Jim Sullivan - I am glad I trusted my gut

It all started because I wasn’t feeling well. After almost 2 months, I decided to visit my doctor. It’s hard to articulate something you can’t quite put your finger on – let alone diagnose it. Together, we decided to run a series of tests to see what could be wrong.
 
The one test we couldn’t agree on was the PSA Test. He thought I was too young, at 45, to be concerned with prostate cancer. I said, “It’s one extra tick on your list of tests. What’s one more blood sample?” The conversation became so heated that we quite literally broke out into a yelling match.  Finally, he agreed to run the test.

When I went back for my results, I was running through all of the possibilities in my mind. As my doctor listed the results of each test, one-by-one, it was all good news. Eventually I said, “It’s the PSA test, isn’t it?” He hung his head in response. When he finally looked up, there were tears in his eyes. He told me there was a urologist waiting to speak to me and I walked across the street, to the next building, and tried to begin wrapping my mind around what this meant.

I didn’t pause to feel sorry for myself – it just wasn’t an option. I knew that my doctors and I needed to learn more, and that an elevated PSA could mean other things, outside of prostate cancer. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I had my biopsy within that first week.

At first, I didn’t tell anyone about what I was going through. I drove myself to appointments – even to my own biopsy. That was a mistake. Every bump on the drive home was excruciating.  After the procedure, I was on antibiotics, however, by the end of the day, I wasn’t feeling well. Two days later, I was in the hospital again. I had a fever over 104.5, and a terrible infection. They managed to get the fever, and the infection, under control. But that was not an easy experience to manage alone.

The results from my biopsy came back and confirmed that I had prostate cancer. As soon as I found out, I had my questions ready and began looking for the answers. My doctor tried to book me in for surgery right away– I had to advocate for a second opinion.

I did as much research as I could. I decided that I wanted to find an oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital. I attended my first ‘info’ session and was shocked. I was the youngest in the room by more than 25 years. I thought, ‘I can’t be in the right place – there’s got to be a mistake’.  My oncologist assured me that the test results were accurate and, unfortunately, I was exactly where I needed to be.

When it came time to decide on a treatment option, my oncologist was a big help; I remember one, 4-hour phone call with her. She said, “I can’t tell you what to choose. Whenever you make a decision, I want to see that you’re invested in it. You can’t rush something like this.” When I decided on Brachytherapy,  she insisted I come in to the hospital to book it – she wanted me to look her in the eyes, and show her my conviction. When I did, she knew I was ready.

Prior to the treatment, I began going to a naturopath and tried to make healthier lifestyle choices. I figured, one of us is getting out alive, and it’s not going to be cancer. The treatment went well and there was nothing left to do but watch for the results.
 
Today, I’m doing great. It’s been 11 years and my PSA number is less than 0.05. The whole experience has ultimately been for the greater good; a cancer diagnosis changes everything. Being diagnosed with this disease doesn’t mean your life is over, even though it may be different. The things that used to agitate me, I’ve let go of. I used to live life, now I get life. I feel like every moment I have, from the time I was diagnosed, to now, is a bonus.

One of the hardest parts about facing prostate cancer was dealing with people’s reactions. There’s a lot of misinformation and a lot of stigma around the disease – especially as a young man. Everyone has a different way of reacting to the news, some good, some bad. In a lot ways, this is also why I’ve become an advocate for the cause. If there’s anything I can do to change just one attitude, I’ll do it.

I’m often asked for my opinion of my GP – the man who didn’t want to administer a PSA test. I hold no ill will towards him, and I still hold him in esteem. I appreciate that he was following the guidelines, and that he was basing his recommendations on the accepted practices of his field. But I am glad I trusted my gut.

My advice to men? We need to talk more and be outspoken. We need to mobilize and be proactive – not reactive. There’s so much I wish I had known earlier. Get a PSA test to establish your baseline. Surround yourself with the right people; doctors and specialists. Remember that you’re in charge and you are your own advocate – no one else is going to look after your life but you.

UPDATE: In October, 2013, Jim received the great news that he is officially cancer free.
 
“After 12 years, I received the best news of my life – I no longer have prostate cancer.  I have truly gone from a survivor to a victor. This disease can be beaten and I am living proof.”



Relevant Links:
Get more information about the PSA test
Learn more about prostate cancer risk factors
Find out what's happening during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
Prostate Cancer Canada Releases New Recommendations


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