A survivor’s story
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Mark Richardson of Pittsford is a veteran, RIT grad and Kodak retiree. He’s also a prostate cancer survivor.
The month he retired, August 2015, he received the diagnosis of prostate cancer after a biopsy. The pathology of the prostate indicated that he had stage three cancer, with stage four being the worst.
He and his wife Peggy talked over their options.
“I have a very supportive wife that stood by my side and helped me make important decisions about my treatment,” Richardson said.
His wife had already been researching prostate cancer, as she had suspected something was wrong. Within an hour of diagnosis, while still at the office, the couple decided to go with prostatectomy — surgical removal of the prostate.
With slower growing prostate cancer, some men can take a wait-and-see approach with periodic testing of the prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood to keep tabs on whether or not the cancer was growing and spreading.
“Most urologists just give risks and benefits of treatments and they said, ‘Here’s a book, take it home and read it, and come back in two weeks,’” Richardson recalled. “We looked at each other and we didn’t have to think about treatments. We made the decision for surgery for removal.”
During the laparoscopy surgery six weeks later, Richardson experienced less bleeding than typical prostatectomy, but he did run into a small snag. He had volunteered to join a study looking at the outcomes of prostatectomy patients who don’t receive antibiotics. Richardson ended up with a urinary tract infection (UTI) and fever that he said caused him to spend a night in the hospital.
“Except for the UTI, surgery went very, very well,” Richardson said.
During the surgery, the doctor looked for cancer cells in the margin of the prostate. If it’s a negative margin, the cancer is contained within the prostate. If it’s not, the doctors assumes that cancer cells lurk nearby. Richardson had a positive margin in the fatty tissue outside the prostate. As a follow-up to surgery, he received external beam radiation therapy to further eradicate any existing prostate cancer cells.
He could have chosen to wait and see if the PSA rose; however, he felt that radiation would eliminate the chances that the cells would grow. He had to wait a little while, however. As a side effect of surgery, Richardson experienced urinary incontinence which he had to resolve before radiation could start.
He hadn’t fully realized urinary incontinence was one of the post-surgical side effects. If he didn’t wait, the radiation could damage his bladder and urethra and likely cause that level of incontinence to persist for the rest of his life.
“Having incontinence was a major shock,” he said. “The book said some men have two to three days and then there’s no dripping. I went three months. But I’m glad it was only three months. Some might need a pad for a few weeks; some go a few years.”
He confessed that during the six weeks between diagnosis and surgery, he didn’t perform the recommended Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, which can help reduce incontinence.
“I was exercising every day and felt my pelvic floor muscles were fairly exercised,” Richardson said. “That was a shock, even though the doctor said, ‘You’ll probably have some urinary incontinence. I shut down after hearing ‘cancer.’”
At first, he used six pads daily, which gradually decreased over the next three months until he needed none at all.
He underwent radiation for seven straight weeks, five days a week, which he said is standard. Each session lasted about 15 minutes.
“After that, I went home,” Richardson said. “The side effects of radiation include fatigue, which affected me, and others include rashes, red spots on the skin, urinary incontinence, bowel issues and stomach issues. Luckily for me, it was only fatigue. I took a one- to three- hour nap each day. It took about a year for the fatigue to go away.”
Every six months, he visits a specialist: an oncologist alternating with a urologist, to monitor for any recurrence. So far, he remains in remission.
“The past two-and-a-half years have been a real challenge for me, but I have a very positive attitude,” Richardson said.
He advises other men with a prostate cancer diagnosis — and their spouses and caregivers — to join a support group for prostate cancer, such as Us TOO or Gilda’s Club. At the meetings, patients and families can learn about their treatment options and what to expect.
“I’m very, very satisfied with my treatment,” Richardson said. “I wish I’d never had it, but one out of six men my age are diagnosed and I happened to be one of those men. I had surgery and I’m glad I did.
“Between diet, exercise and support from my wife, Peggy, those things helped me maintain a positive attitude.”
Richardson leads a local chapter of Us TOO.
For more information on the local chapter, email email@example.com or visit www.facebook.com/ustoorochester or www.sites.google.com/site/ustoorochesterny. The national site is at www.ustoo.org.