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Getting Personal About Prostate Cancer

September 28, 2016 11:59 AM with Elliott Etheredge

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So far this year, there have been an estimated 180,000 new cases of prostate cancer. At the same time, there are many other men who live without knowing of their risk for the disease, and those who have been diagnosed, but aren’t sure of what to do next. Elliott Etheredge can relate, as a series of tests led to his prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment at the NorthShore John and Carol Walter Center. During our chat, he will be providing his perspective on battling prostate cancer and answering your questions on his experience with symptoms, treatment and learning about the benefits of genetic testing.

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Kathryn (Moderator) - 12:00 PM:
Our prostate cancer chat is now open. You can submit questions at any time throughout the chat.

  Steve (Wheeling, IL) - 12:01 PM:
How important was genetic testing in your treatment? Did you do this through NorthShore?
Elliott Etheredge
The genetic testing is oriented towards identifying risk factors for me and my kids. It was not used as part of the cancer treatment. It was done through NorthShore and was an added benefit to overall treatment plan.

  James (Evanston, IL) - 12:08 PM:
Once you were diagnosed with prostate cancer, did you seek a second opinion? Do you think this is important?
Elliott Etheredge
I did have a formal second opinion but I also spoke with a lot of doctors through out the process. I also spoke with other people that had prostate cancer and talked to them about their treatments. I had a ton of questions and found that all the conversations and opinions really helped me decide what treatment was right for me and helped me understand what to expect as I was going through treatment and fighting the disease.

  Patrick (Chicago, IL) - 12:12 PM:
What kind of doctor did you contact once you got your diagnosis? I just learned I have high PSA levels (over 45), and I'm trying to figure out what my next steps should be.
Elliott Etheredge
Generally speaking you are looking for urologist. More specifically, however, there are urologists that focus on prostate cancer. Dr. Brian Helfand is one such doctor and he is who I used at NorthShore. The good news is that there are many excellent prostate cancer doctors in the Chicago area. Your next step should be to get an appointment to sit down with one or more of these doctors and review your case.

  Russell (Chicago, IL) - 12:16 PM:
At what point after your treatment did your doctors assure you that you were cancer-free? I'm coming to the end of therapy now, but still feel kind of unsure!
Elliott Etheredge (Winnetka, IL)
The rule is that no one can be declared "cancer-free" for 10 years! Regular tracking of the PSA, however, is used to evaluate the recurrence of any cancer and is a very good indicator of being cancer-free. I have had my PSA tested every three months for the last year (my surgery was in August of 2015) and so far all the results have been great. The frequency of testing will now start to slow down for me, but I will be watching for quite some time!

  Anne (Evanston, IL) - 12:21 PM:
How did you address the psychological impact of learning you had prostate cancer? Were you able to share your fear / concern with your family?
Elliott Etheredge (Winnetka, IL)
That is a really interesting question and one that I could probably write pages about but I have 1000 character limit! For me, I was so focused on trying to learn about the disease and find the right treatment that the fear of it was often pushed aside by the need to focus on finding a solution. Interestingly, the gravity of my situation did not really hit me for about a year after I was diagnosed and treated. It is very overwhelming when you learn you have cancer and I think in my case, my brain went into a protection mode where the fear was pushed out so I could focus on learning about my case and finding the right treatment. My wife was very involved in the process with me and I think she would have like for me to have been more open about my emotions. But the truth is, yes, I was scared but I knew that if I made the right decisions I would be ok - so I focused on that.

  Frances (Chicago, IL) - 12:28 PM:
As the sister of someone diagnosed with prostate cancer, I feel like I never have the right thing to say – Can you provide some tips for starting the conversation?
Elliott Etheredge (Winnetka, IL)
I found that a lot of people did not know how to engage with me when they learned I had cancer. I think they were concerned I might breakdown or it was too personal to discuss. The truth is, I really appreciated it when people would ask. When you have cancer there is the opposite side of the discussion which is as the person who has it, you don't really want to lay it on other people. So with people not wanting to ask and you not wanting to put it on others, there can be a lot of silence. I found that talking about was a great way to relieve the stress. My suggestion would be to launch right into it. Specifically ask him how is he holding up?, what does he think of the treatment options? Does he like his doctors? You do have a right to talk about it and my guess is that most people want to talk about it but they also don't really know how because they likely have never had to deal with this before either.

  Jeff (Wilmette, IL) - 12:38 PM:
Did you have to change your diet at all during treatment or after treatment?
Elliott Etheredge (Winnetka, IL)
You have touched on one of my favorite topics! It is crazy how much I learned about the impact of diet on cancer. You don't "have to" change your diet, but diet has a big influence on preventing and treating cancer. There is a really great book called "Anticancer: A new way of life" that focuses specifically in the impact of diet on cancer. I highly recommend it!! For people who chose chemo as a treatment option, this is even more important to help the body withstand the impact of chemo and increase the effectiveness of the drugs.

  Chris (Glenview, IL) - 12:43 PM:
Was there a family history of prostate cancer that you knew of? I have had several relatives diagnosed, so I’m thinking about getting tested.
Elliott Etheredge (Winnetka, IL)
My father had prostate cancer and I highly recommend you get tested. My dad was diagnosed at age 64. I found out I had it at age 45. Based on the guidelines, it was early for me to get tested but given my history, my internist ran the PSA test and sure enough - it was high. Thanks to that, it was caught early and treated effectively. I often think about how fortunate I was to not have waited until it was "time" to be tested. There is no telling what my situation would have been at that point.

  Cass (Evanston, IL) - 12:47 PM:
What kinds of activities do you like to do to stay healthy? I’ve heard exercise is very important after treatment, so I’m looking to get my husband moving!
Elliott Etheredge (Winnetka, IL)
I am pretty active. I run and play tennis mainly. I also do a lot of hiking. It is true that exercise after treatment is very important, even if it is just walking. It really does speed the recovery process. However, I will say that despite being a very active person and young for the disease (45), I was surprised how long it took to get back to my pre-surgery activity level (about 10-12 weeks). While this was not my case, I do know a woman that bought a dog to get her husband moving as dogs need to be walked....

  S (Deerfield, IL) - 12:54 PM:
Did your doctors talk to you about the possibility of re-occurance? Do you have to do anything even after you've finished treatment to monitor your condition and prevent anything new?
Elliott Etheredge (Winnetka, IL)
Yes we did talk about re-occurrence. Fortunately for me, my cancer was confined to the prostate and had not begun to spread to other parts of my body. Nonetheless, I very actively still monitor my PSA (every three months). I am not concerned about dealing with prostate cancer again but I was concerned as to whether or not getting it young (45) meant I had some larger disposition to get cancer. It does not mean that. However, I have become more conscious about my diet as a means to ward off any other cancers and other malignancies just in case.

  Dave (Evanston, IL) - 12:59 PM:
Were there any support groups that you attended, or places that provided support/comfort during your treatment?
Elliott Etheredge (Winnetka, IL)
I did not go to any groups but I did reach out to a lot of people that had the disease. Some were people I previously knew, some were people I met after I found out. I found everyone very willing to engage in the conversation and share their experience and would highly encourage you to do that as well.

Kathryn (Moderator) - 1:04 PM:
This will be the end of our chat. Thank you very much for your questions, and thank you to Elliott for sharing his experiences! For more information on prostate cancer, or to talk to a specialist, contact NorthShore's Kellogg Cancer Center.
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