August 13, 2019
September 2017 was the start of a new chapter for Bob Summers. At 61, he was newly retired after 38 years working for the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development agency. He had also just welcomed his first grandson into the world. Life was good.
That same month, during a regular blood workup, his physician noted Bob’s PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level was elevated. While he had no other symptoms, Bob knew this could be a preliminary indicator of cancer. Given his positive experience for thyroid cancer treatment 17 years earlier at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, he immediately sought a second opinion from the cancer center’s urologic oncology team.
“I had the option to travel to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for thyroid cancer treatment in 2000, but I chose to receive cancer care here. The University of Kansas Cancer Center has a great reputation, National Cancer Institute designation and proximity to home,” says Bob. “When I realized I might be headed toward another cancer journey in 2017, the cancer center was my immediate choice.”
At the cancer center, Bob met William Parker, MD, urologic oncologist, who retested his PSA and performed a biopsy, which showed an aggressive form of prostate cancer. Bob then had an MRI to ensure the cancer had not metastasized.
“The technologists said it should take about 20 minutes, so after being in there for almost an hour, I knew it wasn’t good,” recalls Bob. “The MRI showed I had a spot on my 7th rib.” The metastasis was confirmed with a bone CT scan.
Bob, who lives in Leavenworth, was diagnosed in 2000 with thyroid cancer and had beaten it, so he understood the journey that might lie ahead. He met with Dr. Parker to explore his treatment options.
“Bob visited with me and radiation oncologist Xinglei Shen, MD, about his options, with all signs pointing to metastatic cancer. The usual treatment is hormonal therapy, which is not a curative approach,” explains Dr. Parker. “We looked at Bob’s unique case, including factors like his young age and general good health, and together we made the recommendation for a curative approach to treatment in the way of surgery.”
Prostate cancer cure vs. control
“Dr. Parker and Dr. Shen went to bat for me,” Bob says. “They said we’re going to swing for the fences.” Bob had surgery to remove his prostate in November, and a month later doctors rechecked his PSA level. The pathology report on his prostate cancer came back much better than the original biopsies, indicating an intermediate grade cancer vs. the aggressive cancer it was originally believed he had. His PSA was (surprisingly) undetectable.
When Bob and his wife first sat down with doctors before surgery, the honest discussion included a life expectancy of 3 to 4 years. Now, he is considered in remission and cancer-free. He credits his recovery to the excellent care he received at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, as well as the power of prayer and an incredible support system of family and friends.
Dr. Parker says Bob is a perfect example of a "Crucial Catch" patient. He is among 7 cancer patients being recognized by the Kansas City Chiefs Crucial Catch program. Each of the patients has been invited to attend a Chiefs practice and lunch, where they will meet Chiefs players and receive autographs.
“Bob’s story is a cautionary tale about accuracy of typical tests, 2 of which were false-positive,” notes Dr. Parker. “We tend to think of prostate cancer treatment in one of 2 ways, either cure or control. If you hear 'cure' is off the table, then it is appropriate to get a second opinion. There is a difference between standard treatment protocols and treating the individual. That’s why our entire team thinks about treatment from many angles.”
Early prostate cancer detection and expert care
Bob encourages men over age 50 to not underestimate the importance of early detection. He also advises they seek the care of a urologic specialist, not a generalist, at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.
“In my parents’ generation, cancer was a death sentence. Today, the surgery is not as intrusive, and you really can whip cancer,” Bob points out. “I have nothing but complete respect for the care and professionalism I received at The University of Kansas Cancer Center and, in particular, from Dr. Parker. If the scale is 1-5, with 5 being the best … I’d give them a 10.”
Today, Bob has resumed the next chapter of life, spending plenty of quality time with his grandson and anticipating the birth of a granddaughter in January.
“I used to have what I call a weather-driven disposition,” he says. “But once you’ve been confronted with the fact you may have 3 to 4 years to live, that changes things. Now, I always say, ‘Today is a good day … all days are good!’”