John's Journal...

Outdoor Writer John E. Phillips Talks about His Prostate Cancer Journey and TomoTherapy

I’ve Got Prostate Cancer

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: One in six men in the United States will have prostate cancer, and more than 65% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. Through my 5-month odyssey, I’ve learned that prostate cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence, and the treatment for it doesn’t have to hurt or have severe side effects. If your prostate cancer is discovered early, treatment doesn’t have to be a major discomfort or interfere with your life. However, all prostate cancer isn’t the same, and the same treatment isn’t recommended for everyone. The more you know about the diagnosis and the treatment of prostate cancer not only can save your life but also offset many of the fears and the concerns you’ll have after your initial diagnosis. This week’s postings will be very different from what I’ve posted in the past on However, those of you who faithfully read my webpage are a part of my Internet family, and I sincerely hope that what you learn from my experience may help you, your friends and/or your family members.Click to enlarge

“I’m sorry, Mr. Phillips,” Dr. Rodney Dennis of the Urology Centers of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama, told me. “The biopsy indicates that you have prostate cancer. But it’s only a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 on the Gleason Scale. You have several options. We can remove the prostate, or you can choose to have one of several forms of radiation. The good news is you’ve got time to consider some different types of cancer treatments and choose the one you believe is best for you. I believe your cancer is very treatable.”

Let’s step back a couple of years. Because of my frequency of getting up several times a night to go to the bathroom, my daughter, who is a nurse, and my son-in-law, who is a doctor, suggested I see my urologist, Dr. Rodney Dennis, who’d also helped me weather several kidney stone attacks. Dr. Dennis had been treating my frequency problem for a couple of years with medicine. He’d done a yearly PSA test, a blood test used to detect prostate cancer, especially in the early stages. After the first PSA, Dr. Dennis asked me to wait a month before returning for a second test. Since the second PSA yielded the same results as the first test, Dr. Dennis suggested he do a biopsy. I talked to several friends, who felt the biopsy was a total pain.   One friend observed that each time his doctor had taken a sample of his prostate, he’d felt as though someone was putting a hot poker inside of him. I was a little concerned but ready to bite the bullet and take the pain. Click to enlarge

Before the procedure started, I explained to Dr. Dennis my philosophy that the definition of modern medicine was the relief of suffering, not inflicting suffering. He assured me that everything would be okay, and he was right. There was no pain involved in the biopsy. I was really rather ashamed for being so fearful. But after the biopsy, I got good and bad news. I had prostate cancer, and my Gleason score was 6. (Go to to learn more about what this means). I kept thinking to myself: “Besides deer hunting, I’ve got the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show, the ATA (Archery Trade Association) Show and the Bassmaster Classic all coming up during January and February. Then turkey season starts. I’ve got stories to write, pictures to take, places to go and people to see. I don’t have time to have cancer.” I told the doctor about all my commitments and asked if I could postpone treatment until after the 2010 Bassmaster Classic in mid-February. “The sooner you get treatment, the better off you’ll be,” Dr. Dennis said. “But I think you’re okay to wait 4 to 6 weeks if necessary.”Click to enlarge

I talked further with Dr. Dennis about my treatment options. Now, I know from my son-in-law, who is an emergency-room physician, and from my daughter, who is a nurse, that doctors don’t like to tell patients which options they should choose. But I also wanted to get the best advice I could get. So, I asked Dr. Dennis if he thought my outcome would be as good with radiation as it would be with surgery. Dr. Dennis said he thought I would do fine with the radiation. He’d found the cancer early and thought we should be able to successfully treat it. He also explained that there were several ways to deliver that radiation and informed me of some of my options. “The good news is that because you took the PSA test, we were able to find the cancer at its early stages and should be able to treat it before it becomes a major concern,” Dr. Dennis advised. “Men need to have PSA tests, because early diagnosis is one way we can treat and kill prostate cancer before it becomes a  problem.”

One of the advantages of having a son-in-law, who’s a doctor, and a daughter, who’s a nurse, is that they’re very proficient at researching. So, as soon as I told them I had prostate cancer, they lit up the Internet, doing all the research they could on prostate cancer and treatment. But I had one more source I hadn’t told anyone about, except my wife, and that was my longtime friend, Barry Smith.

For more information on Dr. John Fiveash, go to; to learn more about UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, visit; for more information on TomoTherapy, check-out; to learn more about my urologist, Dr. Rodney Dennis, visit

Tomorrow: I Talked to Someone Who Had Had Prostate Cancer to Get His Take on the Disease

Check back each day this week for more about "Cancer Not Me"

Day 1: I’ve Got Prostate Cancer
Day 2: I Talked to Someone Who Had Had Prostate Cancer to Get His Take on the Disease
Day 3: The Best Advice about Cancer Isn’t Always the Best Advice
Day 4: How TomoTherapy Works
Day 5: What Having TomoTherapy Was Like  


Entry 551, Day 1