When it comes to maintaining my health, I'm diligent about getting my annual physical exam, and this truly saved my life. In March 2009, I went for my annual physical exam which includes a test for PSA [prostate-specific antigen, a marker for prostate cancer]. My PSA results for the previous year were high normal, and in this recent examination my numbers were up again—so my primary-care doctor referred me to a urologist, Dr. Joel Sherman, to get it checked out.
Dr. Sherman conducted additional examinations and as a result recommended a prostate biopsy to rule out cancer. The procedure required minimal prep and was virtually painless. The urologist took 12 core samples, and the results showed that only one core was categorized cancerous with a low Gleason score of 6 (3+3). The doctor explained that although cancer was detected it was not aggressive and that, given my age of 54 and physical well-being, I had time to evaluate my various options, which were surgery (traditional and robotic), seed implants, radiation therapy, cryotherapy, and watchful waiting.
Throughout our conversation I kept thinking, I have cancer—how am I going to beat this? I MUST BEAT THIS! I wanted the cancer physically removed. "Talk to me about the surgery," I said. My urologist described how open and robotic prostate surgery worked, as well as the potential side effects. He then recommended Dr. Michael Stifelman as a very experienced robotic surgeon, which I later found out through my research is a determining factor when selecting a surgeon. "He's a great surgeon, is director of robotic surgery at NYU and has a wonderful personality," the doctor said. "I know you'll like him both as a surgeon and an individual."
Over the next several days I did a lot of research investigating the alternatives and concluded I wanted the robotic prostatectomy. This addressed my primary concern of eradicating the cancer, provided the highest odds of minimizing incontinence and erectile dysfunction, and would allow a quick recovery and prompt return to my normal activities. As part of my research I came across an interesting clip of Dr. Stifelman's appearance on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer. What I saw impressed me: I had to meet this guy, I thought.
Now that I was leaning towards Dr. Stifleman, I needed to discuss it with my wife, Peggy and my two sons, Frank and Chris. I must mention that my family support was outstanding, a key factor in helping me stay positive and focused throughout this ordeal. I never felt alone—they were always there providing love and encouragement and reinforcing the idea that "we're in this together". They asked, what do you want to do? "I want it out," I replied. I also shared what I'd learned Dr. Stifelman and robotic surgery, such as how it involves less trauma and loss of blood and a faster recovery than open surgery.
Everything my urologist had said about Dr. Stifelman was spot on. He never pushed the surgery—instead, he wanted to know more about me and what I was looking for as a resolution. Both Peggy and I were pleased with his demeanor—he was engaging and made us feel extremely comfortable. After Dr. Stifelman explained my options, he asked me what I wanted to do. "I want it out now," I said. "How soon can we schedule surgery?" He reminded me that I didn't have to rush into anything, since my cancer wasn't particularly aggressive. "Why don't you relax and enjoy your summer," he suggested. "If you still want to do the surgery, we'll schedule it for September." We agreed, and moved forward with scheduling the robotic prostatectomy in late September.
As the date approached, I began my pre-op appointments and testing. Throughout the process, Dr. Stifelman's entire staff was outstanding, starting with Enioca, his office manager. Everyone was very accommodating and informative. The day of the operation, I had a funny experience worth mentioning: After getting prepped and meeting with Dr. Stifelman and the rest of the operating team, one of the nurses proceeded to walk me into the operating room when I caught sight of the da Vinci surgical robot. I immediately stopped and started checking it out for what was probably a full minute. I think the nurse was worried I was getting cold feet—but really it was because I'm fascinated with technology, and the robot is such an incredibly impressive device I couldn't resist the chance to check it out!
The procedure went like clockwork. By the following morning, I felt fine. I had minimal pain, and visitors said I didn't look like I'd just gone through major surgery. Later that day Dr. Stifelman stopped to check in on me and stated I was doing very well. "Do you want to go home today?" he asked. I opted to stay another night—so two days after the surgery I was back home, enjoying watching the Yankees begin their successful postseason. I was able to join my family for meals and spend time sitting in our family room and taking walks outside catching up with neighbors and friends.
Amazingly, I've had no problems with side effects. I performed my Kegel exercises pretty regularly both pre and post op, and have had no issues with incontinence or erectile dysfunction. I was back to normal within two weeks and returned to work in week three.
I'm scheduled for follow-up visits every few months to conduct ultra-sensitive PSA test, and eight months after surgery there's no trace of cancer. Dr. Stifelman asked me recently, "If you had to do it all over again, would you?" "In a minute," I replied.
I'm very fortunate and grateful that my experience resulted in a positive outcome. This can be directly attributed to regular medical exams, diligent research, Dr. Stifelman, NYU Urology, and of course, my family. In support of this experience and to promote prostate cancer awareness I now wear the light blue prostate cancer bracelet on my wrist and a ribbon pin on my lapel. When people ask me about them, it's the perfect opportunity to ask them: Have you had your annual exam and PSA test? I did and it saved my life!