As an officer of three decades in the Houston Police Department, Joseph “Joe” Levingston was meticulous about details. When it came to his health, he never missed an annual physical examination, exercised regularly and kept a wellness journal.
In 2008, Joe’s doctor said his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were high and prescribed antibiotics. “I really didn’t even know what PSA was at that point,” Joe says. “I was like most guys. I just hated the digital rectal exam.”
Then in 2009, a blood test revealed a high PSA level again. More antibiotics didn’t help. By the next spring, his PSA had climbed well above the normal range of 4 or below.
In May 2010, a needle biopsy showed that Joe had prostate cancer. “I almost fell to the floor when my doctor told me,” Joe says.
Moving forward after a prostate cancer diagnosis
Right after his prostate cancer diagnosis, Joe became depressed and struggled to sleep and eat. But he then became determined, thanks to the support of his wife and three children, as well as prayer. “After about three weeks, I called this doctor three or four times,” he says. “I became very assertive in trying to get answers.”
That’s when Joe’s cousin, a nurse, suggested he come to MD Anderson. “I got online and saw that you could self-refer,” he says. Soon thereafter, Joe had his first appointment at MD Anderson.
He met with Christopher J. Logothetis, M.D., his oncologist, and John W. Davis, M.D., a prostate cancer surgeon. “The environment at MD Anderson was outstanding,” he says. “It was encouraging. They were very specialized in their care, and the way they talked to me, I felt like I wasn’t just a number.”
Choosing surgery for prostate cancer treatment
Although his prostate cancer case made him an ideal candidate for a robotic, laparoscopic procedure called an abdominal prostatectomy, Joe wasn’t sure at first if he wanted to undergo surgery to remove his prostate. “Initially, I was very nervous,” he says. “I had heard all these horror stories about incontinence and impotence.”
But an online prostate cancer support group helped Joe change his mind. “What really helped me was reading about survivors who had gone through something similar,” he says. “One guy told me that surgery was best for him because then the cancer would be out of him. That’s when I really decided it was right for me.”
The plan was to have surgery, then treat any prostate cancer recurrences with radiation, if needed. To prepare for the procedure, Joe took an oral chemotherapy drug called sunitinib for three months as part of a clinical trial, along with a testosterone suppressor called Lupron. The Lupron helped shrink the tumor slightly, and the sunitinib targeted any cancer cells that might have escaped the localized area. The treatment also reduced his chances of a prostate cancer recurrence.
Joe’s prostate cancer surgery and clinical trial experience
In October 2010, Davis performed Joe’s surgery. He used a laparoscope with a tiny camera as a guide to help him remove Joe’s prostate, along with surrounding cancerous lymph nodes.
Joe woke up with abdominal discomfort and had one episode of accidental urination after the surgery. But he hasn’t had any issues with incontinence or impotence since the first day. “I’ve never looked back,” he says.
Helping other prostate cancer patients through myCancerConnection
Joe’s PSA level has remained undetectable for the last six years, and he’s back to his exercise routine.
He still returns to MD Anderson every six months for checkups. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life,” he says. “I really highly recommend the surgery if a man is eligible for that treatment. I can’t say enough good things about it.”
In fact, that’s some of the advice Joe now shares with other men as a volunteer with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one support program. “Don’t panic. You just need to take proactive action. Get to a good doctor who knows what he’s doing,” he tells them, adding, “I always encourage them to go to MD Anderson if they can.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.