November 4, 2003.
The date is deeply etched in James Eisenhardt’s memory.
On that day eight years ago, Jim’s long journey as a cancer patient began. That day also happens to be his wife’s birthday.
November 4 was when this South Jersey man went for a colonoscopy in an effort to learn what was making it difficult for him to go to the bathroom. And it was then that the doctors found a tumor on his rectal wall.
November 4 was the day Jim thought he had colorectal cancer.
The biopsy came back with a surprise, but not necessarily a good surprise. It was prostate cancer and it had spread.
Jim was 49 at the time, a husband and the father of three adult children.
When he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, he called four different people – friends – including a couple in medicine. All four came back with the same recommendation: Go see Dr. Leonard Gomella at Jefferson. So Jim came to Jefferson and was quickly introduced to the multidisciplinary approach to prostate cancer care pioneered here.
On that first visit he was introduced to multiple physicians who specialize in prostate cancer – a urologist, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist. As it turns out, he would come under the care of all of them.
“My PSA reading was 580, which is ridiculous,” he recalls. “They put me on hormone medication right away, which suppresses testosterone.”
He had more tests performed – biopsies and a bone scan.
There was some good news in all this: the cancer hadn’t spread to his bones. Still, it was stage IV prostate cancer. “The strategy they came up with was they were going to throw everything they had at me.”
He was quickly scheduled for six months of chemotherapy. More good news: an MRI showed the tumor was shrinking.
So on July 5, 2004, he had surgery performed by Dr. Gomella.
Jim was scared.
“There was the possibility I could have woken up with two bags: one for the front, one for the back,” he says.
The surgery took 7 hours. While in recovery, he recalls, “All I heard was Dr. Gomella saying no bags.”
Later, Dr. Gomella would tell him he thought he had gotten all the cancer. Still, Jim would need radiation to ensure any cancer cells that remained were eradicated – 37 treatments, one a day, Monday through Friday for seven weeks, plus two more days.
That wasn’t all. Jim continued hormone therapy and would do so for three years.
“You have to laugh,” he says. “I was getting hot flashes with my wife.”
Today, Jim is 57 and cancer free.
“I am a Christian and I believe the reason I was cured was because of the Lord,” he explains. “I believe he worked through Dr. Gomella and the rest of the team there at Jefferson.”
Nearly 220,000 men a year are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Those men often face a bewildering array of treatment options and the challenge of working their way through that labyrinth of decisions.
All of which raises questions for them and their loved ones.