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Let’s Talk – Jeff’s Prostate Cancer Journey

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When faced with a prostate cancer diagnosis, what matters most is your team. A team to trust and rely on to get you to the goal of being cancer-free and beyond. Jeff Spencer has a strong team surrounding him. It’s a team built of family, friends and physicians. His journey with prostate cancer began in late 2015.

The prostate is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It rests below the bladder and in front of the rectum, surrounding part of the urethra. Risk of prostate cancer is determined in large part by a blood test, Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), and to a lesser part by a digital rectal exam or DRE. Some of the possible signs of prostate cancer are painful or burning sensation during urination, frequent urination, particularly at night and difficulty stopping or starting urination. That was the case for Spencer.

“I was having some issues with the strength of the stream (urinating) and having a little lack of control of it. Admittedly, I’m not a guy who got check-ups like they should.”

Spencer was finally prompted to go to the doctor by his wife and daughter. They would become two essential parts of his cancer-fighting team. After the exam the doctor was concerned.

A PSA Test Reveals More

“He said let’s go ahead and take some samples and see what’s going on," Spencer said. "My PSA level came back as a 15 to 16. It was off the charts.”

PSA counts are measured in nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) and may indicate the presence of prostate cancer. As a rule, higher levels are more concerning and a level of greater than 4.0 ng/ml is something to be investigated further by your doctor. Spencer’s was nearly 4 times as high.

The samples came back cancerous.

Spencer’s daughter is a nurse practitioner and former surgical nurse. She guided him to OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center and Michael Cookson, MD, chair of urology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and chief of urology at Stephenson Cancer Center.

“Dr. Cookson was fantastic. He just laid it out there. He’s matter-of-fact and said ‘these are your options. This is what I would recommend,’ and he explained everything. He took his time,” Spencer explained. “I was really lucky because I had my entourage. My daughter understood the medical terms that he used and she would break it down for me. After I met him, there was no doubt where I wanted to go and do my surgery.”

Surgery and Subsequent Treatments

“Mr. Spencer presented with what would be considered a very high risk, clinically localized prostate,” Cookson said. “He was presented with options for treatment and knew that it could take combinations of treatments to cure his cancer. He ultimately opted for surgical removal referred to as a radical prostatectomy where the entire prostate gland is removed along with the lymph nodes that drain the prostate. This was done laparoscopically using a robotic assisted system. This is a minimally invasive procedure that usually allows men surgery with a one night stay and a much faster recovery as compared to traditional open surgery."

After the surgery, even though it was successful, the team found a persistence of cancer with detectable PSA and therefore recommended Spencer undergo subsequent radiation and hormone therapy in an attempt to kill the remaining cancer cells and suppress any further growth.

Spencer underwent 40 days of radiation therapy, which brought his PSA number down to undetectable. Gone. Almost.

For Spencer, the prostate cancer battle will continue. Due to the high-risk nature of his disease, Cookson told him that recurrence would be a possibility. His team, consisting of his wife, two daughters, two stepsons, two grandkids and a great staff at Stephenson Cancer Center, are ready to help.

“About a month and a half ago I had a check-up and my PSA count had jumped up – almost doubled. Dr. Cookson said all along that this could eventually come back,” Spencer said.

Spencer will have a novel PET scan soon.

“Dr. Cookson feels like the PSA reading is high enough that we’ll be able to detect the location of the cancer with the PET Scan. What we’re hoping is that it’s still localized.” If localized, Spencer could go to radiation treatment again. If it’s not or if it has spread beyond the pelvis, he and Dr. Cookson will look at different options. “We haven’t gotten that far yet.”

Living Life to the Fullest

Meanwhile, Spencer is not letting his prostate cancer dictate his life. “I try not to think of it a whole lot. It’s there, and there’s not a whole lot I can do with it right now until we can determine what’s going on. So, I don’t worry about what I don’t have control over. I have an excellent support system with my family and so we press on and carry on.”

At 66, Spencer is retired from a lifetime of law enforcement, he loves to jump in the RV and take off every month for a new adventure. Sometimes he even lets team members tag along.

“At Stephenson, we are here to use every tool in our belt to help Mr. Spencer fight his cancer – however long it take,” Cookson said. “Our greatest joy is for our patients to live healthier, happy, full lives, cancer free. It’s why I do what I do and why we are honored to be members of Spencer’s team. We have a team of doctors with expertise in surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy as well as assistance with genetic testing and nutrition. Precision-guided therapy is also now available at Stephenson. We plan on keeping Spencer around for a long time, and further plan to prevent him from suffering symptoms related to his cancer for years to come.”

Let's Talk

Watch more about Jeff Spencer and learn about prostate cancer treatment at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center. If you need help scheduling a DRE or PSA blood test, talk to your doctor or read more about our men's health services.

OU Health experts recommends routine screening primarily for men from 55 to 69 years of age, assuming the absence of other risk factors. Talk to your doctor, schedule an exam, and learn more about prostate cancer screening.