August 13, 2019
With a father and 2 uncles who had prostate cancer, Don Hall knew he was at risk for the same fate. His physicians knew it, too. They advised him about the importance of regular PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing, considering his family history of the disease.
But a change in primary care providers led to a 2-year gap between regular examinations. The next thing Don knew was that his PSA had jumped to 7.2 and he was referred to a urologist.
“Just a couple years earlier, my PSA test result was around 2. Doctors were not concerned until it elevated to a 4. Then, they were worried when it jumped to 7.2!” says Don, 74, a retired salesman for Texas Boot Company.
Shorter prostate cancer treatment
After additional tests, the urologist referred Don to a surgeon near his home in Versailles, Missouri, 2.5 hours southeast of Kansas City. Don says he had always told his family that if he developed a serious illness, he wanted to go to The University of Kansas Health System for treatment. But, he followed the urologist’s request and saw the first surgeon he was referred to.
“Then I requested a second opinion from The University of Kansas Cancer Center,” says Don. “I worked for The University of Kansas Hospital in the 1960s and early 1970s. I’ve kept up with how the hospital and cancer center have progressed, and I’m impressed with their work.”
At the cancer center, Don initially saw a urologic oncologist. He was then referred to radiation oncologist Xinglei Shen, MD.
“Don had a history of colon surgery, which complicated his case,” notes Dr. Shen. “It was going to be too risky to operate, so we opted for an alternative plan that involved radiation and hormonal therapy.”
Initially, Don was to receive 39 radiation treatments over as many weeks. However, because of the distance he had to travel to the cancer center, Dr. Shen recommended Don receive a shortened form of treatment called stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT).
“SBRT is a very promising way to control cancer, especially when surgery is not an option. SBRT focuses high doses of radiation to a closely targeted area during each treatment,” Dr. Shen explains.
Don began his treatments in April 2017, expecting the worst. In all, he had 5 treatments, spanning a week and a half.
“I suffered very little!” says Don. “No nausea, pain or anything. It was amazing! And I can’t say enough about Dr. Shen and the cancer center staff. They couldn’t have treated me any better. At times, it didn’t even feel like I was going for treatment. It seemed like I was visiting with friends.”
Following his radiation and hormonal therapy, Don’s PSA tests yielded numbers below 0.1.
“I’m so happy! When I got through with my treatments, they offered to let me ring the bell. It’s tradition to ring the bell at the end of treatment. But, I declined. Even though my numbers are very good, I know my fight may not be over. You never know when or if it will return, and I’m OK with that. I feel positive every day, and look forward to tomorrow, no matter what,” says Don.
First in the region
Prior to beginning SBRT, Don’s treatment included the SpaceOAR® system, a temporary injectable gel designed to protect the rectum from radiation exposure in men receiving radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
“During radiation, the rectum is directly in line with the prostate gland. This relatively new technique implements the insertion of hydrogel to push the rectum out of the way to protect it. The gel dissolves within 6 months,” says Dr. Shen.
The University of Kansas Cancer Center was the first in the region to offer SpaceOAR.
Crucial Catch champion
Dr. Shen says Don is an excellent example of a Crucial Catch survivor.
"His resilience and charisma alone make him a great candidate," he adds. "Additionally, Don is proof that distance and rural proximity don’t restrict a patient’s ability to get quality care from a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center.
“Without sacrificing effectiveness or causing too many interferences with everyday life, Don’s treatment epitomizes so many things we do and stand for,” Dr. Shen notes. “Despite his distant location, we were still able to provide him with multidisciplinary care, framing his treatment around his values and input.”
Don and his wife, Carmen, are excited about the opportunities gained from treatment. They are active on their ranch near Lake of the Ozarks. “Really, we just take it one day at time,” says Don.