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Life is a Gift

A Story of Non-Surgical "Triple Androgen Blockade" Healing from Prostate Cancer

Copyright © 1999, 2001 by Bruce C. Barton
Note: MenWeb makes no representations as to the treatment approach described here. Each man must gather his own information and make his own decision, in consultation with health care professionals he trusts.

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A hard lump somewhere in my intestines awakened me before dawn on August 25, 1997. It took me less than a millisecond to recognize it as my dread about the biopsy for prostate cancer that was scheduled three hours later. The biopsy was the most recent in a series of unwelcome medical events that had begun three months earlier, with the discovery that my PSA (Prostatic Specific Antigen) blood test had jumped from 2.5 the year before to 5.2, a definite "early warning" sign that all was not well in ProstateLand. The normal range for men of my age is 1.0 to 4.0. On the recommendation of my primary physician, I consulted a urologist who gave me a digital rectal exam (the procedure so feared by Dave Barry and several million other men) and found a hard lump on my prostate that was not part of its normal tissue. He subsequently recommended a biopsy to learn more about what was going on.

The DRE almost seemed like fun next to the biopsy, in which an ultrasound probe is inserted rectally to guide the biopsy needle to suspicious-looking areas on the prostate gland. When the doctor has one of these in the crosshairs, the patient hears a loud "click!" not unlike an unloaded Smith and Wesson firing, and feels a sharp sting as the needle penetrates the rectal wall, inspiring a small amount of prostate tissue. In my case, this was done a total of six times, in various areas of the prostate. Although it is performed without anesthetic, the procedure is not much more uncomfortable than a thorough dental cleaning, and after a day at ease, I returned to my normal activities.

When I received a call from the doctor a few days later inviting me and my wife, Deborah, to go over the results of the biopsy in his office, I knew the news must not be good. The urologist confirmed that one of the six samples revealed a group of cancerous cells about 2 mm. in diameter. Although he said they were in an early stage of development, they had been assigned a Gleason Aggressiveness Score of 7, which meant moderately aggressive. He then reviewed the standard options for treating prostate cancer: prostatectomy, or surgical removal of the gland, which he described as the "gold standard" of PC treatment (I didn't ask him whether the gold standard was for the patient or the doctor); beam radiation of the prostate and surrounding area; a relatively new procedure called radioactive seed implant, and a short-term series of shots that would block the production of testosterone and slow down the cancer's development until I was ready to pursue one of the options above. He told me that at my relatively "young" age (59), he did not recommend "watchful waiting" to see what developed. The one piece of good news was that PC is relatively slow-growing, which meant that I had some time to arrive at a decision.

Not only was I discouraged by the news that cancerous cells were nibbling at my prostate; the remedies the doctor had described sounded like a choice between the electric chair, the gas chamber, and the gallows. Not only were they painful and disruptive in their own right, they sometimes carried side effects including delightful experiences such as infection, impotence and incontinence! After recovering from my initial shock and dismay, I quickly arrived at some decisions that have affected my life to this day.

Almost immediately, I saw that I could choose to identify myself as a "cancer patient" and mope around feeling sorry for myself; take the doctor's advice and have surgery or radiation with the hope that I would avoid the nastier side effects, or embark on my own program of self-healing and information before I made any long-range decision about my health. This last alternative looked distinctly preferable to the other two, so I began my journey. Over the next three months, I pursued the following options:

  1. Acupuncture;
  2. Herbal and natural remedies taken orally;
  3. Reiki and other energetic bodywork;
  4. Consultation with radiologists, oncologists, and holistic medical practitioners;
  5. Discussion with men who had tried various PC treatment options;
  6. Reading several thousand pages of documentation on medical, holistic and alternative approaches to PC from medical journals, texts on healing cancer and natural healing, information on the internet, and program descriptions of innovative and experimental approaches.

The results of this process were twofold. First, I learned that there were many questions about the best approach to prostate cancer, and there were many new approaches in addition to the medically approved "standard" treatments. Each of these, of course, carried its own risks and uncertainties. I became aware of the following facts, among others:

  • 40% of American men over the age of 50 have cancerous cells in their prostate glands, at least at microscopic levels. By the age of 70, the percentage rises to 65%.
  • Prostate cancer can be in the body for as long as 20 years before it manifests as active disease.
  • Less than 10% of Japanese men over 50, whose diet contains little meat or dairy products, show evidence of prostate cancer.
  • Not infrequently, men who have had prostatectomies or radiation therapy have cancer reappear 6-10 years later; only men who have no recurrence of symptoms for at least 15 years are considered "cured."

The second effect of my learning was a growing trust in myself to make the choices that would best serve my health and lifestyle; while I might obtain advice or suggestions from medical personnel and others, I was the one who ultimately called the shots. Now that I knew I carried a potentially lethal disease, my awareness and appreciation of life seemed to be enhanced, and things that I had told myself I would "look into someday" took on a closer focus. I spent a lot more time in my connection with Spirit, meditating, praying, and asking for guidance not only toward a "cure" of my condition, but for healing of whatever underlying conditions might have led to its appearance.

Given these personal gains, the results of a PSA test I had done in late November felt like a splash of cold water in my face. The figure had risen from 5.7 at the time of the biopsy to 9.3 three months later, and the urologist urged me to make a choice of treatment soon. Discouraged that in spite of all my efforts, my condition seemed to be rapidly worsening, I was unsure where to turn, and once again asked Spirit for guidance. It arrived on swift, merciful wings.

A week after I recieved the PSA results, Max, a member of my Monday night men's group, suggested that I call Marty, a friend of his in Los Angeles, who had PC and was undergoing a relatively new but promising approach called "triple androgen blockade." When I did, Marty told me about the pioneering work of his oncologist, Bob Leibowitz, M.D. The treatment, which was given in the form of a monthly injection and two daily oral medications, continued for 13 months. Its purpose was to block the production of testosterone, on which the prostate cancer cells feed, until those cells literally died of starvation. Marty told me the temporary side effects of the blockade included diminished sexual desire and performance, hot flashes, some mild intestinal upset, and a few changes such as loss of body hair and slight weight gain. To me, these sounded like minor annoyances compared to permanent impotence or incontinence!

The next day, I called Dr. Leibowitz and spoke with one of his assistants, who sent me copies of the doctor's papers on the treatment. They arrived the day before my appointment with the urologist. I spent that night devouring the information on Dr. Leibowitz' approach, and before I was halfway through, the hair standing up on the back of my neck told me I was witness to a major breakthrough in the treatment of prostate cancer. Leibowitz began treating PC patients with his approach in 1990 or 1991, and has numerous patients who have been off the treatment for several years with normal PSA's and no evidence of cancer. Some of these men had come to Leibowitz initially with PSA's of over 1,000 and metastatic bone cancer, prepared to die within a few months. The doctor claims he has never had to retreat any of the several hundred patients he has treated, and claims that because the blockade is systemic rather than localized such as surgery or radiation, cancer cells anywhere in the body, even at microscopic levels, are destroyed.

By the time I went to bed late that night, my path was clear. The next morning, after offering heartfelt thanks to the Spirit that is always part of me, I headed for Kinko's to make copies of Dr. Leibowitz' articles, then to the urologist's office. Handing the copies to him for homework, I declared unequivocally, "This is the treatment approach I want to pursue." My urologist told me he had heard of the treatment but would read the articles to get more information. He also, to my great relief, said he was willing to pursue the triple androgen blockade on an experimental basis, provided regular PSA tests indicated it was warranted. A week later, I began the treatment, which for me consisted of a shot that lasted three months, requiring only quarterly visits to the doctor, and the two daily oral drugs.

Over the next several months, I continued to feel very well. I did begin to notice some subtle changes in my body, understood for the first time what women often referred to as "hot flashes," and invested heavily in anti-gas pills when my wife accused me of becoming more of an "old fart" than ever! My most exciting moment came in March, three months after the treatment had begun, when my urologist called to give me the results of my PSA. It was unmeasureable!!! Not sure whether to cry or release whoops of victory, I did both, sharing the news with everyone that would listen. While I knew that this result didn't necessarily mean that the fight was over, it was unmistakable evidence that the treatment was working exactly as it was supposed to.

Similar PSA results in June and September reassured me that I hadn't just been dreaming. Side effects continued to be mild for the most part, and I felt healthy throughout the 13-month period, which drew to a close in January, 1999. I have continued to read the latest writings by "Dr. Bob" Leibowitz as he makes steady progress toward the goal of showing 100% success with the treatment over a 15-year period (his first patient treated with TAB has been off the treatment nearly 8 years and is still doing well). He is also working on re-treatment approaches and approaches for hormone refractory patients in case these are needed in the future.

For my part, I will keep a close watch on my PSA and testosterone levels during the next year as they slowly begin to rise and, hopefully, level off somewhere in the normal range. I continue to stay as close to a low-fat diet as I can, including various PC fighters such as selenium and lycopene as well as Vitamin E, Co-Enzyme Q10 and other anti-oxidants. My biggest battle at this point is managing the stress in my life; there's been too much of that over the last few months, and I know that's not healthy for living things. I'm determined to do whatever I need to do to change that, and to keep expressing gratitude on a daily basis for the many gifts in my life, not the least of which is being guided to the right treatment at the right time.

If this article is helpful to even one reader facing a similar situation, it has been worthwhile. Anyone who wishes more information on my experience with triple androgen blockade or prevention and treatment of prostate cancer in general, is welcome to contact me at The office of Bob Leibowitz, M.D. may be reached at (310) 229-3555. Good health and long life to all!

Bruce Barton has begun his seventh decade and is trying to figure out what being an elder really means. He's married for the second time (this time happily); is the father of a beautiful and successful daughter; and has been, among other things, a psychotherapist, an insurance company administrator, a bookstore owner and a railroad conductor. Presently he works as an educator with the Santa Fe Rape Crisis Center, supporting young men and women in preventing sexual violence. Bruce has been involved in men's work since 1975, and is still learning! His other loves are writing and traveling.

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