through 20 years ago,” Tom explained. “He was in a lot of pain and his recovery was slow, it was tough seeing him like that. It is remarkable that now they are able to perform such a high level of surgery with such minimal side effects and pain.”
Although his recovery was quick physically, mentally it was a struggle. Fifty-five years old and newly married at the time of his diagnosis, Tom described himself as healthy and vigorous. Dealing with the after effects of surgery, including incontinence and sexual side effects, was difficult. Dr. Schulam explained that improvement in continence and potency could continue for 18 months to 2 years. “It is important for patients to understand that urinary control and sexual function can take months to return and are dependent upon age, preoperative function and the type of nerve-sparing surgery that was performed. My role is to help patients have accurate expectations for their recovery and to support and reassure them.”
Tom recovered well and today he is considered to have no lasting side effects. He attributes this to the skill with which Dr. Schulam performed the surgery, and the support he received from the entire Smilow team. “The staff at Smilow became like friends to me during this experience. I feel extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful prognosis and to be able to continue to live a healthy and active life with my dignity intact,” Tom said. “For anyone facing a similar diagnosis I cannot stress enough how important it is to find a doctor that you trust, and to keep in mind that things do get better.”
Tom is a huge advocate of men taking charge of their care, having their PSA tested, and if faced with a diagnosis, doing their research to find someone skilled to treat them. He is still coping with his diagnosis every day. Every few months he has a blood test done, and once again finds himself waiting. Tom commented, “Despite all that I have been through, I am happy to be alive. I am cancer free, and having that knowledge has definitely been worth the wait.”