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How the Wives of our Prostate Patients Helped Make Treatment Decisions

How the Wives of our Prostate Patients Helped Make Treatment Decisions

We want to give a shout-out to the caregivers who helped their loved ones become cancer survivors! Patients greatly benefit from the support and care of their friends and family when first diagnosed with cancer, all the way through their treatment. Furthermore, we’ve found that wives are often instrumental in ensuring their husbands find the best treatment options, get to their appointments, and follow their physician’s guidance fully. Here are the stories and advice of three dedicated wives who helped their husbands when they were diagnosed with prostate cancer. We’re thrilled to showcase the couples in our latest marketing campaign, as well.

When Sandi first heard that her husband, Brian, had prostate cancer, she went into silent panic mode because a friend's husband had died of the disease.

"You go through about 72 reactions in 30 seconds," she said. "But I decided right away that Brian wasn't going to die. I had a bout with cancer in 1979, and I decided that what I needed to do next was find the steps for the best outcome."

Sandi and Brian

For Wendy and Barry, the realization took somewhat longer. Wendy had been an oncology nurse for many years, and though Barry's PSA had slowly been inching up, she wasn't overly concerned. They were both in excellent health, and she figured, if anything, any cancer would be low grade. When they saw Steve Pool's story about his own treatment for prostate cancer at the Center on TV, she remembered to check Barry's most recent PSA results. They were high. When they got the news that it was aggressive prostate cancer, she couldn't take it in. She asked the urologist to repeat it three times!

Wendy and Barry

Kathy and Bill are both health care professionals, she a retired obstetrician-gynecologist, and he an anesthesiologist. So they knew how important it is to take care of your health. Still, it had been a few years since Bill's last PSA test, and when the diagnosis of prostate cancer came in, Kathy says, "My heart just dropped into my stomach."

Kathy and Bill

All three women sprang into action. They took over planning appointments and organizing travel. Sandi insisted Brian see a specialist at SCCA, and they met with Dr. Psutka, "who was fabulous," Sandi says. "She walked us through everything, was compassionate, and listened. We knew we were in good hands." Sandi pushed for additional tests that would tell if Brian's cancer had spread. It had not.

Wendy, too, wanted to get a second opinion through SCCA. She had worked for UW Medicine and Fred Hutch back when SCCA was first founded and knew they were excellent clinicians.

"I didn't even wait for Barry to have his first opinion with the urologist," says Wendy. "I got him scheduled for an appointment – virtually due to COVID – with Dr. Chen at the proton therapy center for the very next day." From the beginning, Wendy was impressed with the communication at the Center. "We almost always reached a live person who could help, and if we left a message, they called the same day. It made a huge difference to me."

The wives didn't want to unduly influence their husbands choice about treatment, but all three men decided on proton therapy. To Sandi, it was a surprise. "I thought he'd want surgery – one and done. But he worried about the potential side effects, including incontinence, and I thought that was entirely reasonable." He'd done research and spoken to a friend undergoing proton therapy in San Diego, which helped Brian understand the benefits of protons.

When Wendy asked Barry what he wanted to do, Barry unequivocally said "protons," which surprised her, but she felt the same way. Her son, who had been the "objective note-taker at the consults," agreed, telling Wendy he'd appreciated hearing Dr. Chen's options. 

Kathy thought it would be good to seek advice from their friends in the oncology space to learn about the latest technology available. They did a lot of research before they settled on proton therapy. "To me, proton therapy seemed like the best bet," she says.

They were all happy with their decisions.

"Brian has other ongoing health conditions," says Sandi. "The fewer things his body has to deal with, the better, so proton therapy made absolute sense." Kathy adds: "We'd made the right decision to come here. I feel very strongly about recommending it."

Because the couples all live away from Seattle – Whidbey Island, Sequim, and Olympia, there was a lot of travel involved. Sandi, Wendy, and Kathy all have advice about that. Sandi and Brian elected to stay at a hotel during the week.

"Make sure you let them know if you are staying for 30 days or more. It will make it a lot more affordable. Also, ask for a suite. Because cancer treatment can make the patient tired, it'll give you room to do things while they sleep."

Wendy and Barry tried staying in their camper at their son's house in Kirkland at first but then opted to make the trip from Sequim daily.

"Find help for yourself, too," she says. "Three times a week, I took the trip with Barry, but once a week, my son picked him up from the ferry, and another day his sister did. This allowed me some time to care for myself, so I could better support him."

Kathy and Bill, who traveled up every day from Olympia, took turns driving. It allowed Bill to get some rest on the way. "There are a lot of little things you can do to help with and brighten their day," she says.

Sandi agrees. She made a count-down calendar for Brian, crossing off the days when he finished with treatment. She also got him a t-shirt with a heartbeat line made of his family's names, so he would remember for whom he was doing this.

"And what I really want other caregivers to take away from this," says Wendy, "is to advocate and research until it feels right. At the Center, I didn't feel like the staff passed me off like a hot potato when we needed something. Also, I refused to 'wait and see' when Barry was first diagnosed. Instead, I asked for more tests. I got a second opinion. If we'd waited, we'd only be starting this process now. Maybe it would have been too late for Barry."

Now, all three men and their wives are doing well. Bill is back to his joking self and celebrating his children graduating from college and high school! Barry and Wendy just added a new dog to their family. And Brian and Sandi are planning for a month-long vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii.