‘Inflation’ Can Have Dire Consequences for Patients With Cancer

Paying for gas at the pump, and for milk eggs, bread, cereal and meat at the checkout counter are the bane of my existence. I’m digging into savings, turning off all the lights and picking up pennies in the parking lot to help meet the soaring costofliving.

I cringe whenever I see a new headline in which “inflation” is front and center. How will we ever keep up with this runaway train, I think to myself. I truly think it’s about to derail, taking our family bank account along with it.

But in another way, as a prostate cancer survivor, the word “inflation” fills me with trepidation. For when my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test inflates, that can be bad news indeed.

Inflation in this context can mean a recurrence is at hand and a new treatment protocol may be warranted. It can mean a rough road ahead. It can mean that cancer is wrestling with my body and is about to pin me to the mat.

The first time that my PSA inflated to dangerous levels, post-surgery, I underwent two years of treatment, including radiation therapy and hormone shots. It was an ordeal that I don’t want to repeat at any cost.

With stage 3 cancer, I am on a short leash, meaning that I must have my PSA levels tested every three months. Lately, it has been inflating, or rising, bit by tiny bit. It’s not enough yet to sound the alarm and put me back on hormone therapy, or possibly chemotherapy, but it’s definitely keeping me in an anxious watch-and-wait mode.

With every blood draw ordered by my urologist, I cringe, worried that this time the remission that I have enjoyed for the past five years will be in my rearview mirror, and I will be careening off the road. I’ve learned over time to keep my emotions mostly in check as “PSA Day” approaches, but I would be fibbing if I didn’t admit some nervousness about the results.

I try to count my lucky stars, but not everyone in my inner circle has been as fortunate as I am.

A lifelong friend was diagnosed with prostate cancer the same year as me, 2014, and decided in favor of radiation as opposed to surgery. He’s now undergoing chemo infusions to stave off his aggressive cancer. His PSA numbers have skyrocketed to well over 200 from 13 less than a year ago. I hope and pray that his treatments can bring those numbers down — and keep them down. 

Experts generally state that a man’s chances of contracting prostate cancer rise with age, and the PSA test is often the best way to gauge it.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 15% of men with a PSA below 4 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer if a biopsy is performed. Furthermore, men with a PSA level between 4 and 10 have about a 1 in 4 chance of having prostate cancer; at over 10, the chances mushroom to more than 50%.

Years ago, my family physician told me of a post-65 patient who had forgone PSA testing until it was too late. When first tested, that patient was riddled with prostate cancer — it had metastasized to his lungs, brain and just about everywhere in his body — and his PSA measured into the hundreds. He died soon after my doctor ordered his very first PSA. That experience convinced my doctor that tracking the PSA in men, especially older patients and those in high-risk categories, was a good practice.

I agreed with his assessment and was grateful that he watched me like a hawk when my annual testing time came around. When my numbers doubled between tests, the alarm was sounded and he referred me to a urologist, who found a nodule in my prostate. That led to a biopsy, confirming his suspicion of cancer. I had surgery in December 2014.

So, you see, inflation at the grocery store and the gas pump is bad enough, but when it’s part of the cancer journey, it can be a matter of life-or-death.

I don’t mind living by the numbers, so long as they’re on the downslide!

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