Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Less is More

A couple of weeks ago I had an unnerving experience.

Since my prostate was removed six months ago, I’ve been hoping for PSA test results of less than 0.1. That means the PSA, the marker for prostate cells and, after a prostatectomy, for recurrent prostate cancer, is undetectable. There’s not enough to measure. That’s a very good thing.

But last month, I learned that one of my tests came back as 0.1. Not less than 0.1, but 0.1 … detectable. PSA was found. In other words, cancer had returned. And I scarcely had time to miss it. The absence of “less than ” changed my thinking about life in an instant. Particularly my thinking about continuing it.

As it turns out, my oncologists ordered an immediate retest, and this time, it came back as less than 0.1 … the hoped-for result. The earlier reading was a fluke. Statistical noise. Even a typo perhaps.

But that 24 hour period was chilling.

When I was first told I had prostate cancer, and that it was too aggressive to just wait and see how it develops, I elected to just have the damn thing removed. I could have opted for radiation, but cutting the prostate out seemed much clearer to me.

But once the prostate’s gone, if you still have PSA, the cancer cells become like terrorists … stateless enemies with no organized … um, organ to use as headquarters. Instead, they’re at large, finding their way around the body in search of new places to set up shop. And there’s no shortage of hideouts.

So how do we find them? How do we hunt down and neutralize all these terrorist cancer cells? 

Seriously, how?