Arland Hotchkiss - Patient Story

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"We felt the results would be negative given my age and lack of family history."

— Arland Hotchkiss, Prostate Patient

I never dreamed that working for the USDA Agricultural Research Service as a plant physiologist might save my life. However, as a federal employee, I had the benefit of annual physical exams. Since I turned 40, I have had an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, which helps doctors determine a man’s risk for prostate cancer. At the age of 50, with no family history of prostate cancer, I was never concerned about getting the results. However, in 2008, my levels reached an all-time high.

My PSA levels had typically been cyclical (1.2 to 1.8), but in January 2008, they were 2.4 and had doubled in a two-year period. On my doctor’s advice, I was tested again six months later. Although my PSA was still elevated (2.7), it was not alarming, but my urologist suggested I get a biopsy.

On my 25th wedding anniversary, I discussed the news with my wife Julia. We felt the results would be negative given my age and lack of family history. But we were wrong. After a two-week wait, we learned that my biopsy tested positive for the earliest stage of prostate cancer. We decided to get a second opinion.

I requested that my pathology slides be sent to Fox Chase Cancer Center, where pathologists with special expertise could review the results. I consulted with David Chen, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase, and Eric Horwitz, MD, a radiation oncologist at Fox Chase, to review my treatment options.

I was skeptical that I had cancer. I researched my Gleason score on the Internet and learned that my score of 6 typically indicates early-stage prostate cancer. I asked to meet with the pathologist, Harry Cooper, MD,  who reviewed the slides of the prostate biopsy with me using the multiheaded microscope. Once I saw it with my own eyes and had Dr. Cooper explain the significance of the immunolabeling to me, confirming it was cancer, I knew I had to have treatment.

I decided robotic surgery was the best option because of my age and because it was the least invasive treatment with minimal side effects. I didn’t feel the urgency to have surgery immediately. In the early fall, I was scheduled to present at a meeting in Canada and take my men’s tennis team to the national tournament in California. I wanted to do both of these things. Plus, I needed some time for my family and me to come to grips with the fact that I had cancer. I decided to have the surgery right before Thanksgiving so I could recuperate over the holidays.

In November 2009, Dr. Chen performed a da Vinci® robotic-assisted prostatectomy. I only had to stay one night in the hospital. The nurses were outstanding—from the operating room, to the post-anesthesia care unit, especially Beth Ellert, to the floor nurses. They were very attentive to my needs and gave me lots of personal attention.

Recovering at home, I walked around the neighborhood every day (even with the required urinary catheter and drainage bag) and was back on the tennis court in exactly two weeks. I felt good enough to go out and hit tennis balls. I went back to work part-time after three weeks and was back to work full-time in six weeks. I didn’t experience incontinence or impotence, which are temporary side effects that commonly occur after prostate surgery.

Less than two months after surgery, we made our annual trek to Iowa to celebrate Christmas with Julia’s family. The only difference is that we usually drive straight through, but this time, we decided to stay overnight to give me a rest. The bonus was that our 17-year-old daughter, Brett, shared the task of driving!

I still get regular follow-up blood PSA tests, but my family and I have been able to move on in our lives without the fear of prostate cancer. I’m now a proponent of early screening for prostate cancer. My 10-year history of PSA results, which were relatively low as far as cancer risk goes, provided my doctors with enough data to predict that I might have the earliest stage of prostate cancer detectable with a biopsy. My surgeon said I may not have experienced symptoms for another 10 years. At this time, I’m considered cured and will not require further treatment.

Julia and I were very happy with the results that robotic surgery provided. Because being physically active is so important to me, we were concerned it would take me a long time to return to my exercise routine and the activities I love, including running, working, playing tennis, and being a Scout leader. By having robotic surgery, I was able to return to my normal routine within a few weeks, which contributed greatly to my physical and emotional recovery. I felt lucky to have been at a facility that was so attentive to my needs.

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