Let's Talk – Connie’s Prostate Cancer Journey

Let's Talk – Connie’s Prostate Cancer Journey

Talking about prostate cancer can be uncomfortable for many men, but Connie Tubbs is not the least bit shy to tell you about his journey. Tubbs, 68, wears a broad smile. He loves life, his wife of 47 years, his kids, grandchildren and his one great-grandchild. He's faithful, grateful and willing to say it out loud.

Before being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Tubbs had heard the word "prostate," but that’s as far as his knowledge went.

“I knew absolutely nothing. I didn’t even know what a prostate was…what its function was, where it was located…nothing about it. I never knew I had to know,” said Tubbs. “I’d heard of prostate cancer, but I never knew anyone personally who had it. If they had, they didn’t tell me. A lot of people are private about a thing like that - they won’t share the information with you at all. I’m not like that. I’m talking about it.”

What is Prostate Cancer?

Michael Cookson, MD, MMHC, urological oncologist at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center, explains that the prostate is is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It rests below the bladder and in front of the rectum. Its function is to help make the fluid in semen. Normally, it’s about the size of a walnut.

“As men age, the prostate can become larger. This is normal. But, cancer can also develop in the prostate, and that’s when a doctor should investigate further."

Cookson said some signs of prostate cancer to look for include:

  • Painful or burning sensation during urination or ejaculation
  • Frequent urination, particularly at night
  • Difficulty stopping or starting urination
  • Sudden erectile dysfunction
  • Sudden inability to empty your bladder
  • Blood in urine or semen

Early Detection is Key

The first test a doctor may conduct is the digital rectal exam or DRE. Performed quickly in the office, every man over age 45 should be tested. A urologist can tell by touch if there is swelling or abnormality.

Along with a DRE, the doctor may order a Prostate Specific Antigen test, or PSA. A PSA test counts the antigens, or foreign objects, in the system. PSA counts are measured in nanograms per milliliter and indicate the levels of good cells and bad, or sometimes cancerous, cells.

“A PSA level is determined through blood work. In general, a level of greater than 4.0 ng/ml is something to investigate further - it might suggest prostate cancer,” said Dr. Cookson, who was Tubbs’ surgeon. “Statistically, a relatively modest increase in a PSA can be an indicator of early prostate cancer. In fact, roughly 25% of men with a PSA between 4.0-10.0 ng/ml may have prostate cancer. The key is to detect prostate cancer early on before significant symptoms occur.”

Diagnosis & Treatment

A diagnosis of prostate cancer shook Tubbs to the core. A Vietnam War veteran, he had relied on veterans’ healthcare for more than 10 years. During that decade of doctor visits, Tubbs was told they were “watching” his PSA level for prostate cancer but never he paid much attention to it.

“In 2019, they told me that my PSA count had risen so high, they said level 10, and that I probably had prostate cancer,” Tubbs said. “They did their testing and it said I did have prostate cancer.” Tubbs did his research which brought him to OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center and to Dr. Cookson.

“At Stephenson they did an MRI and they said 'yep, there it is' and that it was isolated to the prostate. I asked for the safest and best course of action, and they told me that since it was just in my prostate, we can cure you with either surgery or radiation. Within two weeks, I’d already had my surgery.

“Dr. Cookson is the greatest doctor that ever lived. I could talk to him straight up. He’s right there with you through the whole thing. You feel comfortable when you talk to him…you feel OK. You don’t feel worrisome or think ‘I ain’t gonna make it,'” Tubbs reflected. In fact, he sings the praises of the whole staff at Stephenson. “They’re just a good group of people God put there for a reason. They’re really great.”

Loving Life and Spreading the Word

Not one to wallow, Tubbs labored in plants and factories his whole life, and faced his prostate cancer head on, “I never felt down, and I never suffered. I never had pain. The worst pain I had was after surgery and that was me trying to heal. It just takes time.”

Back home in Snyder, Oklahoma, Tubbs likes to sit at the local tire shop and talk with the guys. After he started opening up about having prostate cancer, he found out several of his acquaintances had been diagnosed, too – but they’d never said a word.

“Nobody talked about it – but I was open. I didn’t mind talking about it,” Tubbs said. “They said ‘man you look healthy’ and I said ‘I feel healthy.’ I can’t do all the things I used to do, but I feel great doing the things that I can do.”

During September, Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, take a cue from Connie Tubbs. Get a DRE if you’re over age 45. Get a PSA blood test if you’re between the ages of 50 and 70 years.

“I was smiling when I went in there and first met with the team at Stephenson Cancer Center and I’m still smiling every time I go back for my checkup. We’re just happy to see each other.”

Let's Talk

Watch more about Connie Tubbs 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.