In honor of Men's Health Month, we at ThirdAge bring you the uplifting chronicle of a family that has been given the gift of more time with a cherished father and grandfather who was stricken with a potentially deadly disease.
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Father's Day 2012 will see Tim Daugherty right where he belongs as King of the Grill for a backyard barbeque with his loved ones in his hometown of Florence, Oregon. Two years ago, after an unexpected and frightening diagnosis during a routine medical exam, he wasn't sure he'd be around much longer to enjoy the simple pleasures of life with his wife of over 30 years, their three grown children, and their two grandchildren.
"I was 52 and Debbie told the doctor I'd never had the tests you're supposed to have when you turn 50," says Tim, a fifth grade teacher. "So I had a PSA test. I had no symptoms and I felt fine. I was shocked when the results came back. My level was really high and we eventually found out that the prostate cancer had already metastasized."
Debbie, two years younger than Tim and a secretary at the local high school, is an inveterate researcher. She learned everything she could about Tim's disease and his chances for survival.
"We got married when he was 20 and I was 18," she says, but with strength rather than a quiver in her voice. "I was going to do everything I could to get him the best treatments possible and take part in his care."
Tim turned out to have "castration-resistant" cancer, a phrase that Daniel George, MD, the Director of Genitourinary Oncology and Duke University Medical Center, calls "an unfortunate term." "Years ago, we actually did do that operation," says Dr. George, who is also an assistant professor of medicine and surgery at the center. "Now, though, we use hormonal treatments to lower the testosterone levels – so that's 'hormonal castration' but it sounds terrible, I know."
The trouble, however, is that some advanced cancers "resist" the hormonal castration and the disease progresses anyway. That's what happened to Tim, which was doubly frustrating since the hormonal treatments are no picnic.
"He was put on Lupron," Debbie says. "It's the same drug they give some women who have fibroids and it throws you into a menopausal-like state. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, the whole bit."
"I don't think I had mood swings," Tim puts in.
"Yes, you did," Debbie counters with a laugh. "We women are used to mood swings. I know from mood swings."
She gathers her thoughts, and continues. "So then we found out about a breakthrough treatment option that uses the patient's own immune cells. You go to a collection center, then you go for infusions."
"It's called Provenge and it's FDA approved," adds Dr. George. "However, each potential Provenge patient has to meet three criteria: The cancer has to have metastasized, the disease must be resistant to hormonal castration, and the patient must be asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic."
Tim fit that profile perfectly. He began his treatments in March of 2012 and continued them through May. His PSA is still rising somewhat, but the increases are getting smaller.
"I feel great!" he says. "I bike to school and back every day and I take long bike rides on the weekends."
"His quality of life really hasn't been compromised at all," Debbie says. "Actually, we've been lucky all along on that score. Back when he had his surgery, they used a nerve-sparing technique so he hasn't had urinary problems."
"I might have a little leak once in a while if I cough or laugh," Tim says. "But basically, I'm fine."
"And we still have a sex life," Debbie says. "It's not quite the same as it was, but he doesn't need pills and he doesn't need a pump. Most important though, he's here with us. The Provenge bought us time."
"That's the goal of the Provenge treatment," Dr. George says. "We now have a way to prolong a patient's life – and the treatment is not debilitating so the bonus years are well worth living."
"My granddaughter is 4 and my grandson is 7," Tim says. "I want to stick around and watch them grow up. With Provenge, there's a chance I could do exactly that."
"He just might," Debbie says. "Along with the finest medical treatment available, we have tremendous support from our church and our family and friends. That counts for a lot."
But for now, Tim is just reveling in the moment and getting ready for that Father's Day barbeque. The weather on Sunday in Florence, Oregon promises to be sun-kissed and warm – perfect for a celebration of the blessings of love and laughter and kinship with the woman who was his high school sweetheart, and the offspring that truly are their pride and joy. Tim says he'll never take any of that for granted again.
For more about Provenge, click here: http://www.provenge.com/advanced-prostate-cancer-therapy.aspx