By Mike Mullet
Like many men, Tom Westling knew the basic facts about prostate cancer. He understood he had some risk for the disease by simply being male. He knew most cases of prostate cancer are not aggressive, and he even knew that an elevated level of PSA – prostate-specific antigen, a protein in the blood that can indicate the presence of cancer – did not necessarily mean he had cancer.
“In Spring 2013 I was 63 years old, and during my annual physical the doctor found my PSA level was elevated,” said Westling, from his home in Oakland, TN. “But when my PSA score reached 5.6 (normal is 4.0 or below), and remained there for about a year, my doctor suggested that I see a urologist for a biopsy.”
Although Westling was concerned, he wasn’t alarmed. He saw a local urologist who took 12 tissue samples from his prostate, and sent them to a pathologist for analysis. Eleven of them came back clean. The twelfth was 25 percent cancerous.
“When I heard the word ‘cancer,’ I was in a daze that lasted about a week,” Westling said. “No matter how you prepare or what you expect to hear, when a doctor tells you that you have cancer, it’s a shock. Questions were racing through my mind. What will life be like now? How will things change? What will happen to me?”
After letting the news sink in for a few days, Westling began researching doctors and treatments. The urologist that diagnosed him recommended prostate removal, but acknowledged there were many other treatment options. He gave Westling an informational booklet about the disease, and also referred him to two other doctors, both radiologists at different facilities, for additional opinions.
The consultations helped Westling understand the range of options available to him.
“I could have surgery to remove my prostate. I could have external or internal radiation, or could have cryotherapy (a procedure to kill cancer by freezing it),” he said. “Or, because the cancer was in a very early stage, I could simply watch and wait.”
An avid fisherman, Westling admits he was fortunate his situation wasn’t urgent because it was almost prime summer fishing season – and he didn’t want to miss it if he didn’t have to. He also wanted to take his time and thoroughly research all of his options. Ultimately, he decided not to begin treatment until the fall.
During his weeks-long research effort, Westling first read about Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). He says CTCA’s holistic approach to treatment appealed to him immediately and addressed one of his most pressing concerns: maintaining good physical condition after treatment.
When Westling arrived CTCA facility in Newnan, Georgia, what he saw there convinced him it was the right place for him.
“From the moment I arrived, the facility exceeded my expectations. I had never been to a hospital like that before. Even though it is a cancer center, it felt like a place where people come to be well, not a place where people come to be sick.”
After his consultation there, Westling decided not only to treat at CTCA, but knew what treatment was the best choice for his type and stage of cancer, and equally important, for his longer-term life goals.
“I chose to have brachytherapy,” Westling said. “The doctor took the time to explain exactly how the procedure worked, explaining the potential side effects of that treatment and others.”
Brachytherapy, also known as internal radiation, is a form of therapy frequently used to treat prostate cancer that involves placing small radioactive “seeds” in the prostate gland close to the cancer cells. The treatment helps kill cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
Westling’s procedure went well. He experienced only minor side effects, such as indigestion and some discomfort near the area of the procedure, which required him to take it easy for a week or so.
After that Westling says he was back to his usual lifestyle. “I could ride my bicycle just like before. Ten days after the seed implants were done, I was painting the house.”
Westling says even though the treatment made barely a dent in his lifestyle, he is a different person after going through this journey.
“Being diagnosed with cancer is fearful. What will tomorrow bring? I made sure my life insurance was up to date because you just never know. But cancer forces you to consider such issues.”
Today Westling says he knows there is life after cancer – and his is even better than before. Best of all, not only is he still able to fish, he enjoys his time fishing more than ever.