Prostate Cancer Survivor
- Diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 68
- Cured with surgery and radiation therapy
- Recurrence after three years treated with hormone therapy in a clinical trial
John Booth has lived in Seattle for a long time. His successful career at Boeing allowed him and his wife to buy their dream home overlooking Shilshole Bay in 1968. After retirement, the Booths volunteered at the local food bank and today they enjoy the company of their son and his wife, who live and work nearby, and of their many friends. Life has been good, with the exception of his cancer diagnosis in 1991.
“I was chased to the doctor by my wife,” John says, who was 68 years old at the time. “I hadn’t gone to the doctor for several years. If I had waited another year, I probably wouldn’t be around now. After I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I learned to enjoy life.”
John’s cancer was caught in the early stages and could be treated with surgery.
“He then had radiation therapy and his cancer was in remission for about three years,” says Dr. James Dean at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “Unfortunately, he was not caught early enough because his PSA began to rise at that point, indicating the cancer had come back. He started hormone therapy three years after that, and was on intermittent hormone therapy for nine years, until the hormones stopped working. Other hormone treatments were tried, but only worked for a short time. This is the point at which he started on the Provenge clinical trial.
“I really wanted to help others and was glad when I was accepted onto the trial,” John says. But he doesn’t know if he received a placebo or the real drug, but he appears to have been in remission since his last treatment in August 2007.
“If I get a new metastasis, then either I was on the placebo or the treatment has failed for me, and I’ll get chemotherapy,” John says. “There is no cure for advanced prostate cancer. However, if the disease is caught soon enough there are now treatments available that avoid surgery and will greatly reduce the possibility that the disease will be fatal. In such cases, a man is most likely to die with the cancer, and not of it.”
But, if the Provenge does work for him, John says his doctor doesn’t know how long it will keep working.
“John completed the initial treatment protocol in August 2007,” Dr. Dean says. “If he got the placebo, then he will be eligible to get the active treatment when his disease progresses. If he got the active therapy, then we'll be looking at other options to treat his cancer when his disease progresses.”
“In some people it’s been two years since they were treated and their disease has not progressed,” John says.
As of 2008, Provenge hasn’t yet been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration; John is pleased that he is part of the database being built to get this treatment approved.
“Cancer makes you more aware of the world around you, and gives you more sympathy for others who are sick or having trouble,” John says; his wife has lung cancer, too. “It hasn’t slowed us down. We enjoy our friends and family and have worked at the local food bank for five years – a marvelous experience.
“We try not to let this [cancer] change our lives much, but to be more focused on what we love and we don’t find it too difficult, not yet,” he says.
In great health otherwise, especially for being 84 years old, John says he’s feeling no pain. “So we’ll go with it,” he says. “How I will react if I find I have exhausted all treatment options, and the disease continues to progress, I just don’t know. We will face that when we get to it.”
If there’s one big message that John hopes to share with others, it is that men need to be proactive and take care of themselves, and, especially after turning 50, it is imperative to get to a doctor for annual check-ups.
“Men tend not to go to doctors, and that’s dumb,” he says. “No question about it. It makes the difference between catching cancer early and dying with it at an old age, and not dying of it.”
Dr. Dean says that surgery is still one of the (if not the) best options to cure men of prostate cancer. “Surgery, external beam radiation, and brachytherapy or ‘radiation seed implants’ are the three safe, effective, proven methods of cure. With the passage of time since John's therapy, the ability to achieve cure and minimize side effects has certainly improved substantially,” he says.
“If I had waited one year later to get a check-up, I wouldn’t be here today,” John says. “By the time you get the warning signs, it’s most likely that the easy fixes that are now available won’t be an option for you.”