Denver Bar Association
July 2000
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In Treatment and Beyond

by David Erickson

Docket writer shocked to hear his diagnosis.

The first inkling that something was amiss was when my internist called to say that I had an elevated PSA.

PSA, an acronym for prostate specific antigen, is a blood test measurement of protein secreted by the prostate gland. It can be an indication of a medical problem. He told me to arrange for another test and I did a month later. The doctor called shortly thereafter to say that the PSA was further elevated and more tests were needed.

Over the next few weeks I received physical exams, a CT scan, ultrasound analysises, biopsies and a gamma ray bone scan. In February, a diagnosis was made--I had a high-grade prostate cancer.

The diagnosis was not a surprise. It was more of a shock. I had no symptoms and my physical exams appeared normal. I had low blood pressure and cholesterol, and a seemingly good heart. I didn't smoke and was not overweight. It had never seriously occurred to me that I'd be diagnosed with cancer. After all, I've got relatively good genes with some long-lived relatives. I eat well and didn't grow up with pesticides or next to a chemical dump. Like most guys, I always assumed that I'd die of a heart attack or a stroke--hopefully not while toiling at the office late one night. That's what happens to guys. That's how we die.

After preliminary meetings with my doctors and a presentation of worst case scenarios, my first reaction was that I was certainly a dead man. The obvious course, therefore, was to acquire a golden retriever--one of those great, lovable, gentle and not-so-smart companions--and spend my numbered days walking on the splendid mountain where I live. Evenings, I'd sit in front of the fire sipping wine and talking with my wife about what a great life we've had together.

'My cancer is high grade, which means aggressive. It has to be treated. There is no choice.'

However, after a few days, rationality began to set in and it became apparent that no matter how bad the prognosis, nothing was going to happen immediately. I therefore began making calls to family and friends informing them of the situation. I also checked the Internet and was able to find extensive materials on the condition and treatments. Friends offered me pertinent books and articles to read.

I've been deeply touched by the response. I've received many calls over the last few months, often starting with that wonderful opening question: "David! I was just calling to see how you're doing?" Several attorneys and physicians also freely shared their personal experiences with the disease, for which I'll remain deeply indebted.

After much investigation and introspection, there appeared to be only two possible courses of treatment--surgery or radiation. Although research is being done on the causes of the disease and treatments, a number of promising treatments--such as with new medications--are still experimental and have not been fully tested. For those people with lower grade cancers, a wait-and-see approach is sometimes taken--particularly if you are older and likely to die of something else. I chose a radiation treatment.

My cancer is high grade, which means aggressive. It has to be treated. There is no choice. That is the bad side. The good side, is that it appears to have been caught early. It was diagnosed because a blood test was developed that allowed for early diagnosis. Ten or 15 years ago it most likely wouldn't have been diagnosed this early. There is a lot of research currently being done on the disease. I know it won't be very long before the causes are discovered and non-invasive cures devised. In the meantime, though, we have to get treated with what's available. I feel I am receiving the best possible treatment available at this time. I also have excellent and attentive doctors.

I've finished five weeks of radiation. Toward the end I was ill and tired but am now feeling better daily. I have a month off before more treatment. I'm optimistic about the outcome. The doctors told me up-front, however, that "Something could be floating around in there. We just don't know." I know I'll be having periodic checkups for years. There are never guarantees.

A diagnosis such as this has a way of making you focus on what is most important in your life. Some matters that I considered aggravations before the diagnosis, became immaterial afterward. What is most important are my wife and children, and my extended family and friends--my relationships with them and their feelings toward me. I feel I am most fortunate. On reflection, I have to say that life is better.

I've always enjoyed the practice of law. Not everyone has the opportunity to do the work they love. I continue my law practice with some time outs during treatment. Vacations are also an important part of my life--perhaps Indonesia in the Fall.

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