My wife, a PSA test, and a prostate cancer diagnosis - in that order

When Brian Hillis first began experiencing symptoms of the most common cancer in men, the oft-used expression that prostate cancer is a family’s disease could not have rung more true. Whereas spending so much time standing in the bathroom struggling to urinate in the middle of the night didn’t strike him as a cause for concern, his wife, June, on the other hand, heard the resulting silence as the sound of deafening alarm bells.

Met with the loyal defiance that is characteristic of true love, Brian was informed that his explanation of “Whatever. No big deal.” was not acceptable. In response, Brian recalls being told, “I really want you to go to the doctor because I don’t think this is normal.”

Having been handed his marching orders, Brian resolved to raise the issue at an upcoming physical he had scheduled with his doctor. After the physical had been completed, Brian’s doctor asked if there was anything he’d like to discuss before he left. Not the best at talking about his health, Brian summoned strength from having his wife in his corner and described the symptoms he had been experiencing.

His doctor hadn’t been alarmed up until then because his regular Digital Rectal Exams had always been normal.  Now armed with this new information, however, his doctor ordered Brian’s first ever PSA test at age 55.

When the results from the test came in, Brian’s PSA levels were slightly elevated. As a result, his doctor decided to monitor the situation more closely and follow up with a second PSA test shortly thereafter. When the second test came back slightly more elevated than the first, the decision was made to schedule an appointment with a urologist. 

Based on steadily increasing PSA levels, Brian’s urologist decided the appropriate course of action would now be to perform a biopsy. Like most men, the mere thought of a biopsy made Brian want to run for the hills. Four definitive words from his wife, however, put an end to any thoughts of attempting to escape the procedure. “You are doing it.”

After receiving confirmation of a prostate cancer diagnosis, Brian and his wife visited his doctor together to discuss their options. Faced with intermediate-risk prostate cancer, Brian’s doctor recommended one of two options: radiation therapy or complete removal of the prostate. Equipped with evidence-based knowledge from Prostate Cancer Canada’s wide selection of support resources, the decision to remove the prostate was made. As difficult a decision as it was due to the accompanying side-effects, Brian and his wife made the decision together. “We decided that we were going to go ahead with radical prostatectomy because she wanted me to be around for as long as possible.”

Although Brian and his wife found the cancer relatively early, it had escaped the prostate to a small extent. He has been given a 60 percent chance of recurrence, in which case he will have to undergo radiation therapy. It is for this reason that Brian has become a passionate advocate for early detection, including advising men to get a baseline reading at age 40. Speaking about their two sons, Brian said, “It’s now our job to make sure that they’re aware they are in a much higher risk category because there is a family history.” 

Well over two years later, Brian and his wife are both making the most out of their lives. While Brian’s PSA level remains virtually undetectable, he has not been declared completely cancer-free.  He still struggles with side-effects and the fear of recurrence, but he maintains a positive outlook on life, working hard and playing hard in equal measure. Having recently returned from a tropical trip with his beloved wife, he’s looking forward to spending the holiday season with the people who mean the world to him – his family.  

In addition to the importance of early detection, Brian wants to remind men about the importance of support networks and general awareness. 1 in 7 Canadian men will be diagnosed in their lifetime, making prostate cancer, not unlike breast cancer, a disease that affects us all. Be it a significant other, children, extended family, medical professionals, or a national patient advocacy organization like Prostate Cancer Canada, we are better positioned to face this terrible disease when we do so together. “Had it not been for my wife cluing in that I was trying to pee for quite a while and couldn’t, I would not have done anything about it and I may have been in much worse shape today.”

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