By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
AS a prostate cancer survivor for six years Don Mitchell continues to spread the word about early detection and prostate cancer screening.
After fighting his own battle with prostate cancer, he encourages men to take proactive approaches to their health.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men throughout the world. It occurs when cells in the prostate gland grow out of control. There are often no early prostate cancer symptoms, but some men have urinary symptoms and discomfort. It affects one in six men during their lifetime.
Despite being a health and gym devotee, Mitchell was diagnosed with prostate cancer in August 2008. He resided in Bermuda at the time, where he lived for nine and half years due to the nature of his work. In Bermuda, he worked for an international oil service company.
“I had always had annual checkups and since age 50 my doctor had included screening for prostate cancer in the mix.
“I was never fearful. Annual medical exams, eyes, teeth, body, were part of my upbringing. We were brought up to do what we must to ensure good health,” he said.
Mitchell was surprised that an annual blood test in June 2008 showed his PSA score progressed from 0.1 in 1999, to 3.9 by August 2007.
“My doctor performed the two tests which should be done routinely for men age 40 and over.
These are the Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) and the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). My PSA score was 12.2. The safe range for PSA is 0 to 4. Any score approaching 4 or over 4 is investigated. My doctor referred me to a urologist and after investigating further and ruling out any other possibilities, the urologist performed a biopsy on my prostate and discovered that I had prostate cancer, Stage 1. I experienced no symptoms. Usually with prostate cancer, you only experience symptoms when the cancer is in a fairly advanced stage,” he told Tribune Health. Mitchell was overcome with grief and self pity after finding out he positively tested for prostate cancer. After all he believed he had done what was necessary to ensure his body was in good health.
“There are usually no symptoms in stages 1 and 2 of prostate cancer. But if you do have prostate cancer, this is when you want to know.
And the only way to detect prostate cancer in these early stages is by screening. Stages 1 and 2 also signify that the cancer has not spread outside of the prostate which means it is highly treatable and is probably able to be eradicated completely.
Stages 3 and 4 are at a point when the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body which can be anywhere, bone marrow, liver, spine, kidney, lungs. This is very difficult to treat and the treatment of choice at this stage is usually chemotherapy which itself is very, very challenging. It is unusual for anyone with stage 4 prostate cancer to survive,” he said.
Mitchell underwent a robotic assisted laparoscopic surgery, a process where a number of small incisions are made in the area of the abdomen and the prostate is removed. The surgery is minimally invasive and took about 4 hours to complete.
The surgery was conducted at the Lahey Clinic, Burlington Massachusetts. At the doctor’s request, Mitchell started walking the evening of the surgery in the hospital.
“He told me to walk every day and each day to walk further, after discharge. It was very cold in Burlington in November 2008, but my dear friend Ken O’Brien and I walked every day, sometimes twice a day in the cold, and every day we increased our distance,” he said.
Family, friends and co-workers helped.
He said: “I like to tell people that I rode to good health on a tsunami of prayer and well wishes. When I went into surgery the last recognisable face I saw was Ken O’Brien and I had never felt so fortified, so fulfilled, so enriched and so assured.”
Mitchell’s ordeal with fighting prostate cancer changed his life plans.
“I found out I had prostate cancer two months before I was scheduled to retire. I had already prepared a very long bucket list of all the things I wanted to do but could not during my working life. I was a workaholic.
I had all these hopes and dreams of a blissful retirement, undisturbed, slow and restful. Instead, I have devoted a good part of my time to prostate cancer awareness, as a living example, a testimony to the benefits of early detection.
Mitchell is an active member of UsTOO Prostate Cancer Support Group, an organisation that is dedicated to educating on the issue of prostate cancer. It also advocates on behalf of the less fortunate for affordable medical diagnostic and therapeutic services and encourages annual screenings by all men.
The organisation hosts event regularly to increase awareness of prostate cancer.