So, yeah… cancer.

#hansleythuglife hasn’t posted in a while because this particular blog entry needed to be written and published. It took a while to process and share publicly. Here’s the story.

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Starting in Fall 2017, I started having random bone aches and pains. At the time, I chalked most of it up to getting older and having trained for and ridden my first double century ride in September 2017 at the MS150 in New Bern, NC (and on a slightly-too-small bike at that). I tried staying off my bike for a few months, then building and riding a bigger bike for a few months, to no avail. The bone and joint pain got ever-so-gradually worse. In early 2018, over a couple of months, I tried getting PT done and getting my bike refitted. It helped a little, but not completely.

On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend 2018, I had blood in my urine (ruh-roh… that’s not good). I already had an appointment scheduled with my primary care doc for the Tuesday after Memorial Day as follow-up from a tick bite and likely Lyme disease. I mentioned the blood-in-the-urine thing to him, he responded, “Well, that’s concerning,” and the lab tests commenced. Within two days, I had the lab results showing hugely elevated PSA (aka prostate-specific antigens, which are produced by prostate cancer cells), and another elevated lab result (alkaline phosphatase) that showed that there was likely bone involvement in what I had going on. A bone scan showed my bones lit up with metastatic prostate cancer.

My PSA is WHAT?!?

This led into a very dark weekend with some very bad Googling. We found some scary (and ultimately incorrect) survival statistics that freaked us out. Protip: Don’t google survival statistics when you just got diagnosed with cancer. Seriously, have you ever seen a grown man sobbing while watching the Tour de France?

The next week had me rolling in to get a prostate biopsy (seriously, ow) and my first visit with my oncologist at Duke. Since my cancer had escaped my prostate and spread to my bones in a few places before it was ever discovered, I skipped two of the common early treatment options that you typically hear about for prostate cancer: surgery and radiation. My best treatment option at this point, the oncologist said, was ADT (androgen deprivation therapy); it works by zeroing out all testosterone in the body, which is the primary driver of prostate cancer.  At that first oncology visit, I was offered two options: ADT plus chemo, and ADT plus another ADT drug that worked to further drop testosterone. Studies showed both courses were equally effective, so given that I wanted to continue training for my second double century ride in September 2018, I opted for the non-chemo option (chemo makes you tired).

The two ADT first-line meds – Degarelix and Zytiga – started that day, and amazingly enough, the bone symptoms began to clear within a couple of days. The darkness from the previous weekend began to lift as we learned that even for the advanced disease that I had, I’m not going to die as soon as we thought I was going to; I have years rather than months, as Google had implied. Like I said, don’t take what you find on Google as gospel – it’s often old or outdated info, especially on quick-moving areas like cancer research and treatment. It sank in pretty quick for us that I’d never be cured of this, but that it would be manageable for a good few years to come.

ADT, in addition to zeroing out testosterone, also knocks out estrogen; men and women have both, in different ratios. The only side effects I’ve had so far have been related to having no estrogen, and these show up looking like menopause. I had a few classic hot flashes early on (waking up drenched in sweat, etc.), but they’ve moderated a bit, so I’m down to a few warm surges a week. Even if it were the full menopause list of side effects, it’s not a bad exchange for stopping the cancer in its tracks.

In the few months since that first visit, we’ve settled down to this as the new normal. Day-to-day, if labs, imaging, and path results didn’t show I had cancer, I wouldn’t know. I have days where I’m nappish, but I’m pretty sure that’d be happening without cancer as well.

Out on the Kona Iron Man bike course

The diagnosis has its upsides in that we are now fulfilling our bucket list items. Susie and I skipped out of NC right before Hurricane Florence in mid-September and had a fantastic time in Hawaii. I’m still cycling like crazy: I did another 200mi in New Bern in early September, I had a fantastic 56mi ride in Kona, HI a couple of weeks later, and I’m putting in a few hours a week in the garage on my trainer with Sufferfest as my digital coach. Exercise helps mitigate the side effects of the meds and helps moderate energy levels, so at some level, I fully believe that my biking is keeping me alive. In short, I don’t feel like I’ve got cancer, so I’m living life as wide-open as I can manage.

Susie’s been a rockstar of a wife, medial researcher, and care coordinator. Her research got us into the ways of Dr. Snuffy Myers, and while I have no hard evidence to back this up, I think that the overlapping therapies that he advises will keep my current mainline therapy working longer, and therefore keep me alive longer. Susie’s been at my side for every doctor visit, has read and shared countless journal articles and web threads, and has been an unbelievably steadfast partner, helping us get the important things in place: wills, relevant powers of attorney paperwork, and some solid financial planning that got us to Hawaii and will be getting us to other bucket list destinations. The trite saying is, “I couldn’t have done it without her.” The truth is, while I’m fiercely independent and I tell myself that I could have maybe gotten by on my own, I know in my heart that doing that would have been sad and lonely and a bunch of hard work, and I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be as well taken care of as I am now. She’s mine, she loves me, and I, her, and I am truly fortunate to have her by my side.

Five months in, we’ve put most of the darkness behind us. Both of our jobs have been nothing but supportive in letting us have the time we need to take care of everything. Family has been awesome, as have the friends we’ve shared this with.

If you’re reading this for the first time, I know you’re having all the feels right now, and that’s good and normal. The truth is, we’d love to hang out with each and every one of you – coffee, dinner, drinks, axe throwing, stupid adventures in the woods, biking, Catan, you name it. You can see with your own eyes that I’m not wasting away and you can ask all the cancer questions you want, or we can talk about how awesome our two and four-legged kids are and avoid the big C topic altogether. The important thing is that we want to hang with y’all. Send us an invite. Let us know what works.

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Update: Be sure to read the followup to this, learn what I’m up to in Movember to help do something about prostate cancer at large, and what you can do to help! All this and more is here!

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11 thoughts on “So, yeah… cancer.”

  1. Sometimes life’s journey detours us on some unplanned paths but that isn’t to say those paths do not have beauty and meaning. Or that you will have to travel those alone.
    We would love to see you on Saturdays to ride if you could slow down a bit. And we are always up for talking about the kids, having a beer or just hanging out. Wish you could make it this Saturday but when you have a free weekend come over and we will have a do-over bonfire.

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  2. Bill and Susie my heart is right there with you. Carl and I have been on the cancer journey since 2014 when he was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. Chemo definitely changes the way you approach life as a patient and a caregiver. Life goes on and you find new and creative ways to cope. Since then we have sold a business, bought one house and sold another, enjoyed remission, took a few vacations. Spring 2017 he had a bothersome lump in his throat which turned out to be tonsil cancer and was treated with radiation that has left lingering side effects…another opportunity to learn new coping skills. Early 2018 brought relapse of MM, a new round of chemo with a new drug (not available in first bout of chemo) that had great results with few side effects. September was consumed with Stem cell transplant, seriously not fun for patient or caregiver. October has been a rocky recovery but recovery is happening. Even when “cure” is not considered to be achievable, the treatments do buy time. New drugs are in the pipeline, clinical trials are happening that you may contribute to or benefit from.

    You and Susie stay brave, stay strong and keep your optimism. Keep doing the things that inspire and renew your spirit. I am here if you need me.

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    1. Kathie, thanks for sharing with us about you and Carl. I had no idea you were walking this journey too. I hope his recovery continues. You’re right that there’s always new drugs and clinical trials – that keeps our hopes up as well! Love, Susie.

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  3. Oh geez, just reading this. I love how you’re approaching this, I love that you’re equal partners in this fight, and I know you’re doing everything you need to to kick this thing’s ass. Don’t forget to watch funny movies—laughter releases endorphins and cancer-fighting chemicals.

    Sending love and healing wishes to you and Susie.

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  4. you came to Toastmasters one day wearing a black tshirt and a blazer. when I told you you looked great you replied that your daughter said you looked like a bouncer. high praise from a young person. bill, you are a bouncer and will kick this cancer out of the club! thinking of you. jeb

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  5. Thank you so much for filling all of us in and expressing your feelings so beautifully. Life is to be lived, and you are setting such an inspiring example.
    Thanks again, and know that you two are dear to us.
    Susan and Pete

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  6. Bill, you’re a great writer! I’m glad you shared the news, but I’m awfully sorry to hear it of course. Cycling has been a huge help for me too–there’s nothing like it for keeping the body and mind in tune and on track. Glad to hear you’re racking up the miles! All the best to you and your family 🙂 (My kids still ask about Bonnie–their “favorite babysitter ever”!)

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