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Treatment for prostate cancer is no fun, so get checked

Harley Sundown
Being diagnosed with -- and treated for -- prostate cancer, as the author was, might not be fun, but it is important. Loren Holmes photo

A few years ago, I was taking a piss, and instead of the usual yellowish plume that comes out on the snow, I was pissing a reddish liquid. Naturally, I was surprised, a little shocked, concerned about what it meant. I went online and looked up what pissing pink colored meant as a symptom. One of the indicators that showed up that was concerning was it could mean possible cancer. Nothing eventful happened after that, but months later, I started feeling a very hot flash continuously at the back of my butt. It was a very weird sensation that I knew wasn't right. I would feel on the cheeks and the area would feel warmer than the outer part of my seat. This went on for a few months, and the heat flashes slowly started being replaced by pain when I was sitting. As the weeks turned into months then into three years, the pain got so bad I could not sit on my seat very long. Sitting became excruciating painful, especially working at the school where I had to sit for extended periods of time. It was even more painful serving Calista Corp. because we would sit all day for three to four days when we met.

During the mid part of three years, I visited the doctors at Bethel and eventually Anchorage. The Alaska Native Medical Center doctor took what seemed like a reluctant biopsy. The doctor seemed like he did not want to acknowledge that anything was wrong. Before the biopsy, I had a blood test that tested what is called the PSA level. The PSA level in my blood was slightly elevated. Everyone has a normal range when it comes to a PSA test on your blood. PSA is an indicator that shows something like cancer is growing in prostates for men. The doctor found that there was a growth on my prostate but it was benign. Benign in medical terms means something that is not cancerous but growing. The other term is malignant and that means that the growth is cancer.

The problem persisted with having discomfort sitting down. I had to resort to laying sideways to be comfortable for the next year and a half. I finally convinced a doctor at another clinic to do another biopsy. He was also reluctant to do this because sometimes doctors maybe trust each other or maybe because the doctor thought I was a little whacko, persisting and persisting for a test. The doctor finally decided to do a second biopsy on my prostate. He explained that he needs to take at least 12 samples from the prostate. This happens for men by the doctor sticking an anuk-size probe in your teqhole. Once inside, they shoot a needle through the colon wall into your prostate. He did this 12 times. This happens with some anesthesia so you won't feel the needles too much. Nonetheless, you still feel the prick of the needle inside.

I came home in December, and right before Christmas, the doctor finally called and said he had found cancer in my prostate. It was kind of like a can't-believe moment that was both shocking and hard to believe. I had been suspecting all this time that I may have cancer, but to actually hear it made my mind work between sadness and happiness. Sadness because I thought of how cancer can kill; happiness that my worst fears were true. It was hard to concentrate on things for about a week. I decided to go to Chevak after the diagnosis because the annual Christmas tournament was going on. I told people even though I found some of that tough. As the week went by, I got over any negative thoughts and quit worrying about it.

I then started talking with the doctor about treatment options, and I had done some research before I went to see him. There are a number of options: complete removal of the prostate; radiation from outside; radiation specifically at the target area, which some may call tomotherapy; cryoknife, which is the actual freezing of the prostate because that kills cancer, too; or radiation seeds implanted inside the prostate -- about 21 of these are put inside and they give off radiation over three days. What I found about the radiation was it not only killed the cancer, it also killed the tube that goes down from the ureter gland. He said if the cancer came back after radiation, they would not be able to cut out the prostate because they would have almost no way to reconnect the urinary tube; so many inches are damaged that it shortens. After consideration after consideration, I decided to have the prostate removed completely. There are some side effects with each procedure, but the removal at least took away the cancer permanently without any radiation follow-up.

So here I am, prostate to be removed, removed, and healing. Still coaching because I love basketball like I love my wife, like I love raspberry white chocolate scones, bacon in the morning, rib soup at VIP in Anchorage, “60 Minutes” on Sunday, moose hunting in the fall, seal hunting in the spring. Healing does take some time for prostate removal, but the time spent healing is worth it to anyone. Hopefully, none of you men will go through what I went through.

Harley Sundown of Scammon Bay is an educator and former member of Calista Corp.'s board of directors.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail  commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.