An Unwelcome Invitation: No RSVP Necessary

Categories: Winter 2008
Epa Rosa with his wife and two daughters
Epa Rosa with his wife and two daughters

It was a cold late afternoon in January of 2008 when I got the phone call from my doctor: “Epa. I have the report of your prostate biopsy. Why don’t you come to my office? We need to talk”.

My prostate had been bugging me for a few years. It was enlarged and growing. A previous biopsy done in 2002 diagnosed benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate. Regular PSA testing indicated a trend up, but still within acceptable values until November 2007, when my doctor told me I should do another biopsy. My PSA level had gone up again, now at a level twice as much as it was two years before.

When I got the call inviting me to my doctor’s office to discuss the biopsy report, I knew the diagnosis was not BPH. I told my doctor: “Well doc, I would appreciate you telling me the diagnosis now.”

I insisted, and sure enough, there it was, adenocarcinoma of the prostate. My doctor told me it might not be as bad as it sounded. There was a good chance the cancer was still confined within the prostate. More exams were needed for an accurate picture.

First Thoughts

First thoughts went to my wife and two daughters. Seemed too early to leave them. With both my daughters in graduate school, I wanted to be at their graduation ceremonies.

Back in Brazil I had a brother, sister, nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws, and friends. Glad I did not have to tell my parents the news.

I may not have enough time to tackle all my professional plans for the next few years. Is this really happening? I am only 55 years old.

Cancer anyone? Maybe, I wouldn’t RSVP.

And how about my soccer buddies? We enjoy playing the beautiful game, friendly and respectfully. Kicking the bucket, not the soccer ball. Someone must be kidding?

Not Ready

Two years ago I planted grape vines in my backyard. I wondered if I would be able to enjoy their fruits? Memories and fear in a split-second, but no regrets, truly. And I realized that, in fact, I am lucky. Lucky and not ready to go.

After the initial shock, I started a frantic process of learning as much as I could about prostate cancer. The Internet of course. Then books, and people were my sources.

I felt I needed to do something quickly. I wanted to stop this cancer and time became a key issue, even though my doctor said I didn’t need to rush into anything.

Over the following weeks, I learned a lot about prostate cancer and possible treatments. Results of new exams (radiography, bone scan, CT scan) did not detect any metastases.

Several guys shared their own prostate cancer experience with me, graciously, which was invaluable.

Professor Rosa in front of his classroom
Professor Rosa in front of his classroom

Making A Decision

At first it was difficult to decide what course of action to choose, but the decision didn’t take long: I wanted to get my prostate removed surgically, the sooner the better, and I wanted it done by an experienced surgeon. After consulting with a few professionals, I picked Dr. William Catalona because of his overwhelming surgical experience and leading edge research work on prostate cancer.

I had the surgery about six weeks after I was diagnosed. It went well and the recovery process began. Walking several times a day with a cut healing in my belly and a catheter into my bladder was no treat. Ten days later, the catheter was out. Nice. But then I needed to learn to control my bladder.

Weak as I was, I did not feel guilty for taking long naps during the day. At night I slept like a rock. I ate very well, thanks to friends who provided home delivered meals almost on a daily basis. My colleagues at the Illinois State University Physics Department were taking good care of my students. I had the unconditional support and love of my family, and many people praying and thinking of me.

In addition, I had the best nurse one can possibly have: my wife Regina, who happens to be a pediatrician. My after surgery recovery progressed so well in great part because of the care I received from Regina and my daughters.

Seven months have passed since my surgery. I cannot claim my recovery is complete, but I am back in the classroom torturing my students with complicated physics equations.

Also, after battling Japanese beetles all summer, I enjoyed my first crop of backyard grapes. My PSA level is less than 0.1. I am back on the field, playing the beautiful game with my soccer buddies. I’ll be part of two graduation ceremonies in a couple of years.

And I am grateful.

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