An afterthought saved his life

Robert Pullan was 62 in 2015 and in the best condition he had been for years. He had recently started taking better care of his health and as part of that, he went for a physical examination with a new family doctor in Toronto. The exam had gone well and the results of his bloodwork were good. He was about to leave.

“At the very last moment, as I was walking out the door, my doctor asked if I had had a PSA test. I knew what it was, but I hadn’t had one in maybe five, six or even seven years,” he says.

So his doctor gave him a new requisition for a PSA test – which had not been part of the original bloodwork.

Since the test isn’t funded by the public system in Ontario, he had to pay. He says: “It bothered me that something like this, not even so much for me, but for so many other people – for whatever the reason is – that $30 is a big deal. And the last thing would be to discourage people for financial reasons. If it was me, I’d do everything I could to encourage them. And if they can’t afford it – make sure it’s available regardless.”

Two weeks after going to the lab, his doctor’s office called. Robert received news nobody wants to hear. He needed to see a specialist as soon as possible.

Prostate Cancer Canada is leading a campaign to have the Ontario government fund the PSA test in its 2019/20 budget. At psatestsforontario.ca, Ontario residents can send a message to their Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) letting them know of their support for PSA test funding.

And so began his prostate cancer journey – months of doctors’ appointments, MRI and other scans, medications and a multitude of treatments and hospital visits.

After seeing two specialists, he took antibiotics for a month to see if his PSA level would come down. It didn’t – it stayed at the same high level of 35 – a level of 3 or higher is when doctors are encouraged to monitor or do other tests.
 
Robert and his partner Helen in September 2015,
before starting his prostate cancer treatment
He had a biopsy in June 2015. A number of samples showed aggressive cancer that was near the point of spreading outside the prostate.

Next came discussions with various doctors. The surgeon said it was too late to remove the prostate safely. Robert agreed to a treatment plan starting with brachytherapy in late summer – a one-time procedure using needles to deliver high-dose rate radiation directly to the cancer. Following that, he had five weeks of Monday to Friday external beam radiation - delivered through x-rays from outside his body.

In October, he started 15 months of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) – injections every three months to eliminate male hormones like testosterone that prostate cancer feeds on to grow.

Four years since his diagnosis, he’s healthy. He had to deal with treatment side effects like urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction from the radiation, which improved over time. The side effects from the ADT included hot flashes, night sweats and weight gain. These dissipated once that treatment stopped. He currently feels completely back to normal.
Robert and Helen in September 2018


What kept Robert going through the ups and downs of his journey was his Christian faith that let him stay at peace with what was happening. He was also driven to get as much information as possible. He recognizes how fortunate he was to receive excellent care at every step of the way.

Today, Robert has limited his workload, working mainly as a driver – both paid and as a volunteer for charities.

Currently, the cost of a PSA test when ordered by a doctor to help detect prostate cancer is covered in all provinces except British Columbia and Ontario. Prostate Cancer Canada wants to change this because, when detected early, survival is close to 100 per cent. Nearly three in four men will die if caught late.

In early 2018, Robert returned to his family physician to thank him for ordering the test that saved his life. His doctor told him that if he hadn’t taken the test, most likely they would not be having their conversation.

 

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Add your voice to our call for Ontario to fund this quick, simple and potentially life-saving test. Go to www.psatestsforontario.ca to send a message to your MPP to tell the government to fund the PSA test!
Posted: 2019-04-07 12:03:11 PM


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