Brian Glennon, a now-retired high school English teacher in Flemington, NJ, says he’s still the same Sinatra-loving, Broadway-going, basketball-coaching 63-year-old man who is grateful for the love of his family: wife Kathy and 10-year-old son Finian. Glennon was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January 2018, 2 years after a higher-than-average prostate-specific antigen (PSA) result prompted him and his doctor to monitor his PSA level more closely.
PSA is a substance made by cells in the prostate gland, and its level can be checked with a blood test. Most men without prostate cancer have levels under 4. The chance of having prostate cancer goes up as the PSA level goes
up. However, other factors that aren’t cancer can also raise PSA level, so it is not always a reliable way to check for cancer. If the level is high, a doctor might advise either waiting a while and repeating the test or getting a biopsy to find out if cancer is present.
In Glennon’s case, a routine medical check-up in June 2016 turned up a PSA result of 4.9. He then had a digital rectal exam, and the doctor felt “something,” but nothing definitive. He advised Glennon to begin having PSA blood tests more often – about every 6 months.
During that time, Glennon says he felt anxious, nervous, and scared. In October 2016 he and his doctors were concerned enough that he had an MRI (a scan that uses radio waves and strong magnets to give detailed images of soft tissues in the body) to get a better look at the prostate. The results were good and Glennon relaxed. He continued having regular PSA tests. But in December 2017, Glennon’s PSA level rose to 8.5 and he underwent a biopsy (a procedure in which small samples of the prostate are removed and then looked at under a microscope). The results came back about a week later. Glennon had prostate cancer.
Sometimes, of course, we’re not sure what to do at times like this. Some people like to reach out, some people like to offer help, some people are afraid they will say the wrong thing, and some people best cope with going about their day-to-day routines. My advice is simple -- do whatever makes you feel comfortable.
At the time, Glennon was still working as a teacher. He was in his classroom when he checked online for his test results and saw the news. He says, “I remember sitting quietly in the classroom and staring at the screen, stunned by the words in front of me. I knew that this was a whole new ballgame, and I thought of Kathy and Finian.”
Glennon and his doctor discussed either surgery or radiation as treatment options and their possible side effects. Glennon considered how he might have trouble urinating or getting an erection, which are common after most prostate cancer treatments. He weighed these possible side effects against his desire to remove the cancer, live as long as possible, and see his young son grow up.
“The incontinence and impotence effects were not a surprise to me, but they just never seemed real to me,” said Glennon. “You hear or read that you may not be able to control your urine or to have an erection. But, what that feels like or what it means as far as your day to day life is concerned is hard to imagine.” Glennon decided on surgery. It was scheduled for March 13, 2018. He hoped that his relatively young age and good health for a prostate cancer patient would help him recover and lessen the side effects.
He prepared his students for his absence by sending them an email. “I wanted students to know that my family and I were very optimistic and that I was in good spirits and in very good hands,” said Glennon. “I thought it was important that they know I had cancer; that they realize that having cancer is nothing to hide.”
In the email Glennon also gave his students advice on how to react to the news. He wrote, “Sometimes, of course, we’re not sure what to do at times like this. Some people like to reach out, some people like to offer help, some people are afraid they will say the wrong thing, and some people best cope with going about their day-to-day routines. My advice is simple -- do whatever makes you feel comfortable. I trust you will have some good thoughts for me and my family, and believe me, I will find my way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral before the surgery, so prayers are okay, too.”
The night before surgery, Glennon and his son told each other, “Love you forever,” just as they did at every bedtime. But this time was a little different. “The word ‘forever’ took on a new meaning as I wondered what the next day would mean for my forevers,” said Glennon. A day later after he woke up from surgery, Glennon’s first thought was to assure Finian and Kathy, “I’m all right.”
Recovery took time, patience, and perseverance as Glennon worked to cope with the side effects from treatment. He got out of bed a few hours after surgery with the help of a nurse and walked around the hospital unit. After returning home, he began walking around his neighborhood and slowly became stronger and able to walk longer, eventually 2 miles or more. By May, he was playing basketball and baseball with Finian.
As he regained his strength, Glennon also began to regain control over his urination and ability to have an erection. The first few days after surgery he used a catheter, a tube that allows for the passage of urine. After the catheter was removed, Glennon wore adult diapers. But by May, he says his ability to control his urine was back to about 90% of what it was before the surgery and he wore protection as a precaution only. He takes medicine to help with erections and says he has regained 90% of his original functionality. “Eventually, my nerves improved, the blood flow got better, and I am very close to my pre-surgery condition,” said Glennon.
Since Glennon’s surgery, PSA has been undetectable in his blood tests. He retired from teaching in June 2018 and now has more time to take family vacations, attend Finian’s baseball and basketball games, see Broadway shows, and renovate the house. The family also has a new addition: a black terrier mix named Licorice.
“Except for retiring and having to walk Licorice seemingly every two hours, life is pretty much the way it was before all this happened,” said Glennon. “Sure, more trips to the bathroom and an occasional pill are constant reminders that my life is not exactly as it was, but I’m still me. I spend my life with a wife and son who love me and look out for me and I remain grateful.”
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
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