Colbert English: Participating in Clinical Research to Make a Difference
In August 2021, I moved to South Carolina from Arkansas. Due to my heart condition, one of the first things I needed to do was to find a cardiologist. But I had to see a general practitioner so I could get a referral to a cardiologist. At that initial visit, the GP informed me I had prostate cancer.
Unfortunately, because of issues with that health care network, it was extremely difficult for me to get an appointment with a specialist, receive care, or get answers regarding my cancer diagnosis. In June 2022, I was finally able to receive a referral to a urologist. However, to see the urologist, I would have had to cancel the plan I’d made to drive cross country to celebrate my 60th birthday. Upon returning from my trip in July 2022, I ended up going to the emergency room where more blood work was done, and the ER doctor confirmed that I had prostate cancer. I saw a urologist the following Tuesday. My daughter who was with me at that appointment told me she thought I’d been rather nonchalant upon hearing my diagnosis. Cancer has been in my family. My mother died of cancer when I was 12. My oldest sister died of breast cancer. An aunt died of cancer and an older brother beat prostate cancer, so I kind of expected the diagnosis.
What I wasn’t prepared for was to be told my treatment would be for the rest of my life, partially because of how long the prostate cancer went undiagnosed and untreated and partially because I couldn’t be put on the traditional treatment regimen because of the medication I take for my heart condition.
The gravity of the prognosis hit me about four days later and I cried like a baby for hours. After a good cry, I then got upset that even though regular blood tests had shown that my PSA levels were increasing, I hadn’t been specifically checked for prostate cancer. Nor had anyone talked to me about the risks of prostate cancer for a man of my age and ethnicity. I decided I needed to find out everything I could about this disease and what needed to be done.
My initial treatment was degarelix (Firmagon) injections. I still had questions about my diagnosis, and it was difficult to get my urologist to devote the time during my visits I needed to ask those questions. There was also a serious lack of communication with the urologist’s office. I was put on an additional treatment, Xtandi, after seven months of treatment with Firmagon, but no one from the office informed me about this change. I found out because the insurance company reached out to inform me, I received approval for the new medication.
Shortly after moving to Philadelphia in March 2023, I contacted Fox Chase Cancer Center to arrange to get a second opinion. When I went in for my appointment, my doctor was prepared, and I was finally able to get some questions answered. For instance, he definitively confirmed I had stage IV cancer. He also confirmed the urologist’s prognosis of my cancer being treatable but not curable. I’m happy neither of them bothered to give me an expiration date as I probably would’ve ignored them. I have reasons to live—specifically my daughter and my 11-year-old grandson in South Carolina and my son and my 3-year-old granddaughter here in Philadelphia.
Currently I am receiving two treatments, enzalutamide (Xtandi) and leuprolide (Lupron). The treatments are working. My last PSA test showed the values were essentially zero. However, I still hold on to the hope that one day I’ll be able to stop my treatments.
I would tell Congress to fund cancer research as if they were funding for their family members. I have been part of a clinical research study at Fox Chase Cancer Center. The researchers conducting the study ask me a series of questions every 90 days. They’re friendly, personable, and knowledgeable. They take the time to explain things to me, answer any questions I might have, but above all, they demonstrate that they really care. The research is aimed at better understanding prostate and other types of cancers and if they can find a cure or new treatments not just for people of color but all patients with cancer, I want to be a part of that. I want to make a difference so even if I help just one person, I will have done something and made a difference in that one individual’s life.