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Cancer Interviews

Sharing the Journey

Episode 2 - Show Notes - Bruce Morton - Prostate Cancer Survivor - Brachytherapy aka Seeds


For all the resources and links to helpful information referenced in today's episode, please scroll down to the bottom of this interview transcript. Thank you!

Jim Foster: This is the Cancer Interviews podcast, interview number two. Today’s guest is a prostate cancer survivor who underwent a radiation seeds treatment, known as brachytherapy. As always, we are not offering medical advice, but personal experiences and stories, and we recommend that you seek out the advice of a licensed medical doctor regarding your personal situation. And don’t forget to stop by to check out a variety of helpful resources. Hope you enjoy the show.

Welcome to the show, my friends and teammates. If you happen to be joining us for the first time, I’d like to personally thank you and invite you to be part of our team. We want you to know that you and your journey are the sole purpose of this podcast. We refer to ourselves as Team Journey. You are not alone and you are part of our team, and we are sharing the journey together. So let’s get started. I’m so excited to introduce a personal friend of mine, Mr. Bruce Morton. Bruce, are you ready to share the journey?

Bruce Morton: Ready, let’s do it.

JF: Bruce is a prostate cancer survivor. He has been in remission for 17 years. He lives in Denver, Colorado and has enjoyed a long career in the radio sports business. He enjoys international travel, and we can all learn from what Bruce shares with us today. So join me in welcoming Bruce. Welcome to the show, my friend.

BM: Thanks very much, Jim, great to be here.

JF: I’ve given you a brief introduction, but before we get into your cancer journey, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are from and what you interests were. And what your life was like prior to experiencing cancer.

BM: Well, Jim, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and became interested in pursuing a career in sports broadcasting at a very early age, when my father and grandfather took me to a college basketball game and right afterward, my dad hoisted me on his shoulders, I was eight years old, and saw the broadcasters of the game wrapping up the broadcast, I was fascinated by that and that began my interest in a career in sportscasting. I eventually bounced around the country working for various radio stations. Then in 1984 I got my big break when I was hired as a producer and reporter for ABC Radio Sports in New York. That’s where I was for 17 years and not long after that, I moved to Denver.

JF: I know we have been friends for quite a while, and I have had the opportunity to visit you in New York, and we’re glad you are in Denver now. Regarding your cancer diagnosis, did something happen that led you to believe something might wrong with you?

BM: Well, I didn’t feel anything abnormal, there was no pain or anything like that. It’s that in the summer of 2000, I went in for my annual physical. It was interesting to note that in previous years, I would go in for my physicals and afterward I would joke with my father, telling him I am not a candidate for prostate cancer. But in the summer of 2000, my physician noticed something awry with my PSA tied to the routine bloodwork they did as part of my annual physical. That led to a chain of events that included a biopsy and then in December of 2000, that’s when I was diagnosed and learned that I had prostate cancer.

JF: So it was just an annual physical and blood test and so forth, and that’s what led to your diagnosis.

BM: That is correct. I had a PSA of 4.1, which is not through the roof, but was higher than normal, and enough to get the doctor’s attention.

JF: What was your reaction when you got this terrible news?

BM: I was in the doctor’s office, and as he gave me the news, tears started rolling down my face. I couldn’t believe this was happening. And then the doctor’s office to which I went was only about a half-mile from my home. So I walked to the doctor’s office, then I walked home. I had walked down this street literally hundreds of times in the time I lived in Hackensack, New Jersey, and now here I was in broad daylight making this walk, a grown man walking down the street, just crying my eyes out. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.

JF: What did you do after that? Did you seek more than one medical opinion as to a course of action?

BM: I have to go back to the day I was diagnosed. I called a co-worker of mine who was based in Florida, and he suggested I contact my former boss from my job at ABC. I contacted him and he said I should get a second opinion. I was 47 years old at the time, and he made mention that that’s an extremely young age for someone to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, which was correct. He felt the urologist making the diagnosis was overreacting a bit by saying I should have my prostate removed, which is why he felt I should get a second opinion. So my ex-boss immediately assumed the role of being my boss, and told me, “Here’s what you are going to do. You’re going to go to Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York,” which is an elite cancer hospital and then, “You’re going to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore,” which is another elite cancer hospital. He said, “You know where Sloan-Kettering is and if you don’t know your way around Baltimore, I will drive you there myself.” That really made an impression on me. I went to Sloan-Kettering on Martin Luther King Day 2001, and got a second opinion, then a second second opinion, or a third opinion. They told me there was no need to get my prostate removed and that I was a perfect candidate for the seeds, or brachytherapy, in which tiny radioactive needles are placed in your prostate, and that kills the cancer. Anyway, while this was going on, a radio friend of mine in New York was also diagnosed with prostate cancer at a young age. He was diagnosed about six months before me and I contacted him and he told me about another two cancer doctors at another New York hospital, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, and he said, “I want you to see these guys. They saved my life.” So I was seen by those guys, a urologist and a radiation oncologist, I saw them independently and both of them said I was a perfect candidate for the seeds. So I had gotten a second, third, fourth and fifth opinion, and by then, I was convinced. I never contacted the doctor in New Jersey again, and I wanted to be very proactive about this. In February of 2001, I went into St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, got the seeds and have been in remission 17 years.

JF: It worked out well for you that you had more than one opinion, and you learned you had more than one treatment option to choose from. It sounds like you made an informed decision by going inand talking to all of those doctors.

BM: I felt that way at the time and certainly feel that way now.

JF: Bruce, I know you were living in Hackensack, New Jersey, but were you eventually treated by the doctors in New York City?

BM: Yes, the procedure was done at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. The previous night I had stayed at a hotel so I could make a nice, ten-minute walk to the hospital, underwent the procedure on an outpatient basis and that evening, a co-worker took me home to New Jersey, stayed the night with me just in case something went wrong, which it didn’t, then he brought me back to St. Luke’s in the morning for a followup visit.

JF: That was a good friend to have. So when this happened, were you able to continue to work? Did you have to take some time off?

BM: I only took a couple of days off. Then after that, I was in there, working.

JF: That’s pretty rare.

BM: Yes, I guess that is testament to the fine work done by the doctors at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt.

JF: In addition to your friend, did you have family or anyone there to give moral support?

BM: No, because anyone who would have been close enough to me, they were scattered in other parts of the country. So the only one who really helped me was the co-worker who took me home after the procedure.

JF: A question that a lot of our teammates have is, did you lose your hair as part of the procedure?

BM: Thankfully, no, that was not a problem.

JF: What were one or two of the worst side effects of the procedure?

BM: I would say there was a lot of frequent urination and it reached the point in which I was put in a position in which I had to track how often I went to the bathroom. I had to urinate into a clear plastic container that measured the volume of my urination. So I had to keep track of how often I urinated and how much.

JF: Did you ever have to deal with a catheter?

BM: Yes, the catheter was put in when I under anesthesia during the procedure, so I had no idea what was going when it was put into me. The next day at the followup visit, that’s when the catheter was removed.

JF: And what was that like?

BM: That was probably the greatest amount of physical pain I had ever felt in my life, but it was like a lightning bolt, done in half a second, done right away. Once that was done, I had to learn if the muscles that regulate my peeing were still functional. The nurse told me to start drinking lots of water, then pointed the way to the bathroom, and wished me luck. So I went to the bathroom, began to urinate, then tried to hold it, and with great relief, I was able to do so. There was some pain in the urinary canal tied to trauma related to the catheter, but knowing that I could control whether I urinated was relief beyond measure.

JF: As for paying for the procedure, did you have insurance?

BM: Yes. The total cost of the procedure was about $11,000 and insurance paid for all but $2,900 of it.

JF: What would say was the lowest point of your cancer journey?

BM: I learned it is standard procedure that with the seeds, at about the 18-month mark, one’s PSA will go up. I was told by the doctors that this is normal, and there is nothing they can do about it, but that it will come back down in time. To me, that was cold comfort, being told I would simply have to wait three months for my next blood test. When I took that test, my PSA inched its way down. It wasn’t the precipitous drop I was hoping for, but three months after that, the PSA took a bigger decrease. And three months after that, it fell to almost zero, and since then, it has been less than 0.1.

JF: That’s great. It was a long wait for that good news. How did you deal with the stress that came with that waiting period?

BM: This happens many times to many people when the illness appears to be bigger than they are. I prayed a lot, I put it in God’s hands because I didn’t feel I could overcome it on my own. So that was, and is, part of my recovery scenario, then and now.

JF: Other than being told your cancer was in remission, what was one of your favorite memories of your cancer journey?

BM: I am not sure if I have a favorite moment, but I guess the best parts were the repeated good news of a good checkup followed by another good checkup. Once the PSA started veering in the right direction and getting on course, that was very uplifting and I was extremely thankful for that.

JF: Were there any setbacks that came along during your cancer journey?

BM: Just the increased urination, especially in the first year. A byproduct of the procedure is my taking sort of a pre-emptive approach to peeing, so I don’t put myself in a position in which I have to go to the bathroom right away and don’t have immediate access to a bathroom.

JF: So when your doctor told you your cancer was in remission, I guess that was based on getting a great regarding your plummeting PSA. Is that basically when you found out you were in remission?

BM: I guess the best news came not from a doctor, but from a milestone. With my procedure, the conventional wisdom is, if you get to the five-year mark and you are cancer-free, the conventional wisdom is, there is a strong likelihood you have beaten it. So when I got to the five-year mark, that’s when I really rejoiced.

JF: Was there anything you did to celebrate that big day?

BM: As part of the work I do, in 2001 and 2002, I worked for Tennis Radio Network, which sent reporters to different tennis events around the world. In February of 2002, I covered a tennis event in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was put up at a very high-end hotel., which was not consistent with my usual hotel experiences. I stayed at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires. I had a fantastic experience there and said to myself I really want to come back when I am not in a working capacity, but because it would be so expensive to pay for it myself, I would have to have a very special reason for returning. Then it occurred to me that getting to five years and beating cancer, that’s special. That merited something over-the-top like this, so in 2006, I came back to the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires to celebrate this major milestone.

JF: That’s wonderful. I know when you went there, you told me you discovered a restaurant you really liked. What can you tell you about that experience?

BM: The name it is “El Mirasol,” which in Spanish means the sunflower, and I don’t know what sunflowers have to do with steak, but in Argentina, steak is a big deal. When I was in Argentina in 2002, what I did involved a lot of work and very long hours. So one night, here it was, 11:30, I had been working for 12 hours and still had a lot of work to do, and I decided to call ‘time out’ to get me something to eat. That’s when I discovered “El Mirasol”, which was about a five-minute walk from the Four Seasons. Buenos Aires is kind of like a European city, a lot of people eat very late at night, and the restaurant was packed. But I went on to have the best steak I had ever had in my life. I never forgot that meal or that night, and when I came back in 2006, I told myself I had just had to return to El Mirasol once or twice. So I went in there, and although I am not fluent, I know a little Spanish. I told the waiter I was in Buenos Aires to celebrate my beating cancer, and that I specifically wanted to come to El Mirasol to celebrate this. I then told him my hotel was only five minutes away, and asked if it would be okay for me to go back there and return with a camera, so I could get a picture with him. He said that would be fine. So I returned and this was after I’d finished eating, and the manager directed me to a table and the only thing atop it was a glass of champagne. I really don’t care for champagne, but this was not the time to say it; I was so touched that these people, total strangers, would go to these lengths to honor, to acknowledge this very special juncture in my life, that they would do that. So I took a picture of this glass of champagne and had a picture taken with the waiter, so that was one unforgettable experience.

JF: That is priceless. So what have you been doing with your cancer journey and entering remission?

BM: Well, I was working in Denver as a reporter, covering news and then covering sports for Metro Networks, which was a national radio news service. In 2008, they experienced some financial reverses and closed down various news bureaus across the country, and the Denver bureau was one of the casualties. As a result, I lost my full time staff position with Metro. I continued to cover sports for Metro on a freelance basis, which I do to this day. But I didn’t have full time employment and didn’t have benefits. That ushered in a very dark time in my life, as I looked for a job doing something, anything to keep the lights on. About five years later, in 2013, I got a job at a hotel in downtown Denver, working as a bellman and I am happy to say that I have been there ever since.

JF: That’s wonderful. I also know you reached the 15-year mark of being cancer-free and had a chance to go back to Argentina.

BM: Yes, I went back there with a friend of mine from San Francisco. We kind of decided the Four Seasons would be too expensive, and because I was working for a hotel chain, I was able to get us a room at a Buenos Aires hotel that was affiliated with my hotel, and it was still a pretty good hotel. We were there for five nights and just had a great time.

JF: And you went back to El Mirasol?

BM: Twice. If there was anything I insisted upon while we were there, it was that we go to El Mirasol twice.

JF: That was great. As to the future, what are your hopes and dreams?

BM: I am 64 years old, and I am looking forward to the day I can retire from full time work. As I said, I still do radio sports work on a freelance basis and plan to continue that, but I hope to retire from full time work in late 2019.

JF: Good luck with retirement when it comes. If you had one or two messages for teammates, what would it be?

BM: I don’t have anything deep or complicated, and the following is not an original thought by any means, but to keep a positive outlook about your journey. Health care professionals of every stripe have said maintaining a positive attitude can only be therapeutic and can only aid your journey. So keep a positive outlook, and I am not saying that in itself will cure you or turn things around on a wholesale basis, but it will help.

JF: So I want to move on to what I call the highlight round, with a series of short questions and short answers. What was the scariest part of your cancer journey?

BM: I would say just the news that I had cancer. Once the procedure started, I felt I was in good hands. Just before the procedure started, I was joking with the OR team. I was making them relax instead of the other way around. So I would say the scariest part was getting the news and the stage 18 months in when my PSA went up.

JF: Can you give an example of a small achievement along the way?

BM: I was pleased that I could still run. I used to be a competitive runner. In an unrelated development, I was diagnosed with tendinitis in my left quad where it attaches to my knee, which sometimes affects how I walk. But overall, I am just thankful that I can live a normal physical life.

JF: What would say was the best piece of advice you heard, advice that helped you through your journey?

BM: The best of advice was from the ex-boss to get a second opinion and from the radio friend who ultimately got me to go to the doctors that performed the procedure. I had always had a positive outlook about the journey, and that was not the product of any advice. The best advice was getting another opinion and going to the doctors that I went to. My friend had said "they saved my life" and I guess I can say the same thing.

JF: Oh that's wonderful. Thanks for sharing those words of wisdom, Bruce. And, Team Journey, this comes from someone who has walked the walk, and I hope you can take some of this valuable information and apply to your own journey. Well Bruce, we're so happy for you and we wish you continued good health. And thank you so much for being so generous with your time, your expertise and your knowledge and we truly appreciate you sharing your journey with us today. Team Journey salutes you Bruc and we’ll see you down the road.

BM: Thank you so much Jim. Great to have the chance to share this with you.

JF: Your welcome. Thank you.