Mike Connor, 62, Land O'Lakes
GOAL: To beat cancer and to encourage those who are battling cancer -- especially those who have been diagnosed for the second time -- to not give up even though the news can be unbearable, to turn to friends and family for advice, and to explore all treatment options and risks before deciding on a plan.
WHY I DID IT: After a routine blood test showed a high PSA level and biopsies confirmed prostate cancer in three of 12 samples tested, a friend's wife directed me to Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology (TBRO). During a routine visit for treatment, Dr. John Koval noticed a lump on the right side of my neck and throat that also turned out to be cancerous as well. It was stage four.
HOW I DID IT: When I originally met Dr. Koval, he outlined a minimally invasive plan of attack for my prostate cancer that included 45 radiation treatments. Though confident he could cure the cancer, he also suggested I explore other options, including surgery.
After meeting with a surgeon, who was also familiar with Dr. Koval's work, and discussing the risks associated with surgery, both the surgeon and I decided radiation was the best option.
While my blood test (PSA) post-radiation indicated the prostate cancer had been beaten, during a routine visit for treatment at TBRO, Dr. Koval noticed a lump on the right side of my neck and throat. After a biopsy was performed by an ear, nose and throat specialist I had seen years earlier and who is also a colleague of Dr. Koval's, it was determined to be cancerous and was stage four.
While the second cancer diagnosis was definitely scarier, I trusted my team of doctors would help me make the right decision again.
After meeting with Dr. Koval and other oncologists and surgeons in Tampa Bay, I again opted to forego surgery, signing on to a treatment plan that involved chemotherapy in combination with radiation at TBRO, which I finished in December 2011.
HURDLES: Aside from disappointment and fear that accompanied the second cancer diagnosis, the biggest hurdle I faced was deciding on the best treatment options for both cancers. There are many different options: surgery, chemo, radiation, watch and wait – all with different risks. At times it felt overwhelming exploring all of the options and weighing the risks. It was during these times I was grateful to have second opinions and confirmation I was selecting the best plan for me personally.
GOING THE DISTANCE: Today, thanks to the teamwork of great doctors from across the medical community in Tampa, I am cancer-free. I also recently helped a friend who turned to me for advice about his treatment for prostate cancer, referring him to the doctors who helped me in my battle. Having leaned on my circle of friends for advice in the beginning of my journey, it felt great to repay the favor.
BEST ADVICE: The best advice I can offer others who are diagnosed with cancer is to explore their options, seek second opinions, learn about all risks and select the best plan for them personally.
I also hope my story reminds those who have already battled cancer, as well as those who are newly diagnosed, to first reach out to those around you for advice. Also, be assured that the best local medical professionals are also always reaching out to their network of colleagues and are truly working together to beat cancer as a team.
Also, attitude, attitude, attitude. You must stay positive. It makes it so much easier. I saw and experienced both sides. I saw people who were much sicker than I was; they all had strong positive attitudes. And the attitudes of the nurses and office staff at the treatment rooms is amazing. They are always upbeat.