My name's Joe LaBella. I'm a retired chef, been in the food business since I was 13 years old. I have lived a charmed life as far as health goes. I've always worked, just 14 hours a day was a normal day. And I never had any physical problems at all other than just a few little muscle aches and pains. And I went and got a physical every year like you're supposed to. Went and got my physically normally right when COVID hit. And I had to do a virtual with the urologist when he read my PSA levels, and my PSA levels were at five. And he said, "That's not a problem. You're 70 plus years old at this point, and that's relatively normal. We'll just keep an eye on it."
About seven, eight months later, I started getting a pain that I wasn't familiar with. And it wasn't anything that was just going away. It was difficult for me to get through a workday without limping. And so I went to my primary care doctor, and they did all the tests. And my PSA levels came back at 175. My wife saw the results on the internet. Thank God for her because she keeps track of everything in my life. My wife got the ... She was on the computer forever, which I can't sit in front of the thing. It drives me crazy. But she got the results of my blood test, and she looked at the numbers and said, "This is not good."
So she called my doctor right away, and the doctor picked up my paperwork, looked at it. She said, "Get him. I want a virtual with him." This is during the first few weeks of COVID, or last part of COVID, I guess, the middle of it, whatever it was. It was seven months, eight months into it. And she said, "I want him to see my face," because she wanted me to know that this was a very scary thing. And she was right, she was right, and so was she, of course. And I hate to say that, it kills me to say you were right.
But anyhow, going through that with her, I could tell it was an eminent problem. We have to deal with this now. Had no idea what prostate cancer was about. I didn't have any problems like that before or anything, for that matter. I've been bulletproof all my life. And coming from the background that I come from, I've had more than a few in the street. You get hit hard sometimes, and it ain't how hard you get hit, or how hard you fall, it's how you get up. And this one, when I got smacked with this one, I was like, "Whoo, this is something that you never had to face before." I wasn't prepared for it. I had nothing to prepare me for it.
And I think if I had known more about it, I may have been more attuned to getting tested more frequently. The fact that COVID was on was a hurt because you weren't getting any attention at that point. Like I said, I had to do a virtual with the urologist the first time when it was at five. Then eight months later, it's at 175. Two weeks after that, it's 235. So I'm like, "Okay. Well, this is not good. Whatever this is, it's pretty aggressive." So the next day, she had me down at the hospital doing the preliminary tests, and they booked me for a biopsy. They did the biopsy, and at that point, my daughter had made a phone call to a friend where I was going to the doctor there at the hospital we were involved with, my primary care.
And one of her friends was with the oncology department there, and she knew everybody in the business. And she said that idealistically, if it was my father, I'd want you at Tulane. So she made a phone call, we spoke to a young lady named Charlotte, who was an absolute doll, got me in touch with Dr. Sartor. Dr. Sartor put me in touch with Dr. Barata. He read the biopsy, did preliminary tests with the blood. My PSA levels at that point, this is two weeks later, was 245. So this was rolling, which had my buttoned it in button holes. I was like, "Okay." It was like getting clipped on the chin. I didn't get it. I felt nothing before. I just worked through whatever I had.
So Dr. Barata sat me down, told me what the options were. And without being too blunt, immediately said, "One of the options is castration." And I said, "That's not on the table. We're not doing that. The boys in the basement came with the package, they're leaving with the package." And he said, "Well, we have other options." And actually, the drug that he put me on was not ... I guess the FDA or whoever says it's okay to use this wasn't ready for it to be used yet, so it took a while, about two more weeks before he started me on that. And they had already injected me with a shot in the stomach that was ... I forget the name of it, whatever.
And I felt so comfortable with Dr. Barata because he offers me options. And I go, "Well, what do you think?" Because I'm not that guy, I don't know anything about this. And the medication that they put me on has its ups and downs. I'm going to tell you when they put me on the chemotherapy, I was very concerned about that because, as we had discussed before, cancer run rampant in my family. My father died of pancreatic cancer. My mother died of breast cancer. All three of my sisters had breast cancer. One of them had cervical cancer. My brother died of colon cancer. So to me, it was like it's not a question of it, it's a question of when, and did not expect this, did not.
So now that's come to light, and when they said chemotherapy, I watched my father go through it with the pancreatic cancer, which was horrible. And they said chemotherapy, and I'm going to tell you, the whole world kind of went dark for a little bit, and I was like, "Okay. Well, this is just another fight. We'll just figure it out." And it really wasn't that bad. The first, they gave it to me every three weeks, and the first three week session, I was like, "Man, if this is as bad as it gets, I'm cool." Second set took me out. I felt like a 1959 Edsel. I was leaking oil everywhere. I just didn't think I was going to make it through it at one point, couldn't breathe. I had lung issues. And that ain't me. That's not my place. I've never been there before. I've always been strong as a bull. I just didn't go down for anything, and this beat me up pretty good.
But as we got through it, I'd take the chemo, you'd feel really good the day after, pretty good the day after. And then by the second day, it would start to beat you up really bad. And two or three days after that, the further away you got from that shot, from drip, the better you felt. And it started off, to walk a half a block, you'd have to force yourself to walk that half a block and turn around and come back. At some point you're thinking, "I don't know if I'm going to get back to the house or not." But as it goes, then it was a block and a half. Then it's I consistently make two miles four or five times a week. I'm not jogging.
I don't think they want me to do a whole lot because the cancer has from the prostrate had metastasized, and it moved around pretty good. It's in my hip, my back, my spine. But I really don't feel that bad. I get a few aches and pains and I get fatigued, but I still could make an eight hour workday pretty easy. I don't have to because I'm said retired, but I'll still do it every now and again. And they get in the weeds and they get swamped, they call me to come in and pitch. I'll work a carving station or I'll go in there and just do what I've got to do to keep them out the weeds. And most of the time, I can make it through that day without a problem. Every now and again, I get fatigued, I get pain in my back. I just got to go sit for a little bit. Then I can make another two or three hours without a problem. I don't take a whole lot of ...
They gave me a bunch of pain medication, Vicodin and ibuprofen. I don't really take it, unless it's absolutely necessary, I really feel bad or something, I'll take that, and more so the ibuprofen than the Vicodin. And the Vicodin would purely only cure a headache for me. It's okay. But I don't see a need to take it, I can make it through without it. This started 17, 18 months ago, I just didn't know how I felt about this whole thing. I guess the toughest part about this thing was facing her when they told us, and then talking to my kids about it. You got to look at your children. And they're grown. I got grandkids and all of that. My oldest is 50. And we've got a close knit family, and that's coached me through this as well.
Having a good support system at home, like I said, I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for her. I'd have done myself in a whole lot before that because she had to put a bit in my mouth and keep me under control because I had two speeds, dead stop and all get out. And like I said, she's the strength in that. I'll pull the wagon, but you've got to guide me. And it was tough to tell my kids, toughest thing I ever did in my life. And I've been married 54 years and I went through one war, that was easy. This was tough. This jerking a short, a knot in my chest that I just couldn't get away from.
Since then, everybody's kind of got used to the idea that it's going to be better for a while, and then it'll be back. And then we'll have to do something else, and whatever treatments that they say do, I'm married to it. It is the way that it is. I feel fortunate that up until this happened, I lived a charmed life. I've been healthy as a bull. And I just felt like after I got used to the idea that my kids and my wife had to deal with this, because my first reaction was get rid of all your debt servers, get rid of everything, start getting things out of your way. And then she calmed me down, of course.
And you sit down and you think about it in the dark by yourself. And you think, "What's the end game on this? And how tough is this going to be on them?" But then you think about the ride here, I've been virtually healthy all my life, so this has been a really good run. I don't have any regret about my life at all. I might have a little regret about the way I go out if that's in God's time. But other than that, I've been blessed. I think God wakes up every day and goes, "Give him a little something to shock him back into reality because life's been wonderful." So we just have to do what we have to do, whatever the doctors say. I got really good people in my corner. Where I'm at, at Tulane, I really feel good about them.
In fact, seeing the people that I see over there when I go, it's a treat for me. And I can't walk in there empty handed. I got to cook for them or something. That part of it is rewarding because I've made really great friends over there, and they're good people. You get used to being that guy that takes control. And then you get smacked with this and you go, "You are no longer in control, buddy. Now you have to listen to your corner and do what they say do, and hope that it comes out well." Hopefully, you win the fight. But don't think that on this journey, you're not going to take a few on the chin, where you think, "Man, I don't know if I'm going to make the next round, buddy." Just don't know. So far, so good.
You think the worst and pray for the best, and she coaches me through it. We've been together since she was 14. That's a long time. And once again, I've always taken the lead and she's always guided me in the right spot. So we'll just continue doing what we're doing. I don't think she's going to make bad decisions. I might. I've made a few, not a whole lot though. I'm usually right. If you don't surround yourself with really good people, you're destined to fail. You're going to fail. You really need to have a strong support system. And thank God I was blessed enough to land where I landed because now I have confidence in the people that are in there, and they are the best around as far as I can see. That's a Superbowl team out there. And that's where I want to be. I don't want to be on the ass end of it with people that go, "We're just going to go ahead and castrate him." No, you are not.
I have a very, very close friend of mine. We've been friends for 45, 50 years. About a month after I was diagnosed, at that point, I'm in this knee deep with Pedro, and they'd got the clearance to go ahead and put me on the Abi, he calls it Abi, whatever it is. It's the pills that I take. And my buddy comes down with cancer, with prostate cancer as well. And he's got more than a few other problems. He's 70, didn't really live a charmed life. He's had bypass surgery and stuff like that, and COPD. So he comes down, he said he's got the Kentucky Derby of diseases. So he gets diagnosed with cancer and he said, "Here I am with COPD and heart problems, and this, that, and the other thing." And he said, "Up on the outside, here comes cancer."
And his doctor there said in two weeks they were going to set him up for an operation in two weeks for castration. And I went, "Wait. What? There's no other option in that?" "No," he said, "I've got to do this." Dude, I don't know. I don't know. Maybe you're talking to the wrong guy. So I got him an appointment with Barata and went over there, and Barata immediately put him on the same pills that I'm on. And all of a sudden, castration was off the table and my buddy was very, very thankful for that. And he told me that he saw the doctor that was going to do this to him. And he told him that he was taking the pills that I'm taking, and he didn't know anything about this. He didn't know that these were even an option.
So at that point, if he'd have been two weeks up the road right then, listen, I get the whole thing about ... I didn't like losing my hair. We're not doing this other thing. You know? And I felt that same way for him. But if I don't talk to him, to my buddy at this, two weeks after that, he'd have been done. He'd have been castrated. Now would the outcome be the same? Yeah, probably so because the medication, they all have ... You have everything that you take, I don't care if it's an aspirin, has a reaction. What goes in must come out. And the pills that I'm on, as I was saying out there, this is a different realm for me. I break out into the sweats.
And they said, "You're going to go through menopause." And I went, "Oh, this is just not fair," because I remember when she went through that. And now I'm going through the sweats and I'm looking at her going, "How did you do this?" I'm in an air conditioned house. It's 70 degrees in there. And I've got a blanket on one minute, and the next minute, I'm sitting up and pouring sweat. Where did that come from and for what? Well, it's the hormones. You could've kept those. But when she was going through that, and she goes, "I sweat like this because I'm going through this change." I said, "Well, hurry up and change."
No, that's not the way it works. Okay, whatever. And I just thought it was a myth. I thought it was all right here. People told you, you were going to do this, so now you're doing it. Nope, that's not the way it is, buddy. When those hormones kick in, and all of a sudden, and we joke about it. I've got a propensity to want to shop, and I cry at Hallmark movies. You feel different about things. Your body feels different. It's a different feeling altogether, but you suck it up and go on about your business.
I trust in the people that I'm dealing with emphatically. If they tell me, whatever they tell me to do, I'm going to take their lead. I wouldn't expect them to come in my kitchen and tell me how to cook, so let them make the soup this time. And I'll just taste it and go along with the final product is. They're really good at what they do. Of course, they've studied this. It would do no good at all to ask me, "What do you think you should do?" I don't know. I don't have a clue. Like I said, I hardly went to a doctor except for a physical, and the physical always ended up with the same results. Your cholesterol's a little high. You have a little bit of blood pressure, easily done in the kitchen that I was in. Burn up 10, 12 cases of heavy cream a week, and everything that tastes good has got butter or pork fat in it, so my cholesterol's going to be a little high, not bad.
And I think that's attributed to staying as active as I have over my lifetime because I've always worked enormous hours and always found time to go to the gym and sweat a little bit, keep myself in ... I Actually, in the summertime when it was slow, would work out just to get prepared for the catering season because I knew there was going to be a lot of 16 hour, 17 hour days, and back, to back, to back, to back. You might not see a day off for three months. That's the way it is, so I'd train and get ready for it. You can't train and get ready for this. When they pop you on the chin with this, when they say cancer, it's like, "Me? How? How?" I do everything, I don't smoke, I do have a propensity to rip a couple of beers up, I drink a little bit. I eat relatively healthy. I wish I'd have known more about prostate cancer before this happened because it was the year before that happened, I had…
Because of the cancer riddled into my family in my history, and because I have my keeper over there that said, "You need to get tested." For what? Okay, I'll get tested. And she pushed me to get the PSA test. She's a lot smarter than me. But I started the last two years before this happened, I had never had a test before. I don't need to do that. I'm fine. You're fine until you're not fine.So yeah, I would say that if there was any way that they could make this more apparent and bring it to light where ... I'm not talking about guys in their 70s, I'm talking about guys much younger than me. They ought to start looking now and be aware before it gets to the point because when they looked at me and said, "Stage four," and I went, "I don't think there's any stages past four. Is there?" Nope, that's it. Okay, fine.
If they would've said stage one, okay, it's treatable. We can remove whatever. It's operable. Those options are off the table. So now it's all chemicals, and I don't know what else is coming after this. I'm pretty sure they braced me for most everything because the team that's working with me, they're very, very thorough. And they said, "In all probability, there may be, up the road, there'll be immune therapy, or radiation." We'll just see how it goes. You've got to take the fight the way it comes. Each day is another round. Just be prepared and slip them punches, that's all you can do.
With that being said, you can be prepared as you want to be. You can't be prepared for when they tell you this, especially when you don't know anything about it. And now I'm finding more and more out about what the possibilities are. I'm meeting people that have had it for a long period of time, and some of them have expired already. I've met quite a few people that I've talked to, and then I find out a couple of months up the road that they cashed their chips in. It was all over but the shouting. And even talking to them, as negative as it seems that you would be talking to somebody that they know they're dying in a short amount of time because they've sent them home and said, "It's over. We can't do anything else," tough pill to swallow. But like I said, for me, I think anybody that's satisfied with their life, that's pleased with the outcome, great kids, great grandkids, great business, I feel that I put my family in a financial position that if I'm not here, they'll be okay.
So with that being said, it's been a good run. What more can you ask out of life? It can't get any better than this. Now getting out of it, the final outcome, I don't know how that's going to be. But they say death comes to us all. I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty sure I'll be ready for it when it happens. We'll see. We'll see. I know he better be a tough son of a bitch getting in the door.