An Interview With My Father: A Prostate Cancer Survivor

You ‘ll always remember where you were when you heard the news. It feels like something straight out of a movie, except not, because it’s your life and it’s happening to you, not Brad Pitt or some actor on the big screen. You’re not sitting in the dark with popcorn and a fountain soda and being moved to tears by the movie’s soundtrack, although you’ll wish you were.  You’ll wish this was the work of some screenwriter’s imagination.

My dad told me he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer on the phone. I was on a mini-road trip with my best friend, Alex, and we were about to cross the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco when he told me that they had found cancerous cells in the biopsy. This wasn’t supposed to happen to my father. After all, he just spent over two months battling swine flu at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica and was in recovery. The universe couldn’t nearly kill my father with some trendy flu and then diagnose him with cancer right when he was beginning to feel better. Right? Wrong. After spending the entire summer fighting for his life, my dad would have to do it all over again.

 Me: So tell me what happened leading up to your diagnosis.

My Dad: I hadn’t gotten a PSA test in about fourteen months. I always go once a year for the annual check up but with all the chaos of last summer (Me: He means almost dying from swine flu), I didn’t have a chance to go right away. I had been having trouble with urination, which wasn’t so much of an indicator of having cancer as it was a sign that I was becoming an old fart, but it motivated me to go to the doctor’s ASAP.  When I had the test done, my PSA levels appeared to be elevated so they performed an ultrasound on me to see what was going on. Unfortunately, the ultrasound didn’t show anything so they had to do a biopsy.

Me: What was a biopsy for prostate cancer like? Do I even want to know?

My Dad:  It was horrible! They punch through your colon to get to to your prostate and collect samples. They took 12 samples, which means they had to do it 12 times. It was uncomfortable, to say the least.

Me: Did they give you drugs?

My Dad:  Nope.

Me: Jesus. Okay, so what did the samples from the biopsy show?

My Dad: 7 out of 12 were cancerous, which put me at Stage Four with prostate cancer.

Me: Wait, doesn’t that mean the cancer is super advanced? There are only five stages.

My Dad: Prostate cancer has seven stages so I was right in the middle. We did a CT scan to see if it had metastasized and thankfully it hadn’t. My prostate wasn’t perforated either. It wasn’t a grim diagnosis, in my opinion. It could’ve been better but it could’ve been a lot worse.

Me:  What were your options for treatment?

My Dad: I could’ve done radiation but the statistical life expectancy afterwards wasn’t so good. I ultimately decided to just remove the prostate via a robotic radical prostatectomy.

Me:  What’s that? Did a robot do your surgery? That’s so futuristic and chic.

My Dad: It’s when a surgeon goes in with a computer-assisted device. It gives him better dexterity and vision and the more the surgeon uses the device, the better it gets. I wouldn’t want to be the first patient worked on by one of these devices, let me tell you, but the surgeon I chose had worked with it over 2,000 times so I felt safe. It has a 99% survival rate after five years, which is nice too.

Me: Great. So there’s a 99% chance you’ll live for five more years. Cool…

My Dad: It’s the little things!

Me: So were you scared of, ahem, the side effects after the surgery?

My Dad: You mean, was I scared of pooping my pants and having trouble maintaining a boner?

Me: Dad! My audience is fragile.

My Dad: Screw it. Of course I was nervous. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life like an incontinent 80-year-old man. I wanted to have a quality of life.

Me: Well, without getting too graphic, do you?

My Dad: Yes. Yes I do. But it hasn’t been entirely smooth and that’s all I’m saying…

Me: Gotcha. So how do you feel being a cancer survivor?

My Dad: I don’t view myself in that way. I don’t identify with the concept of being a survivor. In the last decade, I’ve dodged a brain tumor, swine flu, and cancer, but I don’t think of it as survival. My job is in crisis management so I don’t really know how else to be. If a problem arises with my health, I go into work mode and figure out how to beat it.  I research the hell out of everything (Me: This is true. My dad researches EVERYTHING. It’s usually really annoying) so this was like a challenge for me to find the best treatment and physicians. I’m extremely thankful to have survived but I don’t process trauma in the same way as everyone else does.

Me: How do you feel about Movember—the worldwide health movement Thought Catalog is participating in this month?

My Dad: I think it’s great. Anything that encourages awareness and education about men’s health issues is amazing.

Me: Will you donate?

My Dad: Maybe. (Me: My dad is the cheapest person I know. He’s not evil, I swear.)

Me: Will you give me money? Donate to my life fund?

My Dad: This conversation is over. TC mark

You should join Thought Catalog’s Movember team.

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.

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  • lalala

    this is very nice and super glad about your dad! Most of my family members got either tumor/ cancer and its just sick coz i have a great chances of having it myself.. but whateves if they can fight it so can i!

  • DHueston

    Great article, thanks for shedding some light on important topic with a little bit of humor :)

    For those in the Rochester, NY & Upstate NY area please visit this site to purchase your tickets to party for a good cause: http://snowballfight2011.eventbrite.com/ Donations accepted too!

  • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

    I’m glad your dad is doing so well! And I think it is great that you have taken the initiative to bring awareness to this! 

  • Emily

    I can’t believe all that your dad and family has gone through. You guys are stronger than you probably realize, and your dad is an inspiration! I’m so happy to hear he is doing well.

  • Anonymous

    This is lovely. I wish everyone would “interview” their parents. Their part of our lives but I feel like we never really know everything.

  • Elo456

    I hate to say this, because it is a very touching article, but you are misinformed about prostate cancer. The incidence of death is so low, that testing, let alone treatment is now considered NOT WORTH IT in terms of pain, impotence, etc.

    The Surgeon General has just decided *not* to require testing.

    “This year the group said the widely used P.S.A. screening test for prostate cancer does not save lives and causes enormous harm.”

    http://nyti.ms/tpgnuz

    FYI, many elderly men who die of old age for other reasons are found to have prostate cancer. It is one of the least deadly and the whole alarmist attitude toward it here is misplaced, to say the least.

    “Two recent clinical trials of prostate cancer screening cast doubt on
    whether many lives — or any — are saved. And it said that screening
    often leads to what can be disabling treatments for men whose cancer
    otherwise would never have harmed them.”

    “Cancer experts say they cannot ignore a snowballing body of evidence
    over the past 10 years showing over and over that while early detection
    through widespread screening can help in some cases, those cases are
    small in number for most cancers. At the same time, the studies are more
    clearly defining screening’s harms.”
     

    • Elo456

      ‘In part, doctors and patients are stuck in a sort of cancer time warp.
      The disease was defined in 1845 by a German doctor, Rudolf Virchow, who
      looked at tumors
      taken at autopsy and said cancer is an uncontrolled growth that spreads
      and kills. But, of course, he was looking only at cancers that killed.
      He never saw the others.
      “Now we are backing away from that,” Dr. Brawley said. In recent years,
      researchers have found that many, if not most, cancers are indolent.
      They grow very slowly or stop growing altogether. Some even regress and
      do not need to be treated — they are harmless.

      “We are going from an 1845 definition of cancer to a 21st-century definition of cancer,” Dr. Brawley said’

  • Anonymous

    Ryan, you make me go awww. I’m so happy that your dad is well and man I love the last part

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matisse-Jenkins/742298725 Matisse Jenkins

    “Fragile”? Really? Do you even notice what you tell the internet about, Ryan?

    That aside, I’m really happy that your father is healthy again.

    It’s the little things. :)

  • Anonymous

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  • Alias Grace

    My audience is fragile.  –Hilarious!
    Quite a touching conversation.

  • http://inceptionofperception.tumblr.com/ Inception of Perception

    Very touching interview. Coincidently my mom was also diagnosed with cancer after having swine flu and she’s been on chemo for almost 2 years now.
    I’m glad for your dad’s recovery. :)

  • Emma

    Prostate cancer cure in six days.For details email:trop1@yahoo.com

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