"Sept. 16, 2010, was my day, and I'll never forget it," says Michael Easton, an appeals and trial consultant for the legal profession. "My knees buckled when my urologist told me I had prostate cancer."
At 54, Easton should've been going to his doctor for annual physicals since turning 50, but he'd been putting it off, thinking the visits unnecessary.
His wife of 13 years, Maria changed his opinion. She asked him to take an interest in his health not only for himself, but also for his 12-year-old son, Michael Peter.
What he thought would be a routine doctor's visit was, instead, the beginning of his cancer journey.
An elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level of 7 led Easton to see a urologist for further testing and a biopsy of his prostate.
Faith and family
"Telling my family that I had cancer was the hardest thing," he says. "It hit us hard as a family."
Easton learned all he could online about the disease and different treatment options. He also talked to other men about how treatment side effects had impacted their lives.
First, he got opinions from two physicians. "The only option they gave me was surgery," he says. "They didn't pay attention to what would be in my best interest, and what my concerns were."
Then, in October 2010, Easton and his wife decided to call MD Anderson's Multidisciplinary Prostate Cancer Clinic. They met with Deborah Kuban, M.D., professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology, and Curtis Pettaway, M.D., professor in the Department of Urology, to discuss treatment options.
"Very often family members come with patients to the clinic," Kuban says. "Deciding on treatment is a joint decision, and usually wives ask just as many questions as their husbands."
Kuban suggested external radiation therapy. Pettaway suggested nerve-sparing surgery.
"Instead of feeling like a number or a claim form, they made me feel like a husband and a father again," Easton says. "I felt like I had a chance."
The Eastons talked and prayed together about what type of treatment would be best. They even included their son in the decision-making process.
"I had my wife with me every step of the way," he says.
A man with a plan
Wanting to lower his risk of incontinence, Easton elected to undergo radiation treatment and hormone therapy with Kuban. He received a treatment plan and asked to start as soon as possible. His goal was to make his family's annual spring break trip to Santa Fe, N.M.
In January 2011, he started the first of his 39 radiation treatments. For two months, five days a week, Easton left his home in Richmond, Texas at 4:30 a.m. to drive to MD Anderson.
During this time, he says his treatment team became his extended family. He also became friends with the other men he would regularly see in the waiting room.
Easton likens his new friendships to when he was a New York City police officer in the early 1970s.
"My experience really bonded me with the other men I met," he says. "They were like my fighting brothers and made a big difference for me."
Celebrations are in order
After treatment was completed, Easton's PSA level fell dramatically to less than 1.
To celebrate, he rang the radiation bell, a tradition at MD Anderson, on March 8, 2011. His wife, son, two close friends, "Dr. K," as Easton affectionately calls Kuban, and his whole treatment team joined in the celebration with him.
"When I grabbed that bell and rang it, I couldn't believe it was really over," he says. "I'd gotten so used to the routine of my treatment."
Easton's new routine includes visits every three months to the clinic for blood tests and digital rectal exams.
The Easton family also celebrated the end of his treatment while on their annual family vacation to Santa Fe.
"The reason I'm walking around on two feet today is because God is watching over me and because of MD Anderson," he says.
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