Erle Hug was never one to see a doctor unless he was sick. But, 25 years ago, Hug happened to meet and befriend an oral surgeon on a vacation trip to St. Germain, WI. They become best pals and that tiny bend of fate — that chance meeting — eventually saved Hug’s life.
In July 1999, Hug’s best friend invited him to his daughter’s wedding, on the condition that he make an appointment for a complete exam. Hug recollects his best friend saying, “You’ve never had a physical. And you need one.”
Eager to attend the wedding that October, Hug relented and went for his first-ever comprehensive physical in September 1999. It was during this visit that his family doctor discovered there might be a problem with Hug’s prostate gland.
Hug recalled getting a message from his family doctor when he returned from a convention in Orlando, FL.
“When I returned the call, my doctor said I had an elevated PSA,” Hug said. “I didn’t really know what that meant. He suggested I see a urologist for a follow up.”
The PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, is a protein produced by the cells of the prostate gland. It may be found in higher amounts in the blood of men who have prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia, or infection or inflammation of the prostate gland. The PSA test measures the level of PSA in the blood. (Sources: cis.nci.nih.gov and cancer.gov)
Hug scheduled an appointment to see a urologist in two weeks. In the meantime, Hug tried to stay upbeat and positive. While he was waiting for his appointment date, he started researching prostate cancer.
“I tried to keep things ‘business as usual,’” Hug says, recalling those trying two weeks. “I have three sons. I didn’t talk to them about it. Why alarm everyone when there was possibly no need?”
Upon his visit to the urologist, another physical and PSA blood test were performed. The prognosis was not optimistic: the PSA score indicated there might be cancer. Hug’s urologist performed a biopsy on October 26. Another week went by and then — the bomb dropped.
“When I got the call on November 3, I almost put my fist through the wall,” Hug recalls about that conversation. “I kept thinking, ‘why me?’”
Hug told his wife, Karen, about his cancer and they immediately embarked on a journey to find a solution. After several calls, a friend referred Hug to William See, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin urologist and chairman of Urology.
Hug thought a second opinion would help. “I knew the reputation of Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin in the region, and prostate cancer appeared to be an area of expertise there.”
Hug saw See on November 8. “Dr. See had the expertise I was looking for and I liked the way he talked,” Hug said. “He didn’t sugar-coat the facts. He gave me treatment options pertaining to quality of life. I did like that I had options. I wanted the best and I felt Dr. See offered it.”
After a series of blood tests, CT, MRI and bone scans, Dr. See performed a nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy on November 23. Although surgery put him in the clear, a follow-up exam in April 2001 showed Hug’s PSA level had crept upwards and Dr. See recommended follow-up treatments with radiation. Hug underwent 36 radiation treatments with Colleen Lawton, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin radiation oncologist.
About eight weeks later, another PSA test was performed. The reading was less than zero. And, it has stayed that way ever since.
“Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin is a caring hospital. I was treated with a lot of respect,” Hug says of his experience. “My doctors gave me a real feeling of optimism and confidence.”
Still cancer-free four years later, he adds, “I feel no different now than I did in November 1999 and that makes me feel great. Having cancer makes you appreciate life every day. Now, I live for the present.”
After going through this harrowing experience, Hug has the following advice to offer other men:
- Have an annual physical
- Insist on getting a PSA test; doctors don’t always provide a PSA screening
- Prostate cancer is not the end of the world; it can be contained, and you can lead a normal life if it’s caught early
- Keep a sense of humor; it’s good for the whole, positive attitude thing; people often associate cancer with death but it doesn’t have to be that way