Tom C.

Prostate Cancer - Stage 4

Tom Carlson

The connections I made have been one of the most valuable aspects of my journey with cancer. These relationships give hope and encouragement, and they provide spiritual support. Through the people I met at City of Hope Phoenix and my experience there, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself.

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results. 

I had been diligent about having my prostate specific antigen (PSA) level, a potential indicator for prostate cancer, tested every year since I was 49 years old. In my late 50s, the number started to change, and my general practitioner recommended that I see a urologist, who did a biopsy.

Waiting for the biopsy results to arrive felt like the longest period of time in my life. I was scared. I thought I was going to die. My history with this disease was not one of triumph over an enemy; it was one of sadness and loss for other people. Finally, the urologist who did the biopsy delivered the news that I had stage 4 prostate cancer.

Making a choice

At first, I wasn’t sure what to do. I was feeling fatalistic, like nothing I could do would make any difference. But then I had a moment of clarity that arrived with the thought: Get this out of me.

I had several treatment options, including watching and waiting. But I wanted to undergo surgery to have the cancer removed. I felt that if I waited, somehow, I would become more negative in my attitude, more pessimistic. I had moved to Arizona before the diagnosis, and that change was affecting me emotionally. It was clear to me that I wanted to avoid doing anything that could lead me to a more depressed state. I had to take control.

A surgeon at the urology clinic did a prostatectomy. For about six months, my PSA score remained at a low level.

Back on the rollercoaster

About six months later, the PSA began climbing again. During those six months, I had met some other people who invited me to join a support group that met on the first Thursday of each month. At the time, I was 57 years old and working as a teacher, so I had an excuse not to go. But in January 2009, when school was closed for winter break, I finally went. Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA)* had recently opened its Arizona location, and the group was meeting there in the morning. That afternoon, I was scheduled to see a doctor at the urology clinic where I’d been going.

At the morning support group meeting, the speaker was a radiation oncologist from CTCA®. I paid close attention to her. When I asked questions that afternoon at the urology clinic, I felt my questions weren’t answered. Afterwards, I called the CTCA radiation oncologist I’d met that morning to ask about treatment options at CTCA.

Shortly thereafter, I was at the CTCA location in Suburban Chicago for an initial evaluation. The radiation oncologist I met with told me about the Calypso® 4D Localization System of radiation, explaining that this treatment would be the recommended approach. I didn’t feel any pressure to go along with this plan, but I also felt like he took the time to make sure I understood my treatment options so I could come to a decision about my treatment.

I went home to talk things over with my wife and returned to CTCA for the treatment.


The treatment took nine weeks, and I stayed near CTCA during that time. This stay was one of the best things that I’ve ever done. I wanted to immerse myself in my treatment. I had a room at a hotel nearby, and I would go to the hospital so I could focus on getting better.

After nine weeks of treatment, I returned home to Arizona. After that, I returned to Chicago for follow-up visits every three months. My PSA score never went to zero, but it remained at a low level for four years. Then it shot back up again.

In 2012, I began hormone therapy treatment with Lupron®. My PSA score decreased. In June 2015, my PSA test showed the lowest score since I was diagnosed.

During my treatment, the side effects have been reduced. I lost weight, but as long as I watch what I eat, my weight is under control. My care team helps me with my nutrition at my follow-up visits.

New connections

The connections I made at CTCA have been one of the most valuable aspects of my journey with cancer. These relationships give hope and encouragement, and they provide spiritual support. Through the people I met at CTCA and my experience there, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself.

It was hard to leave behind the fatalistic attitude. Believing that a challenge can be overcome and then doing what you need to in order to succeed is often harder than just giving up and giving in. I try to give others the same encouragement that I received, so that they, too, will have the strength to believe that cancer may not be the end, but rather just another moment in life.

In June 2014, my wife and I traveled to CTCA together for my five-year survivorship celebration. She was able to meet some of the people I’d known for years, which turned out to be a very healing experience for her. She could see the support network that I had.

Cancer changed my life. Now, every day is a celebration. Things that once seemed so important no longer hold the same weight. My priorities have changed for the better.

 * Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.