En Espoñal

I FIRST GOT THE NEWS

I will never forget the news I received on the morning of Saturday, September 17, 2011, but will never remember the words that followed. That was the day I was informed of my prostate cancer, but like so many other men, my mind was in such a fog, I did not hear numbers, options or instructions after that. One of the driving factors in the creation of the Derrick Hall Pro-State Foundation is the need for clarity, treatments, testimonials and resources for men who have learned of and been devastated by their diagnosis.

My diagnosis came as a surprise and an accident. I was extremely fortunate to have caught it, in all actuality. I had certainly not planned on having a test because I was only 42 years of age and had always heard screening is necessary after reaching 50. But I had been visiting regularly with my cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic as we monitored and medicated blood pressure and cholesterol levels. I spoke with him after lab work in late August as he shared the good news of improving numbers related to the heart. He then informed me that although he had never asked for PSA levels to be drawn in the past for any of his patients, something made him do so in my case. And after seeing the results, he was concerned about my PSA level and recommended I go see the Mayo urology team immediately. Dr. Todd Hurst saved my life.

So my wife Amy and I went to visit with the specialists at Mayo. We were terrified and uneducated on the subject matter. All we knew was what we had read on-line since the phone call. An assistant first came in and gave me a digital exam. Amy and I both remember her saying that the prostate felt smooth, and that that was a good sign, but that the doctor would be in shortly. But when the urologist met with us, he recommended scheduling a biopsy within the next few weeks to be on the safe side.

BEING TESTED

Fast forward to that needle biopsy, which is an event that will put any man’s pride and humility to test. I had to substitute having lunch with giving myself my first ever enema. After proper “evacuation,” as the instructions on the back of the box reference, it was off to merely 15 minutes of high anxiety. Leaning over a padded medical bed, undressed and on my knees, the procedure felt like an eternity. An ultrasound probe was inserted through the rectum to find the prostate for a sampling of 12 needle biopsies. I never even saw the doctor nor his nurses. I just cleaned up, got dressed, and met Amy in the waiting room. Though she had planned on driving home, I told her I was pain-free and would rather do the driving.

Looking back now, I can see why men find the process discomforting and even embarrassing, but there is nothing to fear – especially not pain. The side effects are rather shocking and graphic, however. For a few days, blood appears in the urine and bowels, as well as in the semen for up to six weeks. The maroon color and appearance can be frightening.

Now it was time to play the waiting game. This biopsy was performed on Wednesday, September 14, and the doctor was kind to offer calling my cell phone as soon as he had the results, even if it was on a weekend. I was having difficulty waiting, so Amy and I decided it would be best for me to join the team in San Diego, as I had previously planned to do.

FINDING OUT

That brings us back to that Saturday, September 17, 2011 morning. I was enjoying a breakfast with Diamondbacks’ closer J.J. Putz at a restaurant a few blocks from our team hotel when my phone rang with a number I did not recognize. Knowing it could be my doctor, I excused myself and went outside to answer. It was indeed my urologist, and it was indeed the bad news we had feared. I clearly recall him relaying a Gleason score of six and informing me that I had prostate cancer and was probably lucky to have detected it early. Other than him telling me I needed to come in to discuss options, I remember nothing else from the call as my body felt numb. J.J. could tell something was wrong when I returned to our table, so he was the first I shared the news with. It was an emotional moment for both of us as he gave me a hug and told me to leave and call my wife.

SHARING THE NEWS

I did just that, as Amy and I wept on the phone for what felt like a 10-mile walk back to the hotel. We both agreed to share with the kids over dinner when I returned home the next night. But I did want to share with my employees immediately, because we pride ourselves in being an open book, and I knew Amy would not mind. So while at a somber lunch with my Executive Vice President of Business Operations Cullen Maxey, I quickly typed a message on my phone and showed him before sending. Cullen, who was his normal supportive self, read it and simply replied, “Wow.”

The e-mail I sent read as follows:

Dear Team:

I recently had a PSA test that came back with a bit of concern. I was instructed to undergo a prostate biopsy, which was uncomfortable but necessary. That was Wednesday, and I was told I could learn the results as early as yesterday.

This morning I left the team hotel in San Diego to grab a late breakfast. While there, my doctor called and said he had results. I stepped outside to hear that I have prostate cancer. Needless to say, I was in a state of shock, lost, and too shaky to dial my wife's number.

Why would I share with you all so openly? Because I share everything with you, my family. And you will help me and my beautiful immediate family get through this. I will win! Survival rate is high, and I will be an "add on" to the statistics.

Before I schedule a date for surgery we have business to take care of! I love this team and I love all of you.

Please understand that we haven't even told our children yet because we want to do it face-to-face when I return home.

Believe it or not, this is not on my mind as much as "Go D-backs" right now. Let's push this team as much as they are pushing.

God Bless us all.

Derrick

Sent from my iPhone


The day and night got even worse with a D-backs 3-1 loss. I was in no mood to hang out with colleagues after the game, so returned to my hotel room where I made a list on an Omni note pad of all of the things I would miss about my family if I were to die. I also spent a good deal of time on the phone with my owner and friend Ken Kendrick, who is also a prostate cancer survivor. He certainly made me feel more optimistic after an open and honest pep talk.

On Sunday, the team won 5-1, and J.J., who had just earned his 40th save of the season, shook hands with his teammates on the field, then walked to me in the stands and gave me the ball. I said, “You keep it, it is your 40th,” to which he replied, “That’s ok, I will get more this year. You can sign it and return it to me when you are cancer free.” J.J. got that ball back on the first day of spring training in 2012.

After arriving home, it was off to our favorite quiet restaurant so that I could share the news with my three children, Logan, Hayden and Kylie (15, 13 and 10 at the time). This was a difficult subject matter, as my father was near the end of his pancreatic cancer battle, and that is how my daughter pictured anyone suffering from the “C” word. Tears and reassurances were exchanged during the meal, then we all agreed to remain positive and unified.

Amy and I researched all treatment options Sunday night and Monday, along with all side effects. The fears associated with prostate treatments include bowel dysfunction, urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. So this is a very personal, yet important decision. We would not make our decision until after we met with the urologist on Tuesday morning, and I planned to announce my diagnosis and treatment selection at a press conference at Chase Field after that appointment.

When I returned to work Monday, I was asked by one of my PR staff members to go to the suite level for an interview regarding the team. Seeing that I have never been asked to do an interview there in the past, I should’ve smelt a rat. When I opened the glass doors and turned the corner, my entire staff of 250 were on-hand to greet me with a standing ovation, followed by a toast given by Ken and the distribution of Sedona red wristbands by Cullen that read “D-Hall D-backs.”

MOVING FORWARD

After meeting with the urologist that next morning, it was clear to Amy and I that the best method for me with an aggressive cancer at such a young age was robotic surgery to remove the prostate, otherwise known as a prostatectomy. I made that decision known publicly at my press conference and heard several strong opinions afterwards. My motive in going public was to drive awareness and educate men on the importance of early detection. I did not expect to receive so many e-mails and letters telling me I should try the proton beams, active surveillance, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, radioactive seeds or high intensity ultrasound instead. I even received a book in the mail on a new form of treatment with an anonymous note that stated the surgery is barbaric. They are all successful forms, but again, this is a very personal choice.

I wanted to have the surgery immediately, but my focus was on our team and results, as we were battling for the Western Division. And if we were to make the play-offs, there was no way I was going to miss any of those games. So we scheduled surgery for early November, which proved to be prophetic as we won our division and went on to play the Milwaukee Brewers in the postseason.

So it was once again time to wait. But while doing so, a local cancer expert and dear friend recommended I consider having the surgery performed out of state. His fear was that it would be placing pressure on local surgeons with all of the attention and coverage. It was sound advice that we would follow. Amy and I traveled to Los Angeles to visit with Dr. Inderbir Gill, head of urology at USC and considered the finest surgeon in his profession. After our meeting, we knew beyond a doubt that he was the perfect choice. And it seemed that I was a good choice for him as well, as he was hoping to use a new “Super Catheter” on me that is inserted into the abdomen between the naval and genital areas. He was also hoping to make me one of, if not the first, outpatient surgery candidates.

We did just that. I arrived at the hospital by 6:00 AM on November 8, and was discharged by 5:00 PM. Amy and I stayed in nearby Pasadena for a week of recovery and follow-up visits. My body bruised severely and the recovery was slow and painful.

Near the end of that week, Dr. Gill came to the hotel to meet with us and to explain the oncology results. He shared how fortunate we were to have elected for surgery, as the cancer was much more prominent than originally thought. It had consumed more than 30% of my prostate. The frightening fact that he also communicated, and that we still watch for today, was that there was minimal escape of the cancer through the urethra. Because of that escape, Dr. Gill took extra biopsy samples of my lymph nodes, all of which came back negative. He also reported that he was extremely cautious in the realm of “nerve sparing,” and did not expect any of the fearful side effects to be in existence. I am very pleased to report today, that he was correct.

The catheter was removed the following Wednesday, November 16 and Amy and I drove back to Phoenix on Thursday. I was back to work Friday, but moving slow and wearing a sweat suit. I may have pushed myself too hard, because I was back in bed Saturday with high fever and chills. Dr. Gill knew there was something seriously wrong, so asked us to return to Los Angeles for a full examination immediately. I was quickly diagnosed as having a painful lymphocele, an infectious build-up of fluid from the lymph node biopsies. A new catheter was inserted in my left side pelvic area to drain the infection and we were sent home for two weeks, before returning to have the tube and pouch removed.

My life has obviously changed since, but I feel fortunate and have resumed all prior activities, including sex and recreation. My first two follow-up PSA tests came back below 0.01, which is undetectable and ideal after surgery. But my next few Came back higher and showed that it was now detectable again. We started checking on a monthly basis until it was again undetectable and below 0.01. We are currently in that perfect range, and are hoping those higher results were the detection of benign prostate tissue cells that were left behind from.

A day does not pass when I do not think about the threat of prostate cancer. But I do not see it as a challenge or hurdle. Rather, I view it as an opportunity to share my experience with others and be available as a resource to those who are in the dark just as I was. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was one of those six, and am now here for any others who may be as well.

Catch it and treat it early.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

>> Facebook
>> Twitter