Colonel Gary Steele: Paying It Forward by Participating in a Prostate Cancer Clinical Trial
I was 62 when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was detected after a routine test showed a rise in the level of PSA in my blood. Over the years, surgery, radiation, and treatment that I continue to take as a participant in a clinical trial have controlled my prostate cancer, and there has been no sign of the disease since December 2015. Two years later, however, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Today that cancer is also under control. I’m doing well, and I do what I can to pay it forward—participating in the clinical trial and talking to my family and friends about the importance of asking their doctors about prostate cancer screening.
It was 2011 when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had been having a routine PSA test as part of my annual checkup for several years, but this time, I received a call from the doctor a few days after my annual physical telling me there was a spike in my PSA level and that I needed to make an appointment with a urologist. The urologist recommended a prostate biopsy, which is how the cancer was found.
The oncologist discussed several options for treatment with me and my wife, Mona. After talking things over, we decided that I would have robotic surgery to remove the cancer. The surgery was a little more complicated than expected because the cancer had spread outside the capsule of the prostate, but it was successful. After about 10 days of discomfort, I went back to my normal life.
Following the surgery, my PSA level was checked every month and the numbers looked good for just over two years. During that time, and ever since, I have shared with family members and friends how my diagnosis came about, and I have encouraged them to talk about prostate cancer screening with their doctors. My brother listened and was diagnosed with prostate cancer about two years after me. His cancer was removed through surgery, and he’s been cancer free ever since.
Unfortunately, in late summer of 2013, my PSA level started to rise. The cancer had returned. I underwent a series of radiation treatments over the course of several months, but they did not stop the PSA level from rising higher.
At this point, one of the options for treatment was to participate in a clinical trial. I jumped at the chance. I wanted to be involved in something that could not only help me, but also could help other patients down the road. I participated in the trial for about a year. I left the trial when my PSA level began to go up again.
I then entered a second clinical trial, through which I am still being treated today. I take bicalutamide once a day and have intramuscular injections of leuprolide quarterly. In the first six months after starting this trial, my PSA level fell from about 6.2 to undetectable, and it has remained that way ever since.
Even after the PSA became undetectable, I never felt that I was completely free of prostate cancer. It was going to be my challenge in life to live with the disease. Then, just over a year later, another challenge arose—I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
I know that there is no cure for multiple myeloma, but surgery and the standard treatment are controlling the disease. Part of the treatment is a drug called lenalidomide (Revlimid). A close friend of Mona’s and mine participated in a clinical trial for this drug many years ago, and I am thankful to her and all the other people who participated in the trials that enabled me to have this drug as standard treatment.
Mona and I sometimes joke about my situation, saying, “Why have one type of cancer when you can have two?” But the reality is that I am blessed to be as healthy as I am; both cancers are under control. I know that cancer researchers and participants in clinical trials have given me this opportunity for life that others before me did not have.