“My cancer took me from someone who feared his future to someone who now looks forward to helping others.”
In 2008, Lee Hillstrom was a healthy 58-year-old who loved getting his daily dose of exercise. Like a lot of men, he didn’t see his doctor regularly or get health screenings. That changed after he learned his older brother was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
“I wondered if a family member having prostate cancer might also increase my chances of having it,” Lee said. “So when I saw an ad in a local newspaper for a free screening, I signed up.”
It turns out, Lee’s prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test showed a higher-than-normal level and a urologist felt an irregular area on his prostate during the digital rectal exam. Since both tests pointed to the possibility of him having prostate cancer, he contacted a urologist he had personally known for years. His urologist told him having a biopsy is the only way he could be certain about the cancer. Lee opted to have the biopsy, which showed he had low-grade prostate cancer.
Unlike many types of cancer, low-grade prostate cancer does not require immediate treatment or intervention. This gave Lee time to seek second opinions. He eventually decided to have a robotic prostatectomy – having his prostate surgically removed. At the time, this was a newer procedure. Upon getting a recommendation from Network Health, Lee decided it was his best option.
“My surgery went well, and I spent only one night at the hospital,” Lee said. “The pathology report came back and it showed there was no spread of my cancer. I was told I only had a 15 percent chance of it coming back in the next 10 years.”
His PSA tests during the next four years came back as undetectable. But on his fifth year after surgery, his test showed the cancer was back – this time requiring external radiation treatment.
For 37 days, Lee showed up for radiation treatment. Although the treatment wasn’t painful, he began wondering about the effects of radiation on the rest of his body. This anxiety, coupled with not knowing if the radiation was effective, led him to seek out a cancer navigator who referred him to a cancer counselor.
“Seeing a counselor is a tough decision – especially for men who are bought up to be the strongest person in the family,” Lee said. “But going made me a better husband and gave me a better understanding of what I could do better. I will forever be grateful for those visits.”
Lee began keeping a journal, documenting his time undergoing radiation therapy. He ended up giving his journal to his cancer navigator to share with everyone in the radiation facility. This journal eventually led to Lee’s cancer navigator and counselor asking him to start and lead a prostate cancer support group.
The cancer navigator found an organization called Us TOO, which has more than 200 groups in several countries, all working to provide awareness and support to those with and those affected by prostate cancer. Lee visited the organization’s headquarters in Chicago as well as chapters at the Marshfield Clinic and a urology clinic in Steven’s Point. These visits helped him learn how to organize and run a cancer support group. His group’s first meeting was held in November 2015. Since then, Us TOO Fox Cities has been running strong with around 50 people attending every meeting.
“Our meetings are open to anyone with prostate cancer or related health problems,” Lee said. “Although I don’t have a background working in medicine, I’m a prostate cancer survivor and I understand what our members are feeling. I’m open with the group, and by showing my emotions, I help members understand it’s okay for them to do the same.”
Although it’s difficult to understand that good can come from having cancer, Lee says it’s true for his situation.
“My cancer took me from someone who feared his future to someone who now looks forward to helping others who are anxious about what’s in front of them,” he said.
To learn more about prostate cancer screenings, contact your personal doctor. To find a personal doctor near you, reach out to your health insurance provider.