17-Year Prostate Cancer Survivor Feels GreatDec 6, 2011
At age 60, Dave Wesley of Placerville, Calif. says it’s sobering that he’s lived longer than his father. Wesley says he and his sister will always remember their father as a young man because they never knew him as old. Their father died in 1980 after a 4-year battle with prostate cancer. Back then there was no prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for screening, and few available drugs were helpful for advanced prostate cancer. He was 57.
The Decision to Screen Early
Because of his family history, Wesley began going in for screening 20 years ago at age 40. (Men with a father or brother diagnosed before age 65 are at higher-than-average risk of developing prostate cancer themselves.) For two years, his PSA and digital rectal exam (DRE) showed nothing suspicious. The doctor told him to come back when he turned 50.
But Wesley came back the next year anyway, and this time the doctor felt something abnormal on the DRE. A prostate biopsy followed, and small areas of cancer were found in 2 out of 9 samples. Like about 15% of men with prostate cancer, Wesley’s PSA level was still in the normal range (under 4) when the cancer was found. Remarkably, his was only 0.6. Most healthy men have levels under 4, so Wesley’s PSA level alone would not have triggered a biopsy.
Wesley learned of the diagnosis in his urologist’s office. “He said, ‘You have a prostate cancer diagnosis.’ I didn’t remember another word. When you hear the words, ‘You have cancer,’ you don’t remember any other words.”
Wesley returned to the urologist’s office with his wife, and they discussed his treatment options. He also went to 4 other doctors for opinions. He wanted to make sure he was getting the right information. And unlike a much older man, he was not looking for a 10-year or 15-year survival rate. He wanted a lifetime cure.
One of the doctors Wesley contacted was the head of the local cancer center at UC Davis Medical Center. He told Wesley not to feel obligated toward the first doctor who examined him. “After all, you don’t marry the first girl you took to the dance.”
That gave Wesley a sense of empowerment, and he spent about a month making the decision to have a prostatectomy, removal of the prostate. He chose his hospital, surgeon, assistant surgeon, and anesthesiologist. He spoke to another patient the day after the man’s prostatectomy. That gave him reassurance that he would be able to manage the pain. And then he prayed, “Lord, I did everything I know how to do. Now it’s your turn.”
Because he did so much research beforehand, Wesley knew what to expect after the surgery. He arranged to be off work for 9 weeks. He had an incision from his bellybutton down to his pubic bone. And like the patient he spoke to, Wesley had pain, but was able to manage it. He stayed in the hospital for 5 days and needed a catheter to empty his bladder for 3 weeks. He says his whole world became the living room and the bathroom, and then gradually expanded until things got back to normal.
He began having PSA tests every 3 months to make sure no prostate cells were left in his body. Eventually, after 5 ½ years of undetectable levels, he graduated to annual tests. At his last exam, Wesley’s doctor told him “You’re at 17 years this year. You’re going to have to find something else to die of.”
Wesley’s wife, Jane, began volunteering with the American Cancer Society even before his diagnosis. Shortly after his father died, she began driving cancer patients who needed help getting to their treatment appointments, in what has since grown into the Road to Recovery program.
After his diagnosis, Wesley also began volunteering with his local American Cancer Society office in Sacramento and he hasn’t stopped. Since then he’s chaired committees, sat on boards and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through local and national events including Relay For Life, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and Daffodil Days. He has volunteered at 7 American Cancer Society golf tournaments, and last May was the survivor speaker at the 7th Annual Capitol Invitational Golf Tournament held at Serrano Country Club in El Dorado Hills. In September, he was the "special guest" speaker at the annual Harvest of Hope Gala held at Dalla Terra Estate in Granite Bay.
In addition, Wesley co-hosts volunteer orientations twice a month in what he calls “two of my best hours of the month” and he’s a stakeholder who participates in the American Cancer Society’s research grants peer review process. That experience has convinced him that more funding is needed for cancer research. “Unfortunately, there are many more researchers and projects worthy of being funded if there were only more dollars available to fund them. That’s why I’m passionate about the many fundraising opportunities available throughout the year. If someone’s interested in making a difference, there is no shortage of opportunities.”
He has also spoken personally with several newly diagnosed men in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Man To Man program. “I believe it’s important for anyone facing cancer to know you can come out the other side; there is life after cancer.”
Today, Wesley says he feels great. “I feel very fortunate I’m in good health. I don’t have to worry about relapses. This isn’t the one that’s going to get me.”
Have you or someone you love been touched by cancer? Help us give hope to people across the country and around the world by sharing your story. It's stories like yours that provide comfort and courage to others whose lives have been touched by cancer.