The day that shattered Anna and her husband Joe’s world began like any other. At his annual physical exam, Joe’s doctor did a PSA test. Joe was only 42, so neither he nor his doctor were worried.
The results revealed an elevated PSA and Joe’s doctor referred him to a urologist. After performing a few more tests, his urologist confirmed the existence of a mass, and so Joe underwent a biopsy.
I was expecting his urologist to say everything was fine. When I saw the serious look on his face, I knew it wasn’t. I was 29, my husband just over 40. It didn’t make sense – we couldn’t be looking at the ‘C’ word.
Joe’s doctor diagnosed him with prostate cancer, and then referred him to a specialist at NYU. Joe’s father had battled prostate cancer, but not until he was in his 70s. It was important that the doctor learn as much as he could about Joe’s disease, because Joe also had two sons at risk.
In the meantime, Anna began to do her research and educate herself about prostate cancer, as she’d had no knowledge of the disease prior to her husband’s diagnosis. After speaking with several doctors, Joe and Anna put together a medical team to best help him navigate his cancer. They sought several opinions about surgery, but eventually decided on a nerve-sparing procedure done by their specialist they’d originally been referred to in March of 2000.
I love to share my story with others because in today’s world, both men and women don’t always like to talk about their private lives. It’s so important to look beyond your immediate challenges – you can’t give up after a cancer diagnosis. You have to fight. I love talking to women and helping them become advocates for their husbands, like I was. I was Joe’s voice.
With four children, Anna and Joe had a tough time preparing for surgery in New York. But they remained positive, focusing and believing in a good outcome.
We never let the disease control us. We held on to the idea that we were in charge, and we refused to let his disease be in charge. It was empowering to think that way. There’s so much to be said for the power of positive thinking.
After the surgery, Anna and Joe learned that the cancer had spread outside the prostate. The surgery was over, but they weren’t done with the disease yet. They had decided to monitor his PSA to make sure the cancer didn’t require more treatment. His cancer had been very aggressive, and their doctor told them that he’d never seen a cancer that aggressive in someone’s Joe’s age. After surgery, life went pretty much back to normal.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Joe’s PSA began to rise again. In 2004, Joe began radiation treatments. He experienced significant side effects from the treatment, but his PSA remained at zero for eight years.
In 2012, Joe experienced abdominal pain while on a trip. His medical team saw another rise in his PSA and sent him to see another specialist. He began a trial to find the cancer, which had not showed up on any traditional testing. They then found the cancer in his lymph nodes. They had the cancer removed robotically that September in New York.
This time, they decided to perform radiation immediately after surgery to ensure they’d caught all of the cancer. Though both Anna and Joe know the cancer could return at any time, Joe’s been cancer-free since 2012.
If it does come back, we will attack is just as aggressively as we have before. There will be new treatments; the tools they had when he was first diagnosed in 1999 don’t compare to what they had in 2014 and what they will have in the future. If we do have to go back again, we’ll go back to fighting.
Anna and Joe had their fifth child – conceived through IVF – in 2013. When asked about this next chapter in their lives, Anna just says: “I’m not sure what’s next. I just want to keep being here – and I know Joe does too – with our family.”
Anna participated in the ZERO Hartford Run/Walk in 2016, where she shared her story to encourage men – especially young men – to be aware of their risk and to be tested for prostate cancer. In 2016, she also attended the Annual ZERO Prostate Cancer Summit to advocate for increased research funding. Through it all, Anna has remained a dedicated ZERO advocate and true believer in the power of positive thinking when fighting prostate cancer.
We’re all in this together, and we need to work together if we’re going to win.