BY JOSEPH DARBY
I wasn’t supposed to be the cancer patient. You see, I was the caregiver of a cancer patient – the strong one, the support system. I spent 17 years with my wife, agonizing about her treatments as she suffered severe pain from multiple myeloma and the devastating treatments. Unfortunately, we lost her battle with the disease about five years ago, and shortly thereafter I was forced to face my own battle with cancer.
On Christmas Eve this past year, my doctor told me I had aggressive but contained prostate cancer. Not the Christmas gift I was hoping for. Shortly after my youngest daughter got married, I had my Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) levels tested. I had never really paid much attention to the results before because my doctor hadn’t seemed concerned. Well, now they were high and I was going to be forced to pay attention to them.
After dealing with the daily toll cancer took on my wife, it was hard for me to come to terms with my own diagnosis. In fact, it wasn’t until I had completed my treatment that I fully comprehended that I had cancer. My wife’s battle was so difficult and painful that I actually felt guilty about having prostate cancer – a cancer much less painful than multiple myeloma. However, I soon realized that the true pain wasn’t the disease, but getting treatment for it.
Due to a variety of other health problems, including asbestos lung disease, five heart bypasses, and an aneurysm of the aorta, I was not considered a good surgical candidate. After witnessing several close friends deal with the side effects of different treatment options – one friend is still in diapers three years after surgery for his prostate cancer – I knew I had to do my research. After speaking to my urologist, talking to friends, and a thorough online search, I came across a treatment option called CyberKnife Radiosurgery offered at WellStar Kennestone Cancer Center in Marietta.
Despite its name, CyberKnife involves no cutting, minimal to no side effects, can be completed in four to five treatments versus the weeks it takes traditional radiation therapy, and I could resume my normal life immediately after treatment – even playing golf right after my session. I was sold.
Unfortunately, my Medicare insurer was not. Despite my urologist agreeing that this was my best option for my treatment, especially given my other health conditions, my insurer refused to cover CyberKnife. My only options were to appeal, or choose another longer or much more invasive therapy.
I had to take into account that I could not have surgery; I had aggressive form of the cancer and consequently needed to move fast. If I decided to appeal, the typical process is to wait 30 days for a decision. Knowing that my cancer was aggressive, I did not want to delay starting treatment. I also did not want to take the risk of waiting and then still having my insurer deny coverage. As a result, I will likely have to pay out of pocket for my treatment, which, of course, really upsets me. I can only hope that my insurer changes their policy so others don’t have to go through what I went through.
The actual treatment with CyberKnife was easy – it only took an hour or so for five days, and the people at WellStar Kennestone were great. I had my 67th birthday while receiving treatment and went out to a restaurant that very night to celebrate. My PSA levels have dropped like a rock. Before receiving CyberKnife, my PSA was 6.8, and now, four months later, it is 0.6.
Today, I don’t feel a day over 30. I haven’t suffered any side effects from my treatment and I am looking to get back into one of my favorite hobbies – race car driving. I truly believe that “my angel” has been watching over me and has led me to this treatment.