William supported his wife, Kathy, through her breast cancer treatment. Now the roles have reversed and Kathy is providing the same support to her husband, William, during his prostate cancer treatments. Both are strong advocates of pre-screening tests.

What have you learned about yourself since being diagnosed?

William: "When they tell you.... I don’t know whether it’s a shock, or it’s a 'well ok, I can deal with this.' I had just gone through two years with Kathy having breast cancer, so I think I was more aware of what was going to happen, and when they asked me how I felt , I said 'well, I don’t feel anything.' I mean your first question is where do we go from here, and at first it was, well, let’s just watch it. Then my regular doc called me up and he says, I don’t know why, but I did a test, and your PSA went to 54 from 1.7, so I know, I was lucky he did take the test, and I wasn’t going to see Dr. Saylor (MGH) for another six months. What I like about MGH is when they find something; it’s in process; its go-go-go. That part was great. They make you feel like we can fix it. We may not be able to cure it, but we can keep you alive, we can keep you comfortable. And that’s where it comes from, and you’re tired from taking the medicine, I’m up at 3, 4 in the morning, taking pills on an empty stomach. When I do anything, I feel tired. So you take a nap, and then you get up and start working again. Today, they told me I’m going to start chemo and some radiation because they found spots where the bone was missing."

Kathy: "It’s progressed, and it’s going to progress. He’s got a very rare and aggressive form of prostate cancer. I know when I had breast cancer it was like watching somebody else go through it. It doesn’t always seem real. You know you have it but it just doesn’t seem real."

William: "But never has either one of us has ever said 'why me?' It’s something…everyone gets it! One of the biggest problems is that we’re all living too long, ya know? This place is doing all they can to keep progressing."

Kathy: "I didn’t have the diagnosis that he has, I had triple negative breast cancer, and that’s a little harder to treat, but there was an end to it. Other than the possibility that it comes back, but we knew there was a cure at the end. That’s not the case with him. There’s no cure for it, just try and keep him alive."

William: "What I can’t believe is that so many of my friends go to the doctors and they say 'you don’t need those PSA tests.' And one of those people was my brother, and I said to him, 'What are you doing? I mean, yes, you’re 8 years behind me, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to get it. I’d be there having it done.'"

Kathy: "Skipping your tests, I mean, the year I was diagnosed, in December I was there and they were watching the calcium deposits, and my regular mammogram was in June, and I almost cancelled it because we were going to go down the Cape, and I thought, no, I will have to wait three months. They didn’t find anything in December but it was there in June. It showed on the mammogram, but it didn’t show on the ultrasound. It was already a small aggressive cancer. People really, really need to get these tests. We’re so fortunate to have early detection; I mean where he would be if in 6 months it had metastasized into several places?"

How long has William been coming to MGH?

Kathy: "About 18 months, but they had been watching him for about a year before that. He had a Gleason test and he had one out of 12 samples, so they weren’t even concerned. They did take the PSA on a regular basis. But they certainly weren’t going to operate, but I wish they had. Because he did have something, I wish they would’ve operated, but that’s not what they do. His is a rare type, that’s not the usual thing."

William: "Twice I went though where they take the 12 samples/biopsies, and both times it was so minimal, they didn’t even think there was much there. As my luck would have it, I was on the wrong side. My cancer was on the opposite side."

Kathy: "It’s a different cancer. We'll have people say 'oh I know so and so who’ve had that and they just got it taken out.' Well, that’s not his cancer. It’s not the same."

William: "I guess it’s very rare. At the same token, my father died of colon cancer. His brother died of colon cancer, and his sisters died of breast, lung cancer. And one of the siblings of my father, I don’t know how many treatments she’s gone through, and she’s still around."

Kathy: "And I had an awful time after his father died of colon cancer, trying to get him to get tested. He kept cancelling his colonoscopies, and finally I said 'you’re doing this' and they ended up taking four pre-cancerous polyps out. And my doctor said, 'did he thank you for saving his life?' So as you get older, don’t hesitate about getting things tested. In fact, don’t get old, it’s a dirty trick! I used to love to sew and knit, and I can barely use my hands now. I used to think I’d be old and sitting here knitting for everyone!"

William: "As far as right now, I feel like, they’re still working on it. So I still have an outlook where I think 'I can keep going.'"

Kathy: "We don’t let anybody bring us down."

William: "My doctor says, I mean, he says that he will keep me comfortable. I mean, what more could you ask for? So many years ago people would get cancer and they would be in bad shape."

Kathy: "Nobody knows what’s going to happen to them. Anything can happen, and to think that cancer is necessarily a death sentence, I mean something else might get you first. I mean we’re in our seventies, you just don’t know! Since you’ve both going through this, have you found things are more important or less important to you?"

Kathy: "I see what’s important and what’s valuable. Take this Christmas, through chemo and everything I was frantic to get to everything that I usually do. And now I just don’t feel like these things are as important."

What is more important?

Kathy: "Being together. Being together is everything."

William: "It truly is."

Kathy: "I mean they will be surprised when they don’t have as much under the tree."

William: "We met when we were 14 and she wouldn’t go out with me because she didn’t like my friends."

Kathy: "Until he convinced me, he called me for a whole year. Until he convinced me that those weren’t really his friends. My first date with him was two weeks before my 16th birthday, and I still have the gift he gave me. It was a good gift."

William: "I got her little black onyx earrings with little diamonds, earrings and necklace."

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Kathy: "I have to say, my reaction at first, I was a little angry that we had been through so much, and now this was happening again to us with him being diagnosed. It’s a lot. It did limit for a long time what we could do. He has taken such good care of me, and one of the reasons that I did this huge back surgery was so that I could be there for him if need be. It’s been a lot in the last five years."

Do you have any advice to share?

William: "You always have to keep going. You’re gonna keep living, keep functioning. Keep a good attitude. Even when she was going through chemo, you know she got up, took a shower, got dressed and got ready for the day, even if she got right back into bed. I really believe the whole thing is attitude. My doctor keeps saying to me, 'your attitude is fantastic.' Yes it is, but, in my subconscious I know it’s there. I will be sleeping and then I’ll just wake up, it’s on my mind. As much as you want to put it away, you can’t."

Kathy: "It’s a reality. You can’t let people bring you down. There are people out there asking you know 'how are you' and they say they know all about your cancer and how you’re feeling, and you just can’t buy into that. Someone that they know, secondhand, third hand, they know all about it. People always want to relate. You just have to own your story. You want to say, 'you’re not the authority on his condition…we are.'"

William: "I mean I’m not telling them my story because I want them to feel bad for me, sometimes I just am sick of people telling me about how bad off they are, so I just come back with 'hey, look at me.' And 'oh but you look so healthy,' that’s the other thing. I’m glad I look healthy! I mean, some of the stories you can come up with, I could write a book, maybe I will!"

This interview was conducted on December 14, 2016.

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