It has been six months since my radical prostatectomy following my prostate cancer diagnosis at the age of 43. Prior to my diagnosis, I was not symptomatic and had no family history of prostate cancer. In fact, I was training for the Austin Marathon and in peak physical condition.
I found out that I was at risk for prostate cancer following a consultation for testosterone therapy. I later learned that testosterone can be a fuel for cancer so it is not uncommon for clinics to tests PSA levels prior to a consultation. (PSA is a prostate-specific antigen that measures the risk of prostate cancer.) Most doctors consider 2.5 or below a normal range for men 50 and younger. I was registering a 10.
It’s also important to know that most doctors do not test PSA levels until the age of 50, which in my case would have been much too late. Knowing now that testing your PSA level is a simple blood test that can be added to your annual physical, I strongly encourage men of all ages to know their risk for prostate cancer.
It has not been an easy road these past six months but I have had time to reflect on what I have learned.
First, I was determined to not allow my cancer diagnosis define me. After receiving my biopsy results in December 2017, I decided to have my prostate removed. With the size of the cancer, and my PSA level increasing to a 13, the doctor recommended surgery within a month. I decided to push surgery back a few weeks and have my prostate removed on February 21, just three days after completing the Austin Marathon. Back in 2011, the Austin Marathon had been my very first marathon, and I wanted to run it at least one more time. My goal was to beat cancer and return for the 2019 Austin Marathon. I could not think of a better way to bookend my battle with prostate cancer.
I completed the marathon and went through surgery as planned. The weeks that followed were a true test of body and spirit. At times I found myself battling depression and wondering if my life would forever be divided into before and after cancer. I started my road to recovery small, with walks around the block. As soon as I was cleared by my doctor, I started running again. Feeling good about my progress, I signed up for a 10k in April of this year.
“On the day of the race I did not feel so confident. I was preoccupied with all the things that had changed with my body.”
On the day of the race I did not feel so confident. I was preoccupied with all the things that had changed with my body. I had to stop at almost every port-a-potty, I was uncomfortable running in an adult diaper, and I felt sharp pains in my hips after the first mile. I was at my lowest point in the race, and questioning if I could even finish, when I saw a friend walking the course. She walked with me the remaining few miles and we finished the race together. I knew in that moment that—with the help of my doctors, friends, and family—I would find my way back.
After that 10k in April, I took a few days off to recover and refocus on what I wanted from my cancer experience. I knew early in my diagnosis that cancer would not define me so, on February 17th 2019, I will run the Austin Marathon to celebrate my one-year prostate removal anniversary. I hope that my story can inspire others battling cancer to keep fighting and raise awareness for the need for early PSA testing.
Chris Hartley was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 43. An avid runner, Hartley plans on participating in the 2019 Austin Marathon which is one year after his radical prostatectomy. He hopes to raise awareness of the benefits to early PSA testing. He lives in Cedar Park, Texas with his husband and two children. Cover photo of the family on vacation courtesy Chris Hartley