Life after Prostate Cancer: Living in the Present Moment
January 11, 2019
When Frank Benkalowycz answered the telephone in September 2008, he received some unexpected and unsettling news from his physician.
“The day my doctor called to tell me my routine blood work showed that my PSA levels rose from 2.5 to 10.3 was my birthday,” Frank says. “At that time, I physically felt great and had no symptoms.”
Frank, 56, had routine blood work and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test conducted the prior week. A PSA test, recommended for men age 50 and older, measures the level of protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. While it is normal to have a low PSA level in the blood, an increase may indicate prostate cancer.
The physician referred Frank to a urologist, who scheduled a biopsy of his prostate gland. The results revealed that more than half of his gland was cancerous. While the urologist said he could cure Frank’s cancer using brachytherapy, a procedure where radioactive seeds are implanted into the prostate gland, Frank decided that he needed a second opinion.
“We have the very best health care systems in Cleveland, which is why I decided to get another medical perspective from UH Seidman Cancer Center,” he says.
Frank, a senior vice president and director of corporate incident response for KeyBank, says that because of the nature of what he does for a living, he has the tendency to think of the worst outcome in any given situation.
But during his initial appointment at UH Seidman Cancer Center, Dr. Lee Ponsky, director of the Urologic Oncology Center, instantly put Frank and his wife Nancy at ease.
“He told me that he knew the treatment path might be long, but that I shouldn't worry because he was going to be my advocate throughout the entire process,” he says. “Dr. Ponsky was very empathetic and down-to-earth. He helped to make an uncomfortable situation comfortable.”
Frank developed a list of questions for Dr. Ponsky but, “he asked me to hold off on asking them. He proceeded to answer virtually every single one of my questions during our conversation, as if he reviewed the list beforehand. Dr. Ponsky was very thorough and his knowledge was remarkable.”
Dr. Ponsky shared Frank’s case with a UH Seidman Cancer Center multidisciplinary team comprised of expert urologic oncologists, radiation oncologists and pathologists. The team assessed his symptoms and then advised a treatment plan.
The team recommended a laparoscopic radical prostatectomy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to remove the prostate gland, as the best treatment option. Frank underwent surgery at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in January 2009.
“The procedure was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be,” he says. “The UH Seidman Cancer Center staff was exceedingly compassionate during my stay. The physicians and nurses were always ready to help.”
Further tests showed that Frank’s cancer had spread beyond the prostate gland. After recovering from surgery, Dr. Ponsky recommended that he complete radiation treatments at UH Westlake Health Center, where he says “the staff felt more like friends.”
“During the process, I didn't feel like I was just a number or just a body — I felt like they really cared about me and my situation,” he says.
Following the radiation treatments, tests revealed that Frank was cancer-free.
He says he considers himself an optimistic person, and that beating cancer has only enhanced his life perspective.
“I don’t take anything for granted, and I don't sweat the small stuff,” he says.
Months later, Frank found himself acting as a testimonial for PSA testing at his workplace. He says that undergoing the procedure allowed him to share the value of prostate cancer detection.
“Knowledge is the best weapon in fighting cancer. I can only imagine how many men are in the dark about PSA testing. If a man hasn't initiated the testing with his family physician, the topic may never be broached,” he says.
After his story appeared via the company's intranet, Frank received messages from employees thanking him for the information, which in turn, prompted them to discuss PSA testing with their own physicians.
While Frank is putting cancer behind him, he says that he is not afraid to face the future, thanks to UH Seidman Cancer Center.
“Today, I am more mindful of the present moment. It's a new day and a new beginning, and I’m very grateful.”