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by Ray Hensley   |   March 22, 2018

Every Journey Begins with A Single Step

PSA. DRE. Adenocarcinoma. Gleason Score. Biopsy Cores. These are all terms that I began learning all about, though I didn’t necessarily want to. Even though I work in healthcare, a very large part of this was foreign to me at the time. After all, I’m a Respiratory Therapist; my area of expertise is mostly from the diaphragm up. Still, that puts me in a position where in some respects I already know too much for my own good. I’ve seen what cancer can do. When it comes to your own cancer, you begin to educate yourself in-depth on a subject that only a small percentage of the populace know very much about. Those people are mostly other cancer patients and the physicians who are tasked with telling us what is wrong.

My own primary care physician (PCP) is one of those. He’s also one of the few physicians who takes it upon himself to get his male patients’ PSA checked, where appropriate. My father survived prostate cancer so that means I was predisposed to the disease and he recognized that critical fact.

In late March 2010, I had an elbow injury that was going to require surgery. As part of my pre-op workup, I had to see my doctor for labs, EKG, etc. While he was writing the orders for the bloodwork, he asked “Ray, when was your last PSA?” I told him I wasn’t sure, it had been a while.

He responded, “You’re 48, you’re at the age we need to start keeping tabs on it. I’ll just add it onto your labs.” A couple days later, we spoke, and he told me that my PSA was 3.8. Still within range, but we’ll need to watch it for now. He discussed with me how it could simply be a mild infection, some prostatitis, the beginnings of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), or even an orgasm within hours of the test can cause a bit of a spike. We decided we would check it again in about a year or so.

Fast forward to January 2011; I went to the lab with an order in hand for my 2nd PSA in less than a year, but this time the results were not what we wanted. My PSA had more than tripled, to over 13 and climbing. He called me to come see him and told me this was a big red flag and that I needed to see a urologist. Somewhere in that conversation, he mentioned the “B” word. Biopsy. I was beginning to get a tad bit concerned.

The next doctor to see me is a Urological Surgeon. We talk for a few minutes, he reviews my labs, asks about my family history, then performs the dreaded digital rectal exam. The DRE. My urologist is a little guy, but his finger looks like a kielbasa. Wonderful, now I get to feel nervous AND violated. After the most uncomfortable 10 seconds of my life, Dr Sausage Finger informs me that he felt a nodule on the right side and a biopsy is indicated. Now my nervousness is slowly morphing into fear. When your doctor says “We need to do a biopsy” it really gets your attention. At this point, you know what they’re looking for: cancer.

When I get home, I tell everything to my wife, Sherry. We both just look at each other for what feels like an eternity, neither of us knowing how to respond. I finally find words and I tell her “Don’t say a thing to the kids. I don’t want them to know anything until we find out exactly what’s going on here.” My children Maria, a senior in college, Cheyenne, a senior in high school, and Dylan, a freshman in high school, all have their education to stay focused on. Outwardly, I’m keeping a proverbial stiff upper lip, but inside I’m shaking like a leaf.

Two weeks later I go for my biopsy. A week after that my wife and I find out that the results are inconclusive. Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, as a second opinion, said six of the twelve cores examined were suggestive of adenocarcinoma, but the results are inconclusive. Therefore, a second biopsy is indicated. At this point I’m thinking if the results are inconclusive, that means there’s a chance I don’t have cancer; there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, though, that light at the end of the tunnel can be an oncoming train.

Mid-May 2011 I go back for my second biopsy after having healed from the first. Up to this point, I still haven’t breathed a word of it to my friends or my children. Inwardly, I’m scared shitless. One week after the second biopsy, my fears are confirmed: I have cancer, and it’s Gleason 3+4. I’m told that it also appears to be an aggressive form because in two months the pathology reports went from inconclusive to “BAM! YOU HAVE PROSTATE CANCER!”

I have formally been diagnosed and have joined the 160,000+ other men who were diagnosed in 2011. I can no longer hold my fear at bay, and I must tell my kids.

The feelings and emotions I went through during my diagnosis ran the gamut from fear, denial, indifference to hope and determination. When diagnosed, my first thought was “I don’t have time for this shit. I have kids in college AND high school. I have bills to pay, a house to maintain, a career. I can’t have cancer, there’s no room for it in my life.” Yet there it was, in black and white, on a pathology report I received from my doctor.

During the time leading up to this, I had been doing some serious research into the how and whys and statistics on prostate cancer. While my cancer was considered aggressive, it was caught early. That gave me tremendous hope when I read that the survivability beyond five years was nearly 100% when caught and treated early. I had become determined to not be one of the 21,000+ men that die each year from this disease. I may be the 1 in 9 that developed prostate cancer, but I wasn’t going to let it get me.

I know that every single individual’s journey to defeating prostate cancer is unique. As you read this, please be advised these feelings, emotions and experiences that I have documented are mine. I don’t expect yours to be just like mine.

Regardless of your situation, know that we are not alone. You’ve taken the first step. The fact that you are already reading this on the ZERO website means you have already found an excellent resource for support, education, and networking. The same holds true if you are someone’s wife, girlfriend, life partner, husband, child, close friend, neighbor or other relative. The one thing we absolutely do share is we are not alone in this fight. In case you haven’t already, be sure to download the free ZERO Newly Diagnosed Toolkit.