If his wife, Mary, happens to hear him say he is “semi” retired, she will laugh and probably roll her eyes. “He was supposed to retire 15 years ago, but he’s still working,” said Mary.
However, one thing that Hal and Mary can agree on is that they made a good treatment decision several years ago when Hal was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“I could tell that he felt really good about HIFU (high intensity focused ultrasound). He had confidence in the technology that it was going to work. I was a little nervous about all the unknowns, but ultimately I knew that if he felt good about it he would have a good experience – so I felt good about it too, “ said Mary.
Hal may have ultimately been confident in HIFU, but it wasn’t a conclusion he came to without doing a lot of research first – and connecting with a lot of people.
Mary and Hal’s prostate cancer journey included ups and downs that finally led them to the right decision for Hal but their experience with diagnosis and research on treatments was extensive – and in some respects, disconcerting.
“I followed my PSA for many years with my family doctor but in February of 2011, he referred me to a urologist for a biopsy,” said Hal. The pathology report indicated that he had prostate cancer with a Gleason score of 7.
“The first urologist we saw outlined several traditional treatments including surgery and radiation; I felt really uncomfortable with what I heard about the potential side effects,” said Hal.
“We were given some brochures and told to read them and decide what we wanted to do,” Mary said. “At that point, we went into research mode.”
“We saw a handful of doctors and it was not pleasant, informative or reassuring,” said Mary. “The physicians were focused on conventional treatment options, and we felt like each of them was trying to sell us on a specific treatment that they were personally invested in. It was very disheartening.”
“We found one book that had a single page about HIFU. Hal is kind of an ‘early adopter,’ and he was intrigued. But a urologist we spoke with was dismissive.” Mary said.
Coincidentally, Mary and Hal talked to a neighbor who connected them to a friend who had had a successful HIFU procedure some 5 years previously in Canada. Hal was able to talk to him at length and felt a heightened interest in the technique.
Mary was also learning more about HIFU. Curious about this new-to-them technology which she knew was of interest to Hal. She Googled the topic, picked up the phone, and called a company called, USHIFU in North Carolina. She was connected to a nurse, Karen, who was teamed with Dr. Michael Lazar, the then-sole HIFU-trained urologist in northern California.
Karen was wonderful. Our conversation was educational, but more than that she was a sympathetic ear,” said Mary. “She sent me a packet of information and before long we had an appointment to see Dr. Lazar.”
Meeting with Dr. Lazar was very different than their experiences with the other doctors they had seen. “He was so open and empathetic. He answered all our questions and was just very informative,” said Hal.
“He was was not selling any one particular approach. It was a very different kind of appointment from others we’d had,” added Mary.
Hal had HIFU with Dr. Lazar in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in June of 2011 (HIFU wasn’t available in the U.S. outside of a clinical trial until after October 2015). A couple of friends accompanied them to PV for moral support – and one ended up having HIFU himself a few months later, also with Dr. Lazar.
“I might have opted for something more conventional but I knew this is what HAL WANTED, and, to me, I felt that if he believed in it, that elevated the likelihood of a positive outcome,” said Mary. “I cannot imagine that we could have had a better experience – in all respects – and it worked for us.”
Hal is happy to report that after HIFU, his PSA dropped from 7 to 0.1 and has stayed stable ever since. Almost more importantly, he had no adverse side effects.
“We are believers in HIFU for sure,” said Hal. “HIFU may not be ‘the answer’ for every man, but for families researching their options, we would urge you to consider HIFU. – And we cannot say enough good things about Dr. Lazar.”