My name is Michael Donohoo. Currently, I'm 69 years old, although I was 68 years old, by the time I received my diagnosis of prostate cancer. My story really has to go back to, we'll say, 1990, when my mother passed away from pancreatic cancer after really suffering for a whole year. And no diagnosis. They finally did some exploratory surgery on her birthday in September of that year, and she passed away by December of that year, three months later, which is very common in those days for pancreatic cancer.
Less than two years after that, her only sibling, her brother, passed away of advanced prostate cancer in his late 60s. So we didn't really know at the time, what was going on in the family, other than about of bad luck. So, we jumped forward now. In 2010, I lost one of my sisters at age 59 to breast cancer. And we still knew a few pieces of the puzzle were missing, at that point.
Well, in 2012 and 2015, a niece and a cousin of mine, both coming from my mother and her brother's pedigree, both developed breast cancer. They've been successfully treated to this day, but they both had genetic testing done with the same company. And that company ended up letting them know, "Not only are you closely related, but you had the identical BRCA2 mutation. So, you might want to let the rest of the family know that it definitely runs in the family."
I got tested the next summer in 2016 and turns out I was BRCA2 positive. So, the genetics counselor at the hospital that I went through referred me to a pancreatic cancer screening program. And I entered it December of that year, had an MRI done, blood work. So, that was the start of really trying to do something as a patient, on my own to take control of the situation a little bit. I can't stop pancreatic cancer if it occurred, but I could really try to make sure that we're on top of it as soon as it does.
So the next year, in 2017, my oldest son of the five children, he also was BRCA2 along with my youngest daughter. My son started developing painful episodes. He even missed my youngest daughter's wedding in May of that year and had to go to the ER. I took him there On the day of the wedding. Everyone's at our house getting ready. So, he missed the wedding, he shows up later, and for that whole year after that, pretty much, he would have episodes on and off, just severe pain. Didn't know what was going on, started losing some weight. Was under medical care, but they just couldn't find anything. They even went to the point of having his gallbladder out in October of '17, and it unfortunately didn't solve all the problems.
So six, seven months later, he and his wife and I was in the room with them. They invited me along, not knowing anything of how severe whatever was going on was going to be. Anyway, had a visit with an oncologist and turns out, it was a very devastating diagnosis. So, he ended up surviving 19 months before passing away. I take a lot of inspiration from my son. He turns out to be the strongest man I've ever met in my life. I didn't know it at the time. He was a great son, but what he did for those 19 months... And I was in the room, again, when he got diagnosed, and his only concern was those around him, nothing about himself. And I was stunned by that. And so, part of my playbook is because of my son.
And that really, that whole episode really insulated our family a little bit. We went through trauma, but by the time I started having issues last year and followed up with it. Eventually had a prostate MRI. And turns out that I did have a stage four, very aggressive cancer. I really think for myself, I was insulated. I had gone through my son's cancer and his passing away. So at this point, it was just me. It wasn't any of my family members, it was just me. And deep down, it made it easier for me to have it. I didn't want any other family member to go through this again.
So, I started getting the wheels in motion right away, got under great care. I live five minutes away from where I receive my care, which is just wonderful. And while it was very difficult for the rest of my family to accept at this point now, what was happening to me, my job, I feel, as a dad, as a grandpa, as a provider of just emotional care somewhat, for my family, is that I'm going to make my journey be as easy as possible for them.
I had to get, because of my extensive social networks, large family, lot of friends that I knew right away, I had to get a site set up, which my son and daughter-in-law set up a caringbridge.org site. I had that ready to roll. I gave my adult kids who had some of the grandkids, I said, "You've got 24 hours to let your kids know, because I'm going live with the site."
And it's worked out great that the beauty of a site like that is as a patient, you control the information flow. I don't have to have my phone and my text streams blowing up on me. Because a lot of people would want to know, "How are you doing? What's going on?" So, my wife and I decided, we are going to share everything as my son and daughter-in-law did during their 19 month journey and let people know. And everybody who's on my site has the confidence I'm keeping them involved. They're going on the journey with me. I will get writing a lot. They want to hear about vacations and everything going on, along with the cancer elements itself. So, it's really worked out great.
It has solved a big problem on my, and that again, I get to control the information going out. And every recipient trusts that I will be letting them know good days and bad days. And I especially want to take people on a journey as things start turning south, which they will someday. And so many people have never had cancer in their family, and they are somewhat fascinated with it. I know part of the appeal is that there's a train wreck probably coming in the future, and that's okay. If that's why you're on the site, I don't care. Because you're going to learn something about prescription drugs, about Medicare, which I'm on, about utilizing large healthcare systems, how to advocate for yourself. So, it's been a blessing.
I count every day as a blessing. I believe that once I'm gone from this mortal earth, there's something different and probably something better waiting for me. So as of now, I am not fearful of death. I am fearful of getting to the point that my body may be giving up. There can be some terrible physical things that you go through. So that part doesn't thrill me, but the thought of eventually being somewhere else, being gone from my family but I've left behind a beautiful legacy, a loving family, and I want to prepare all of them, as I'm preparing myself for what could be down the road.
That's it. Large. We have a family history of, as I mention, of the BRCA2 mutation coming and bringing out a lot of cancers, unfortunately. So, none of this was a surprise, when I eventually was diagnosed. I even knew that things were probably not going to go the best as far as what was waiting for me when biopsies were done. And when I got the first MRI report, it was very clear that it's a significant health risk that I have going on now.
My first thought when I was getting diagnosed, I thought, "Well, let's get the prostate out." But it was made very clear to me, there's no reason to do that. The horse has left the barn. Once it's metastatic, it was already showing up not only outside the prostate, but it was in some bone areas that were showing up. So at that point, there was no reason to put me through a surgery. And to be honest, I didn't really want to have to go through it, if it wasn't going to do anything.
So the approach for someone in my situation is what's called, a chemical castration. You're going to go on androgen deprivation therapies. There are medicines, there was a shot eventually that was given very early on, to start lowering my testosterone. Since testosterone feeds the cancer cells, feeds the prostate cells, and they love testosterone, it's their food, so the less of it in your body, the better. I was decided, and through my oncology visit and talking with oncologists that I trust 100%, that we decided on a triplicate approach, that it was going to be some medicines along with chemotherapy.
And the chemotherapy agent that's generally used is docetaxel. And I was able to do four of the six doses. I was having some issues with neuropathy, especially in my feet, some hands, but more so in my feet. And my oncologist was concerned that every session of chemo is going to be cumulative. Effects are going to get worse. He warned me about that from day one. You may feel great after the first, second or third, but you may be in the hospital a little bit by the fifth and sixth session. So, just prepare yourself.
And I finally, in consultation with him, the decision was made. Let's stop after four doses. My PSA number was way down. Things were really responding well. So, we'll save some other things that are in our cabinet for now to bring out in the future, which could include future chemo, if that's decided. But right now, things are going great and I have no complaints.
So I have a shot of Eligard every, it could be monthly, every three months, every six months. So, I will always be on Eligard. That's a brand name of prescription medicine to reduce testosterone. I'm on, the brand name is, Zytiga, but the generic is of abiraterone acetate. I'm on that for... I take four pills a day. That will be, I believe, forever. And we did the docetaxel chemo. Because of being BRCA2, we have a medicine ready to roll, and that's called, Lynparza, Olaparib is the generic name.
PARP inhibitors have been shown, especially with prostate cancer, to possibly be effective in letting drugs really get to the cancerous tumor cells, and to do something to help destroy them some, to interrupt their repairing of themselves. Unfortunately, when you are BRCA2, the expression of that gene mutation is that, where most people would have a cancer starting in their body and your immune system can kill off cells and put it in check, with a BRCA2 mutation and that expression of that type of cancer coming forth, cancers get a green light. Instead of the red light, they get a green light. And so, a medicine like a PARP inhibitor is designed to really try to interrupt the cancer cells and affect their ability to replicate.
The biggest thing, which I didn't follow when I first was diagnosed, is, don't panic. I got manic. I will admit it. I wanted everything solved. I wanted my wife to be able to, after my eventual passing away, if that happens from this, I wanted her... Once the funeral and once the big party will go on after my funeral, I want her to be able to come home the next day and basically put a key into the engine of our home life and our financial life and everything, and turn that key on, and she is up and running.
My wife has been very skilled. And she did all our finances for years. She turned it over to me maybe about 10 years ago. But we just went through recently, in December of last year, a very good friend of hers' husband passed away. We've known him forever, and it was sort of the opposite situation. He had, for instance, opened a couple bank accounts in a different city, a little north of where we live, because he didn't like the way he was treated in our larger city banks. And she knew nothing about that. There were so many things that were found to not be able to turn that key into the engine and get it going. And I said, "That is not happening in my household."
So, I do a lot of organizing. I've been the grand communicator among friends of mine. I run a golf trip every year on Father's Day, I do the webs... not a website, but I email communications for our neighborhood association. So, I do a lot of stuff and my first thought is, "Who's going to do all this?" I wanted to make sure it gets taken care of. I don't want these things to die, if I'm gone. So, I went manic, I admit it. I was trying to get everything done. And my wife would get on me, occasionally. She was very kind toward me and very generous, but every once in a while she'd say, "Slow down." So, that's the advice I'd give to a newly diagnosed patient, especially with prostate cancer.
And you have to remember, I was very aware of pancreatic cancer, and that is one, you want to get your affairs in order immediately. Prostate cancer, for the most part, you've got some time, even at a stage four diagnosis, which I have, with what was considered to be an aggressive cancer at first, I probably have some time. So, slow down, do it. It's good what you want to do sometimes, to take care of things. But it can get done next week also.
My biggest regret is not following my instincts at times. And as far as I've done everything with pancreatic cancer, with screening programs, and doing that. But I knew the risk of prostate cancer and I did have my PSA checked every year. But going back, what I would've done is probably ask, back five or 10 years ago, I'd want a prostate MRI done maybe once every five years. Pay for it, if we could get it done reasonably. Get a prostate MRI done.
I knew the risks in our family and that I put on myself. I don't put it on any healthcare provider. I will be talking though to a few healthcare providers I've dealt with in the past, and just suggest, "Every once in a while with a person in my situation, you may just want to suggest something like that." Again, I'm not putting it on anyone but myself, but I could have followed up a little differently than I did on my own.
That being said, there were no signs or symptoms. I did follow up once I started having some urologic symptoms that could have either been benign prostatic hyperplasia, very common. I'm 68 years old at the time. Could have been that or it could have been something a little more severe, which it turned out to be. So, just stay on top of it. Definitely get your PSA checked, if you're a man. I don't care whether you have any cancer in your family, it's silly not to have that checked at least once a year. And if you have suspicions of anything, talk to your healthcare providers, follow through, follow your gut instincts. And anyone in healthcare, follow your gut instincts.
For myself, I am going to stay positive through this whole journey. On my worst and darkest day ever, I hope to still have a smile on my face. I know that's not for everyone. And I think having gone through, in our family, and especially having witnessed my son's journey, that it is easier for me because it's just me. It's not a child of mine, it's not a close family member. It's me going through.
I worry about my adult kids and my grandkids. I want to make sure that I've done the best I can to prepare them for the eventual sickness that I'm going to be going through, more so than just having cancer itself right now, because it's not expressing itself. The treatments have expressed themself. I used to have a great set of hair. It's coming back a little bit. But that is for myself, that's what I want to do.
I have a large caringbridge.org site. A lot of people are on it. They have let me know, "Keep writing. Stay positive." And I'm going to continue that. And if I can educate a few men along the way that are reading this and didn't really follow up on that, my life is well worth it at that point.