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by Chris Hartley   |   August 9, 2018

Running Through Prostate Cancer

On December 18, 2017, I sat hand-in-hand with my husband waiting to hear if I had prostate cancer. As we sat in the exam room together, we joked about how it had all been a big mistake. After all, I was a very healthy 43-year-old. My elevated PSA level was just going to be “normal” for me or was a result of physical activity aggravating my prostate. There was no way that I really had cancer. Right?

Before we get to my diagnosis, I can’t stress enough the importance for every man to know their PSA baseline. Through this experience I have learned that most doctors don’t test a man’s PSA level until the age of 50. I only became aware of my elevated PSA level after going in for a testosterone therapy consultation. Regardless of age, the testosterone clinic that I visited verifies every potential patience’s PSA level because testosterone can be a “fuel” for cancer. PSA testing is easy; it’s a simple blood test.

As it turns out, my biopsy confirmed that I do have prostate cancer, but I refuse to allow my diagnosis to define my story. First, I would have to face the facts of what having cancer meant for me and make some difficult decisions quickly.

The truth is, I don’t remember much after the doctor came in and spoke the words out loud for the first time. If I am honest with myself, I knew my diagnosis before I ever arrived at that appointment. I had spent the past several months going through testing and reading all about elevated PSA levels. I knew that I should have expected a PSA result of 2 or below. My final PSA reading before biopsy was 13.

The doctor said all the right the things and went through all my options thoroughly. I was overcome with fear, anger, and confusion. At one point, I left my husband alone in the exam room as the doctor discussed what options were available to me. I walked right out of that room, passed by the receptionist, and straight out the front door. I did not go far and found a bathroom in the attached medical office. All I could think about is getting as far away from that room, and that diagnosis, as I could. I locked myself in the bathroom stall, cried for a minute, and then decided this was not how my story would end. I would not only beat cancer, but I would come out the other side stronger.

We left the doctor’s office that day with a lot to think through. I got the debrief from my husband over the next few days and we made a plan. When you considered my age, the various side effects of certain treatment, and the mortality rates associated with each option, the decision became clear. I would have my prostate removed and hope that the cancer had not spread. This option gave me the best chance of survival, and I had to think of my husband and children. With two boys (ages 10 and 8), I had to fight to survive with everything I had.

With the decision of how I would fight this cancer behind me, I moved on to planning for the surgery. My doctor was concerned with my elevated PSA levels; I ran the risk of the cancer breaching the prostate. We talked through the risks and I decided that I would postpone my surgery a few weeks, because I wanted to run the 2018 Austin Marathon on February 18, 2018. Running had brought balance to my life and I truly love it. I don’t feel like me if I go too long without lacing up my favorite running shoes and hitting the trail. At this point I had put in the work to prepare for the marathon.

So, I made a plan and put it into motion. I would have surgery on February 21st just three days after the marathon. The 2011 Austin Marathon was my very first marathon and I wanted to at least run it one more time. I was determined that it would not be my last; I would beat this cancer and return for the 2019 Austin Marathon. I could not think of a better way to bookend my battle with cancer. I would let running save me like it had so many times before, but this time the stakes had never been higher.

Part Two, Chris’ continued journey, coming soon to Journey to ZERO!