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A Personal Story About Prostate Cancer

By Diane L. Marolla, LICSW

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the weather and enjoy taking long walks as the trees turn color and the leaves fall. My favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is in the fall. It is a holiday about thankfulness and gratitude. I am always grateful for all my experiences good and bad, for the great parents I had, for my friends, my dogs Marox and Winnie, and my health. I will be fifty-three in November, so there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about how grateful I am for my health.

Bill and Linda Hawkins of Smithfield, RI, also feel the way I do; they are grateful for each other, their children, their grandchild and their health. Thanksgiving, for them, will be extra special this year as Bill has been recovering from an aggressive type of prostate cancer.

Before his diagnosis, Bill was living a full life with his wife, children and first grandchild. In addition to being a husband, father and grandfather, Bill worked out regularly. He also found time for coaching youth hockey and little league baseball. He had never had the flu and went to his doctor every year for his annual physical and blood work. Last December, after his physical, he received a call from his doctor regarding his blood work results. One test he received was a Prostate Specific Antigen or PSA test. According to the National Cancer Institute, a prostate-specific antigen is a protein produced by normal as well as malignant cells of the prostate gland. Bill’s results increased from previous years.

Bill’s doctor referred him to a urologist who ordered more bloodwork, which indicated his prostate was enlarged and that he needed to have a biopsy for further identification. Bill had the biopsy in February of 2018 and waited two weeks for the results. That is when he and his wife Linda heard the “c” word. As Bill described hearing the word cancer, “What a kick in the stomach.” Bill lost both his parents to cancer, so he was scared. He was 55 years old at diagnosis, which is young for prostate cancer.

After the initial shock of the diagnosis, Bill and Linda researched what prostate cancer is and what the treatment options were. They talked to friends and colleagues who had experience with this disease. When they had to follow up with Bill’s urologist about the next steps in his treatment, they were informed and ready to do what was necessary to ensure the best and most effective treatment. Before a treatment was decided, Bill went for additional tests, including CT, bone and bladder scans, to see if the cancer had spread.

Once all the test results came back it was time to discuss with his urologist what type of surgery he would have. They discussed robotic surgery, however, Bill was ineligible because of where the cancer was found and had to have the full surgery.

After the surgery Bill said he would get angry and Irritated. His legs were swollen. He and Linda would take long walks, which helped reduce the swelling in his legs. As they walked they went further each time until the swelling was totally gone. They also changed their diets and are eating healthier as a couple.

In addition to the shock of learning he had cancer, the surgery, the blood transfusion and the denials of his insurance company, Bill had to deal with the aftereffects of the surgery. Nobody talked much about these effects with them, so it was through their own research that they learned all that they could. Prostate cancer truly is a couple’s disease as it affects the quality of life of the couple on so many levels. Bill stated to me, “I’m a fighter and she’s a researcher.”

In July of 2018 Bill was able to return to work and go on vacation. Currently, Bill is “clinically cancer free.” His bloodwork is within normal range and he will need to go for bloodwork every six months to ensure the cancer doesn’t return.

Bill and Linda have been forthcoming and honest about their experience with prostate cancer. They are being advocates by telling their story to let others know they are not alone. They are also turning their “private trouble into a public issue” by working with their local legislators to pass legislation so that Rhode Island men diagnosed with prostate cancer are not denied payment by insurance companies for medication.

(For more information about prostate cancer, please go the National Cancer Institute’ s website at www.cancer.gov.