Facing Prostate Cancer: Michael’s Story

To return his doctor’s phone call, Michael Webb found a remote office in his building and shut the door. A recent blood test showing an uptick in Michael’s prostate-specific antigen, or PSA – a protein produced by prostate cells – had prompted a biopsy. Now he braced himself to hear the results.

“Dr. Kozlowski said ‘I’ve got to tell you it’s cancer, but understand we’re going after it. Whatever we have to do, we’re going to get it,’” remembers Michael. “He was very straightforward with his delivery and I appreciated that more than anything.”

On the phone Michael was making a dizzying pivot, from the mental image of a perfect biopsy to a confirmed cancer diagnosis.

On the phone Michael was making a dizzying pivot, from the mental image of a perfect biopsy to a confirmed cancer diagnosis. He needed to talk treatment, even if just high level. Urologist Paul Kozlowski, MD,  presented some options, including total removal of the prostate. But he cautioned Michael not to make any immediate decisions. More information was on the way, in preparation for an appointment where Michael could learn more and ask anything.

“Then I called my wife and it was a complete meltdown,” says Michael. “She asked, how bad is it? I said I don’t know. I remember like it was yesterday, driving to that appointment with her.”

Michael and his wife met with Dr. Kozlowski and a radiation oncologist, who could address possible radiation therapies. But two big factors in Michael’s case made a good argument for cutting the cancer out: being just 51 years old, and having a high Gleason score, a number indicating the degree of cell abnormality. Michael decided on total prostatectomy. They had already discussed potential side effects, and erectile dysfunction was one giving Michael pause. But Dr. Kozlowski had a secret weapon in the form of minimally invasive surgery, aided by a robot known as the daVinci system.

Also called robotic prostatectomy, daVinci allows the surgeon to control robotic arms fitted with precision instruments to operate through small incisions in the abdomen. Advantages of this approach over open surgery include less pain, reduced blood loss and a faster recovery. Dr. Kozlowski explained that Michael’s procedure would be nerve-sparing, leaving tiny nerve bundles on either side of the prostate intact. An operation by an experienced robotic surgeon, combined with Michael’s age and good health would give him the best chance of recovery without long-term side effects.

Michael Webb shows off his PSA number

Time to celebrate: Michael shows off his new tattoo.

Michael underwent surgery on February 12, 2016. Dr. Kozlowski reported everything had gone according to plan, but that was small comfort to Michael who struggled to endure a catheter at home for 16 days. Much bigger comfort came when Dr. Kozlowski called to say they got it: the cancer looked to be contained in the prostate. Going forward, Michael would need blood tests every three months to monitor his PSA level. The number to look for, Dr. Kozlowski told Michael, is 0.01. That number says there’s no cancer.

“So that became a mantra for me and my wife, 0.01,” says Michael. “We became team 0.01. I told her if we get to the one year mark and we’re still there, I’m getting a tattoo!”

A successful surgery now behind him, Michael kept up with blood draws and visits with Dr. Kozlowski, who Michael remembers shifting into counselor mode. There was some physical stuff to work through in the healing process, and Michael found he could talk about it all with ease.

“I didn’t ever feel alone with Dr. Kozlowski, he was right there with me,” says Michael. “He was totally vested in my whole process. He really wanted things to work out well for me.”

If anyone wonders if things worked out well for Michael, they need only look at his left bicep. One year post surgery, his PSA remained locked at 0.01. It was time to schedule that tattoo. Michael discovered good tattoo artists are really busy – there’d be a three-month wait. But then in May it happened. The guy who had been deathly afraid of needles before his diagnosis sat for a long session under one forbidding needle, and got the deed done.

Not long after Michael’s inking, it was time for his six-month blood draw, having graduated from the three-month schedule. Michael asked to know as soon as the results were in. Dr. Kozlowski’s message came back: “0.01, just like your tattoo.”

Sketch.0.01

Original Sketch of Michael’s Tattoo

Comments

  1. Heyy. this story is amazing.

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