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Prostate cancer: it won’t be ignored

Follow-up care is essential

Karen Miller
Prostate cancer: it won’t be ignored
Ulysses Williams with his grandchildren. PHOTO: Courtesy of Urrond Williams

On September 19 last year Ulysses Williams was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My birthday was on September 20,” he explained. He wasn’t in much of a celebratory mood.

He wishes he could turn back the clock. Williams said he had yearly physicals, including the PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, the first test to screen for prostate cancer.

Each time, according to Williams, it was a little high. “I totally ignored it,” he confessed. “I was in the prime of my sex life and wasn’t about to damage it.” His digital rectal exam, or DRE, was abnormal as well. He was referred to a urologist, but he never went.

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What saved Williams was an angel. At least that’s what he calls her. Actually it was the nurse in his doctor’s office who recently took over his care. She read the results of his test and urged him to follow through. This time — after so many years — he finally did.

His PSA was 17. For men in their 60s the normal range is between 1.0 and 1.5, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. A PSA score greater than 4.0 is considered suspicious.

He had an MRI and a biopsy. The results were still not expected. “You have cancer,” his doctor said. “You need to do something,” he added, knowing Williams had a history of non-compliance. This time Williams listened.

His Gleason Score was 3+4=7, which is ranked as intermediate risk level. “It’s better than an 8,” he reasoned. “You have to look on the bright side.”

He was offered two choices: surgery or radiation. But it was his fear of surgery that had prevented prompt treatment years earlier. A potential side effect of surgery is nerve damage that can result in erectile dysfunction and incontinence. His son helped make the decision. “Do you want to trap a rat in your body?” he asked. “Don’t worry about the nerves.” Williams opted for the surgery, which included removal of several lymph nodes.

He is currently on hormone therapy to reduce his level of testosterone, the male hormone. Testosterone feeds cancer cells. Hormone therapy causes prostate cancer cells to die or grow more slowly. The plan is to eventually start radiation. If all goes well, his doctor said his treatment plan should give him another 20 years.

Thinking back, Williams said he missed some of the cues. Those trips to the bathroom during the night might have been a symptom. He just didn’t recognize them. There are no symptoms in the early stages of prostate cancer. As it advances, however, men can begin to experience problems with frequent and irregular urination.

His older brother had prostate cancer, but Williams didn’t pay attention to his warnings. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing the disease as well as its aggressiveness, according to the American Cancer Society.

The good news is that he has not lost a beat since his diagnosis. Williams works as the manager of a storage facility. He has modified his lifestyle and reduced his consumption of red meat and upped his intake of fruits and veggies. Biking keeps him physically active.

He practices Kegel exercises, which are recommended following prostate surgery or radiation. Kegel exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that are often weakened by prostate cancer treatment. These muscles support the bladder and bowel and affect sexual function.

Williams said that despite all that has happened he is doing all right. “I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I grew up a bit.”

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