Aging Parents

A few nights ago, Tim and I were having a heart-to-heart about the fact that I never got to meet his father. Jerry Kirksey died almost a decade ago from Lymphoma. He was a well-loved man in his community (former mayor of Preston,) and apparently a jovial father. A super health nut that ended up losing a battle to his biggest foe – Cancer.

I told Tim that I felt like I would never truly know what I needed to know about him because I never met his father. He looked at me a little funny as I went on to explain that meeting a man’s father says a lot about the man he would one day become.

I have heard many stories about Mr. Kirksey- he was a scientist (plant pathologist,) a farmer, and an avid hiker. He made lots of silly jokes and had a very distinctive laugh. He was loved and respected by everyone.

I’ve never heard his laugh or his voice. I don’t know his mannerisms nor have I been the recipient of his sage advice. This is what happens when a father is gone too soon and the memories of him are shared with loved ones. These memories are all I have to piece together the type of man he was.

We chatted about the pain of losing a parent, something, thank goodness, I have not had to deal with. We also talked about what it is like to take care of a sick parent – something else I have not had to deal with.

Yet.

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My dad.

I called my niece last night to let her know that we would be driving through Gray on Saturday and we wanted to see her. Plus, we wanted to see my father, mainly because it will be his 73rd birthday. As she and I were chatting, my mom grabs the phone and leaves the room and begins to word vomit some not-so-great news. Dad’s PSA test came back bad. This is the 3rd one he has had recently and the numbers have tripled.

We are talking Prostate Cancer.

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Here is what we know: Some types of prostate cancer grow slowly. In some of these cases, monitoring is recommended. Other types are aggressive and require radiation, surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or other treatments. Looks like he is heading toward surgery. The doctor said it is best to tackle this quickly, considering his age, health status, etc.

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After his upcoming biopsy, we will know how far along and what we are dealing with.

I say we… I’m down here. He’s up there.

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I’m not sure what to think of all of this. I’m not sure I am ready to even consider what this could do. I know early detection is key.

If you happen to be a guy, make sure you get your prostate checked. If you love a guy, talk to him about screenings available to them and to know troubling symptoms. 

You can have no symptoms, but many people experience:

Pain areas: in the bones
Urinary: difficulty starting and maintaining a steady stream of urine, dribbling of urine, excessive urination at night, frequent urination, urge to urinate and leaking, urinary retention, or weak urinary stream

Here I am thinking…. what is causing all of this? Find the root and we can tackle the issue. According to the Mayo Clinic, unfortunately it is hard to determine what causes it. Doctors know that prostate cancer begins when some cells in your prostate become abnormal. Mutations in the abnormal cells’ DNA cause the cells to grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells do. The abnormal cells continue living, when other cells would die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor that can grow to invade nearby tissue. Some abnormal cells can also break off and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

There are certain factors that can increase your risk of prostate cancer include:

Age  – Your risk of prostate cancer increases as you age.
Race  – For reasons not yet determined, black men carry a greater risk of prostate cancer than do men of other races. In black men, prostate cancer is also more likely to be aggressive or advanced.
Family history – If men in your family have had prostate cancer, your risk may be increased. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher.
Obesity – Obese men diagnosed with prostate cancer may be more likely to have advanced disease that’s more difficult to treat.

So for my Dad,  what is worst case scenario? According to the Mayo Clinic:

Cancer that spreads (metastasizes) – Prostate cancer can spread to nearby organs, such as your bladder, or travel through your bloodstream or lymphatic system to your bones or other organs. Prostate cancer that spreads to the bones can cause pain and broken bones. Once prostate cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it may still respond to treatment and may be controlled, but it’s unlikely to be cured.
Incontinence – Both prostate cancer and its treatment can cause urinary incontinence. Treatment for incontinence depends on the type you have, how severe it is and the likelihood it will improve over time. Treatment options may include medications, catheters and surgery.
Erectile dysfunction – Erectile dysfunction can result from prostate cancer or its treatment, including surgery, radiation or hormone treatments. Medications, vacuum devices that assist in achieving erection and surgery are available to treat erectile dysfunction.

Where we are now is figuring out exactly what we are dealing with. When a biopsy confirms the presence of cancer, the next step is to determine the level of aggressiveness (grade) of the cancer cells. A laboratory pathologist examines a sample of the cancer to determine how much cancer cells differ from the healthy cells. A higher grade indicates a more aggressive cancer that is more likely to spread quickly.

The most common scale used to evaluate the grade of prostate cancer cells is called a Gleason score. Gleason scoring combines two numbers and can range from 2 (nonaggressive cancer) to 10 (very aggressive cancer).  In addition, genomic testing in increasingly being used to more accurately assess risk and detect aggressive prostate cancer.

We have the facts, now we need to know what level we are dealing with. Once we get past this part, we will deal with the rest.

Again, I said we. I am down here. He is up there.

This makes all of this even harder.

I’m a fixer, and I can’t fix this, nor is geography or time in my favor.

All I can do right now is ask for your prayers. Please place my father, Jack Thurston, on your prayer list. He’s my Dad. His birthday is Saturday and he will be 73. I want him to have the strength and courage to face what is to come.

Until next time…

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