Cancer patient hopes his story will motivate others to get checked
Canton, Okla. — Gary Martin, 64, of Canton, knew there was something wrong with his health last December.
It wasn’t until several months later that Martin discovered years of not going to the doctor had hidden a developing prostate cancer.
Now, with his cancer spread to his bones and expected to be terminal, Gary is fighting to prolong his time with his wife Terry, and their three grown children and grandchildren. He’s hoping his story will inspire other men to pay attention to their health, and get recommended exams to detect prostate cancer before it’s too late to treat.
The stout grandfather, father and husband began losing weight without explanation last December and suffered pain in his hip. He began losing energy and was in constant pain.
Gary said he didn’t have a habit of going to the doctor, had never had a prostate exam and didn’t seek medical attention for his new ailments. He attributed the hip pain to an old football injury and shrugged off the weight loss of more than 50 pounds.
Gary had owned his own own plumbing business, was a 25-year veteran of the Canton Volunteer Fire Department and was working as a pumper in the oilfield. He was busy working, and he intended to keep it that way.
“I was so busy working in the oil patch,” Gary said, “and I had to stay busy, and it just kept getting steadily worse.”
Terry, a retired long-term care nurse, said she tried to get Gary to go in for a checkup, but “he just refused to go to the doctor.”
“We knew something wasn’t right, but he’s always been on the stubborn side,” Terry said, “so until he was ready to go to the doctor there was no point in trying to get him there.”
By March, the pain in Gary’s hip had become hard to bear, and his weight had dropped from 178 to 118 pounds. He had completely lost his appetite and no longer felt well enough to go to his grandkids’ ball games. The pain and change in lifestyle finally were enough to get him to the doctor.
“He’s always been bad about going to the doctor or the dentist,” Terry said, “but one day he came in the door and said, ‘I’m done. I can’t work any more.’”
“I was wanting to work until I was 70,” Gary said, “but I couldn’t work any more.”
Gary agreed to go get checked out by a doctor, and a prostate exam at Fairview Regional Medical Center led to a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.
The results of the test left no doubt as to Gary’s diagnosis.
“I was way sicker than what I thought I was,” he said.
According to American Cancer Society, most men without prostate cancer have PSA levels of four nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, while men with PSA levels between four and 10 have a one in four chance of having prostate cancer, and men with a PSA greater than 10 have a more-than 50 percent chance of having the disease.
When Gary’s PSA test came back his level was at 273. He had prostate cancer, and the cancer had spread to his bones, which explained the hip pain.
Gary said he wasn’t entirely surprised by the cancer diagnosis, since his mother and father died of uterine and lung cancer, respectively.
“My folks both died of cancer,” Gary said, “so I always said it was a matter of time — not if, but when.”
Gary’s diagnosis of prostate cancer was not unusual. According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network one in seven American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and one in 30 die from the disease.
Common as it is, prostate cancer also is one of the most successfully treated forms of cancer — when caught early enough.
According to American Cancer Society, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it, and more than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.
Dr. David Lam, oncologist at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, said many cases of prostate cancer never develop into something that would kill the patient before other natural causes.
“There are some prostate cancers that will just linger on and not cause any problems at all,” Lam said, “and there are some that will metastasize and cause a lot of problems, and it’s hard for us to determine which will be which.”
Lam said the best way to maximize chances of treating prostate cancer successfully is to detect it early. He recommended men undergo a prostate exam during their annual physical beginning at age 45. And, at 50, men should talk to their doctor about the possibility of having a PSA test.
“I definitely think, instead of just going to a clinic and getting a PSA, I recommend talking to your doctor at 50 about the pros and cons of PSA testing and then making an informed decision from there,” Lam said.
Lam said men often delay or forego exams because of a social stigma surrounding prostate exams, and a fear of side effects from prostate cancer treatment. Those fears, Lam said, make it more important for men to visit regularly with their doctor.
Gary encouraged men to get tested and follow doctors’ recommendations. He said his cancer could have been caught much earlier if he’d followed that advice.
“They said I could have had this five years ago,” Gary said.
Now, the hope is to delay the cancer’s progression, and give Gary as much time as possible.
“They said they hoped they could buy him five years,” Terry said. “They said it was too late to repair what had been done, but they hope to slow the process down.”
The process since March of slowing down the cancer has been arduous for Gary.
He’s been undergoing chemotherapy since the diagnosis, and the therapy has been changed several times. Gary said the treatments still aren’t doing quite what the doctors expected, and though he’s regained his appetite it’s been hard to put on weight.
The process also has been hard for Terry, as she’s had to watch Gary go through treatment, and go back to being a nurse, now in their home.
“I had to go from spouse mode to caregiver mode,” Terry said. “It was hard.”
Together they said they want Gary’s experience to help educate other men, and their loved ones, to not take prostate health for granted.
Terry advised men to follow common health tips, such as eating right, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep. And she recommended men get a PSA test if their doctor recommends it.
“Just get checked,” she said. “All it takes is a simple blood draw. It’s not a big deal.”
Gary advised other men to not follow his example.
“Don’t do what I did,” he warned. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have gone after the age of 50 and had the exam.
“I just waited too long,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault but my own.”