My 'Cancer' Story

By BUBBY JOHNSTON,

Although several family members were diagnosed with cancer through the years, including my mother who lost her battle with lung cancer, I was still not prepared when I heard the words, “You have cancer.”

I was working at the time at East Central Community College in Decatur, when the call came to my cell phone from my urologist’s office about mid-morning in January 2014.

I still remember the conversation, as I walked away from my office to receive in private whatever news was to come.

“Good morning, Mr. Johnston. This is Dr. (Patrick) Daily’s office. How are you?” And I replied, “I don’t know…you tell me. Do I have cancer?” And she said calmly, “Well, sir…yes…you have cancer.”

I was stunned, to say the least…but was not totally surprised. I had a prostrate exam as part of a routine checkup by my internal medicine doctor, Dr. Ralph Sulser, a few days earlier. After the exam, he informed me that he was concerned with the results and referred me to the urologist for additional tests.

A short time later, Dr. Daily conducted the prostate exam, he had the same concerns and stated biopsies were needed to determine the exact prognosis.

Ten biopsies were performed, and to our surprise cancer was discovered in nine. But there was more information to come…the cancer had spread to two lymph nodes.

As my urologist explained, removing the prostate was not an option for me, since doing so would not eradicate the cancer in the lymph nodes. The cancer would still be active.

So, I turned to the urologist and asked, “What can we do?”

He calmly replied, “Don’t worry, I have a plan.”

My wife Janet and I quickly replied, “Wonderful!”

His “plan” included radiation treatments and hormone therapy. I knew about radiation treatments but was not familiar with hormone therapy, and was a little hesitant to ask. I did so anyhow.

My urologist explained he would administered hormone shots as needed to slow down the growth and reduce the size of the cancer. After receiving my first hormone shot, I would later have 43 radiation treatments. It sounded like a good plan to me, and I thought treatments would begin immediately.

Well, I did receive my first hormone shot that day, but it took a while to begin the radiation treatments. As I learned, there is a “process” to prepare for radiation treatments, as those who have experienced such can testify. It just takes time to make sure everything was just right, especially the “aim” of the radiation equipment. They did not want to miss the target…and thank goodness the fine folks at the Hederman Cancer Center in Jackson had perfect aim! My radiation oncologist, Dr. Eric Balfour, and navigator Tonya Ball, were very caring and supportive throughout the process.

During this period, I must admit to reading as much as possible about prostate cancer. It seemed the more I read, the more concerned I became. I soon realized that much of the information was outdated and did not apply to me.

I also received phone calls from many prostate cancer patients, which was greatly appreciated. But as I soon learned, each case is different. What successfully works for one cancer patient, may or may not work for another.

However, it was my personal physician and classmate, Dr. Bill Lewis, who said the right words to calm my fears. Although I will refrain with relaying all he said (it was humorous but personal), the bottom line was I would more than likely leave this earth with prostate cancer and not because of it! My thoughts were all positive after our conversation!

For 43 days I traveled from Forest to Jackson to receive radiation treatments and returned to ECCC to work afternoons. Most of those days I provided transportation for a Forest friend who was receiving radiation for lung cancer.

When the final radiation treatment was administered, I rejoiced by “ringing the bell” at the Cancer Center. It was a joyous day…even though we did not know how effective were the first hormone shot and radiation treatments.

To those who understand the significance of the PSA in determining prostate cancer, when I was diagnosed in January that year, my PSA was 19.9. Six months later, my PSA was undetectable! That day when the urologist gave us the good news, he admitted to being pleasantly surprised…but still gave me another hormone shot in hopes of continuing the great results.

Although I felt very confident about by medical “team,” I know that positive thoughts and especially prayers from family members, friends and complete strangers played a tremendous role in my successful treatment.

I will always be grateful to all who took time to think of me and wished me well with many prayers and get-well cards. I still recall receiving prayer cards from several churches signed by people I did not even know but who obviously cared about me and my health.

My staff and colleagues at ECCC were also very supportive and understanding, which played a vital role in limiting my stress level, to say the least!

And Janet was my “rock” throughout the process, and continues to be so in all that we do.

I also need to mention that for three years my PSA remained at 0 or below…but a slight increase in PSA about two years ago resulted in another round of scans, biopsies and hormone shots.

As of today, my PSA is again 0 or below and my health is good. My checkups with the urologist are now every six months instead of every three months.

At my previous checkup, my urologist really made my day by stating, “Bubby, don’t you ever worry about your prostate cancer when you go to bed at night. Medical technology improves every day.”

Even with the most up-to-date medical technology and treatments, prayers should always be welcome and appreciated.

As Dr. Sulser - the person who first suspected my prostate cancer - told me at my last checkup, “It is miraculous about your cancer…you obviously received a lot of prayer support. And whatever it is you are doing each day…keep doing it!”

And I know that it is not about me…it’s about the Good Lord above and all the prayers and positive thoughts that keep coming my way from family and many friends.

Yes, I am blessed…very blessed!

A message to my fellow “seasoned” adult males: if you have not had a prostate exam, now is the time to have it done. Early detection is the key to successful treatment!

For more information, please feel free to contact me, at bubbyj@bellsouth.net, or 601-481-5493.

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“Striking the gong” was a happy occasion and signified the completion of radiation treatments at the Hederman Cancer Center in Jackson.