The Faces of Prostate Cancer
All of us at Myriad – from the executives and researchers, to the sales and customer service representatives – work hard because we know that, behind each and every Myriad test is a patient and a family with questions about disease. As the manager of patient education and advocacy, I am blessed to spend my days working directly with the people we are helping. In listening to their stories, answering their questions and helping them with their own advocacy efforts I form close bonds with these patients, some of whom become as close as family members.
Recently, we brought together one of the many amazing groups of people I get to work with so that we all could learn more about prostate cancer together. This group included men between the ages of 50 and 81, along with some of their loved ones and prostate cancer education advocates. The participants shared their experiences, from the many pressing questions that arose the moment their doctor gave them their prostate cancer diagnosis to the individual journeys they have taken since then. Their stories are informative for others who are also confronted with making personalized decisions about their prostate cancer treatment. It’s my privilege to share two of these stories here:
Bruce & Britt
Bruce, a 50-year-old telecommunications consultant from Colorado Springs, was diagnosed with prostate cancer early in life, at age 48. As he describes it, the moment he learned he had prostate cancer was “an out of body experience. I was staring down at myself and thinking – looks like me, but this isn’t me. The reality is your life has changed forever.”
At that time, he and his partner Britt had only known each other for a month, but they’d already made a commitment and were determined to face this cancer together. And that’s precisely what they’ve been doing for the last year and a half.
Bruce’s father, who had undergone a prostatectomy for prostate cancer in 1997, advised Bruce to get a second opinion before getting his prostate removed. Bruce was referred to a doctor at the University of Colorado, where he was asked if he was interested in taking a genomic test.
“I was really excited about that,” said Bruce. “A genomic test is pure data.”
While he was waiting for the results of the test, he felt like there was a ticking time bomb inside of him and experienced constant anxiety about the need to make a decision about treatment. When he received the results, his Prolaris® score indicated that he had a less aggressive cancer than his clinical information suggested, thus allowing him to take a more conservative approach to treatment.
“This gave me a sense of peace that I don’t have to make any rash decisions. Instead of reacting, I can keep on learning. There are always new therapies right around the corner that are less invasive than getting your prostate taken out. That’s what I’m hoping for,” he said.
Bruce continues to get his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) checked every three to four months, but for the time being, he, Britt and their four kids are enjoying life – hiking, biking, skiing, camping and just hanging out together in their home overlooking Pike’s Peak. As Bruce said, “Instead of feeling like a victim, I feel empowered because now I know that I have time to decide. Before, the cancer was always on my mind. Now, I don’t wake up in the morning thinking – man, I’ve got some serious decisions to make right here, right now. Now it’s – hey, what’s for dinner? What are we doing this weekend?”
Howard, a 68-year-old retired GE research manager, learned from his family physician that he had an elevated PSA during his annual check-up in January 2013. His doctor recommended that he consult a urologist. As Howard tells it, on his way to see the urologist for the first time, he saw a big “Duke Cancer Center” sign overhead and stopped in his tracks, “I had not anticipated that at all. I said to myself – wait a minute, this is not happening to me.”
The urologist performed a prostate exam and recommended a biopsy, which showed Howard had prostate cancer. Based on his PSA level, Gleason score and biopsy results, as well as a lot of research and soul searching, Howard opted to have his prostate removed in April 2013.
A year later, Howard’s urologist – who had just learned about prostate cancer genomic testing at the annual American Urological Association meeting – suggested that Howard have the Prolaris test as a way to get more information about what type of monitoring or intervention might be needed in the future.
“More information is good. Prolaris confirmed the information we had before,” said Howard. “For me, the value of the Prolaris test was providing a level of comfort that we were on the right course. I was able to sleep more soundly at night knowing we were doing the right thing.”
In talking with other men who are going through the prostate cancer journey, Howard has discovered that, while prostate cancer and the side effects of treatment are personal issues that may be difficult to talk about, he doesn’t feel embarrassed to share his experiences.
“It’s important to talk about these things,” he said.
Howard is a widower and wondered how his prostate cancer might affect his ability to meet someone to share his life with. After meeting a woman he was interested in, he struggled with whether or not to tell her about his cancer history, but ultimately decided to share his story. As it turned out, she had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer and had undergone BRACAnalysis® testing – an unexpected connection to Myriad.
Having the opportunity to provide the information and tools that help make the lives of people like Bruce and Howard better is why I work at Myriad. It’s great to work at an organization that is empowering people with the information they need to make more educated decisions about their healthcare. I have been working at Myriad for 10 years and at the end of the day – every day – I know we made a real difference.
Manager, Patient Education & Advocacy
Myriad Genetic Laboratories