A Survivor’s Tale: Plotting Against Prostate Cancer

Looking back on the time he spent tracking his Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) levels, Jon Picken joked that he wished his corporate balance sheet had followed the same upward trend.

But although monitoring the change in his own PSA levels helped lead Jon to the unwanted news of a prostate cancer diagnosis, it also helped him discover the disease in time to do something about it.

Jon began plotting his PSA readings on a graph in the late 1990s. After multiple readings at the same level, his PSA levels not only began to increase, but did so at an accelerated rate – 2.06 in 2007; 3.05 by February of 2010; 3.69 by November of 2010; and 3.96 by January of 2011.  
So while he remained within a normal PSA range for a man of 68, Jon’s proactive approach to his own health brought to bear important insights that helped him and his doctor decide it was time to call in a urologist.

Having never encountered a man who tracked his own PSA so closely, Urologist Dr. Rajiv Singal of Toronto East General Hospital agreed that Jon’s steadily increasing levels were cause to overlook the fact that he was within the normal range for his age, and schedule a biopsy. Upon completion of the biopsy and subsequent analysis, Dr. Singal invited Jon and his wife, Anne, to his office to discuss the results.

“You could have knocked me over when he told me that I had prostate cancer,” recalled Jon of his initial reaction to the diagnosis.  He had experienced none of the usual physical symptoms associated with the onset of age-related prostate concerns.  At his office, Dr. Singal took the time to fully explain the treatment options and the potential side effects.  In the end, Jon decided against taking any further risks and opted for the complete removal of his prostate.  “My nature is to be rather aggressive and proactive. We’ve been blessed with three wonderful children and six grandchildren, so let’s just get rid of it.”

Upon removal of his prostate, it had been determined that Jon’s cancer was, in fact, quite aggressive in nature. With the benefit of hindsight, Jon couldn’t help but retrace the events leading up to his prostatectomy and wonder what might have been, had he not charted his PSA levels from the start.

Years after Jon plotted the first point on his graph, he summed up his tale with evident gratitude in his voice, emphasizing that all men can, and should, do a better job of proactively taking charge of their own health.  “A lot of men have the attitude that ‘It can’t happen to me!’, and are hesitant to communicate about health issues or even to have the testing.” Jon was quick to add, however, that that he has noticed vast improvements in this regard, crediting the tireless efforts of Prostate Cancer Canada.  “I think more than anything else Prostate Cancer Canada has brought awareness to prostate cancer and has helped men become a little more open about it, to talk among themselves, and to get tested.”

Today, in addition to taking part in a number of prostate cancer fundraising and awareness initiatives, Jon continues to allocate his most cherished resource – time – to his treasured family, inching ever-so-close to his 50th with Anne, he lovingly quips, “Poor woman!” 


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