Michael's Story

Michael HawkinsThriving After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

What they say about life being 10% of what happens and 90% of how you respond to it is absolutely right. Attitude is everything and it's important to maintain a positive outlook. I learned that in the army and in every other aspect of my life. You can look at an experience and only see the negative side of it or you can focus on the good that comes out of it.

My Diagnosis:
"There's a reason why Ft. Eustis is near and dear to my heart."

Right now I'm working for the army as a civilian specializing in anti-terrorism and emergency management. We coordinate efforts to provide protection for units when they're deployed as well as when they're back home. It's very similar to what I was doing in the army before I retired seven years ago after 23 years of service.

I was at Ft. Eustis at the time of my retirement and had a very extensive physical exam as part of the process for leaving the service. The exam included a PSA screening, a blood test that detects the presence of a protein that can be a marker for prostate abnormalities. My PSA level was high, which is not something you want. I had a biopsy that was negative and was told to monitor the PSA levels through screenings every six months.

If that army doctor hadn't ordered the initial exam I wouldn't have been aware of any problem because I had no symptoms at all. So there's a reason why Ft. Eustis is near and dear to my heart.

From 2004 to 2010 my PSA level had stabilized but still remained high. In July 2010 it increased significantly, alarming my Riverside urologist, Dr. Bishop Read. He scheduled a more sophisticated biopsy and found some traces of prostate cancer. He said that detecting it was like spotting a needle in a haystack, and that was one needle I was glad he was able to find. He said I had two main options – to undergo radiation treatment or to have robotic-assisted prostatectomy, a surgical procedure that completely removes the prostate. I did some research, asked a lot of questions, weighed the pros and cons for my individual situation and then decided on the surgery.

Dr. Read got me in touch with his Riverside colleague, Dr. Scott Burgess. We talked, I confirmed the decision to have the procedure and Dr. Burgess and the da Vinci robot did the rest.

My Experience with Riverside:
"He's done a lot of these surgeries, but it was my first."Dr. Scott Burgess

Dr. Burgess helped pioneer robotic surgery for prostate cancer in this region and he's done a lot of training and teaching over the years. He was very meticulous and really paid attention to detail, the kind of things that are important in my work, so I felt pretty confident about the whole thing. He definitely had the technical skills but he also understood that while he's done a lot of these surgeries over the years, it was my first. So he was very patient with my questions and concern.

The procedure was done at Riverside Regional Medical Center and was relatively quick. The benefits of robotic surgery include less pain and faster recovery time which is exactly how it went for me. I felt no real pain and very little discomfort. It wasn't long before I was back to work and then back to running and the gym.

What I would tell other men:
"You can make excuses, but think about the alternative."

Once you fall into the age guidelines, get yourself checked on a regular basis. If you have a family history do it even sooner. It's not that big of a deal to get a prostate screening and don't be afraid of hearing that you have cancer. The technology that exists today lets doctors treat patients with relatively simple procedures and faster recovery. You can always come up with an excuse not to schedule a checkup, but think about the alternative.

For anyone who has the robotic surgery like I did, I would caution you to take your time returning to your normal routine after surgery. The lack of pain is a good thing but it can give you a false sense of security about how fast you've recovered and what you're able to do. I would recommend taking it easy longer than you may think you need, especially when it comes to work. In other words, don't try to be the guy who sets the record for how fast you get back to your life.

How I'm looking at the future:
"Focus on the good that comes out of it."

Michael HawkinsWhat they say about life being 10% of what happens and 90% of how you respond to it is absolutely right. Attitude is everything and it's important to maintain a positive outlook. I learned that in the army and in every other aspect of my life. You can look at an experience and only see the negative side of it or you can focus on the good that comes out of it. And for me there was a lot of good.

I've always been a spiritual person but I find myself being a little more in touch with that side of my life now. It may seem a bit corny but things are different after the surgery. Every day is more precious and my family means even more to me. I cherish the little things that maybe I didn't notice as much before. Through my church I'm involved in working with the homeless and that reminds me that everyone has challenges but we can always find something to be grateful for. All in all, I'm a lot more aware of what's going on around me.

This experience of being treated for prostate cancer isn't something I would want for anyone. But what I want to share more than anything else is that if you do go through it, I think you'll find that it can bring some important and positive changes in your life, too.


 

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