Doctor writes book as a prostate cancer survivor
Published Tuesday, August 03, 2010
For some 20 years, Dr. John McHugh had watched his patients struggle with what to do after he told them they had prostate cancer.
The diagnosis catches a lot of people off guard. Prostate cancer is one of those slow-growing diseases old people die with, not of, McHugh hears time and time again.
Being a urologist, McHugh knew those perceptions of the male disease are just myths. Three years ago, at just 52 years old, he got to know the truth about the disease from an all too personal perspective.
McHugh was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007. And even with all of his knowledge — or maybe because of it — he took three months to decide how to fight it.
He had tracked his prostate health and watched it move into abnormal levels. As he waited for the results from his biopsy, he became more anxious than most — he knows how bad the results can be.
But he fought prostate cancer and won, and now he’s written a book about his journey.
His tale, “The Decision: Your Prostate Biopsy Shows Cancer … Now What?” isn’t just told by an expert in the field, but a survivor.
“I think it shows the dual nature of doctor and patient,” said McHugh, who practices in Gainesville.
“It’s also a hats off to men who get it and treat it and deal with all the issues. They’re tough.”
Prostate cancer is different for everyone, he said. Sometimes, the disease is caught early and spreads slowly. Other times, it spreads so fast it can kill within a couple of years.
“The problem that I had to deal with is that I knew the dual nature of it,” he said. “I was very anxious. What if the biopsy came back with bad parameters?”
McHugh’s cancer was very treatable, but that raised the question that is in his book’s title: Now what?
Like many who suffer from prostate cancer, McHugh had a few options on how to treat it.
As he explains in the book, surgery can be more effective at removing the cancer, but also can cause worse side effects like impotence and incontinence — the inability to control urine flow. Radiation can be an easier treatment, but it might not be a complete cure.
McHugh chose the former and had to live with the
consequences for a few months. He had to wear a urine bag, even as he continued to work.
Although he saw maybe a thousand patients during his own treatment, he never let on that he had the same cancer.
“I didn’t tell a soul for three months,” he said. “What I wanted to do was tell about it after the fact.”
Only his wife and family knew. McHugh dedicated his book to his wife, Karen, and all the women who stick by their men when they get prostate cancer.
Now that McHugh is, as he says, whole again, he thinks his story can help patients sitting across from their doctors when they get the news that they have cancer.
He wrote his book in a straightforward manner, balancing facts and medical speak with anecdotes and funny stories.
McHugh also keeps a blog, the “Prostate Diaries” (found at theprostatedecision.wordpress.com), to keep dialogue going about the disease and its treatments. In his book, McHugh includes a worksheet that factors in the patient’s age, lifestyle and Gleason score — a grading system that determines how severe the cancer is — to help determine the right treatment.
It might be just the information the patient needs.
“The urologist doesn’t need this book, but he needs to give it to his patients,” McHugh said. “They need something the day they find out.”
Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Tuesday, August 03, 2010
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