Me & Cancer

Pipestone Flyer Writer Tom Dirsa continues his journal of his ordeal with cancer

A few months ago we wrote a story about cancer. Since then several readers have asked how it was going so I thought an update was in order.

Well, after five weeks on hormone therapy for prostrate cancer, we began a series of radiation treatments in late February, which involved 25 trips into the Cross Cancer Centre, which concluded on March 26th with me ringing a bell, signifying the successful conclusion of treatment. Two weeks after our last session of radiation we returned to the Cross Cancer Center and underwent Brachytherapy. On April 7th we were injected with 59 low dose-rate (LDR) titanium radioactive seeds. We were surprised by the fact this was well below the average of 70 to 150 seeds normally implanted. Our doctor informed us that the hormone and radiation treatments had shrunken the cancer so less seeds were required. Later we discovered as few as 40 seeds have been used in treatment.

After a few days we noticed an increase in energy. What we discovered is that one doesn’t fully realize the affect of radiation until after the sessions end and your body begins to recover from being bombarded by radiation for five weeks.

Brachytherapy uses pellets (seeds) of radioactive material and are placed inside the prostrate by using thin needles, which are inserted through the skin directly into the prostate. The pellets are left in place as the needles are removed and give off low doses of radiation for weeks or months. The radiation from the seeds travel a very short distance, so the seeds can put out a large amount of radiation to a very small area. This lowers the amount of damage done to the healthy tissues that are close to the prostate. In our earlier article we described the difference between external radiation and Brachytherapy as the difference of using a shotgun versus a rifle. External radiation tends to scatter and often hits more than the prostrate whereas Brachytherapy, like a rifle, is very precise when it delivers radiation. Anaesthesia is used during the insertion of the seeds so there is no discomfort during the operation.

Because they are so small, the seeds generally remain within the prostrate, and they are simply left in place after their radioactive material is used up. Just a few days after having the seeds inserted we had few side affects and began to discover our energy levels returning to previous levels.

Even though the radiation doesn’t travel far, we were cautioned to stay away from pregnant women and small children for a couple of months. We joked in our previous article about not being able to bounce a baby on our lap as all our grandchildren were well beyond the baby bouncing years. Well, life has a way of throwing curves at you and the latest one was when one of our grandchildren gave us our first great-grandchild. We will have to wait a few more weeks before we can pick her up and bounce her on our knee, but we’re looking forward to it!

The other major change was when the hospital provided us with a blue card. This card is to be used every time we travel on a plane or cross the border. As the seeds are permanent and made of titanium, any medal detector will be set off any time we past through.

The first three months of 2015 had all the makings of a disaster; hormone therapy in January, radiation in February and March, and an April that began with the insertion of radioactive seeds. However during that same time life was good; we learned of the pending birth of our first great-grandchild, which occurred in early May, an eastern United States magazine accepted an article of ours for their June issue (regarding Father’s Day), we got to watch one of our grandsons compete at the Swoosh Tournament in Edmonton, and we booked a holiday in Hawaii for our 45th wedding anniversary.

Me and Cancer don’t intend to become buddies, but we have learned how to deal with it and are very thankful that we started the yearly check ups when we did. This journey has seen all the emotions that an individual can experience. Trepidation and concern, frustration and depression, joy and laughter, were just some of the feelings that transverse through our body while on this journey. We know our journey has miles yet to go, but it’s nice to come through a rough patch aware that we have learned valuable lessons making us stronger for the road that lies ahead.