Warren Covert: A Life-Changing Experience
My name is Warren Covert. I live in Massachusetts. I am a 65-year old retired US Navy Commander. I was in active duty in Viet Nam, I have trained military advisors, I’ve done management consulting, served again in Desert Storm-and through it all that I still played a major role in raising two sons. My wife, Mary, and I have been married for 28 years. Our marriage was steadfast through all of those years, and now has proven sturdy during my prostate cancer journey.
My diagnosis followed a routine physical in December, 2010. At that time, my PSA was 5.5-not horribly high, but it got my doctor’s attention. He referred me to a urologist. In January, 2011 I had a TRUS biopsy. Two out of 10 cores were positive for prostate cancer, and both were Gleason 3+4. I was told I had stage T1 cancer since the DRE revealed nothing palpable.
The urologist gave me two basic choices: prostatectomy or radiation. I consulted a robotic surgeon and a radiologist. I wanted more information about the exact location and nature of my cancer, but neither of them seemed willing to pursue further diagnosis.
Meanwhile, Mary gave me some books on prostate cancer. They recommended getting an MRI (which I hadn’t been offered) and a second opinion on my slides. I requested an MRI but was told it wasn’t conclusive and wouldn’t show anything. As for the second opinion, I had to take the initiative on that, which meant contacting the excellent pathology lab at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. I eventually tracked down a name and address there. I passed this along to the urologist who had done the biopsy and was told he would see to it. All the while, I wasn’t happy with the options I’d been given.
I was reading books and researching on the internet, and came across HIFU. I also saw a newspaper ad from New York University (NYU) about HIFU. Then, when I called the urologist for the outcome of the second opinion, they told me they never sent out the slides. I insisted, and finally the second opinion confirmed the first. By now more than six months had passed, and it was July. I was still not pleased about either surgery or radiation so I made an appointment to see a urologist at NYU to find out if I was a HIFU candidate. I went in for an MRI, upon his recommendation, and a bone scan. They processed it that day. Mary and I met with the urologist to go over the results, which upgraded my tumor from stage T1 to T3. The urologist showed me on MRI images where the tumor was, and confirmed it with sophisticated ultrasound. I was disappointed to find I was not a candidate for HIFU based on the size of my prostate.
The urologist suggested just having surgery. He set me up with a robotic surgeon at NYU, and it was like night and day between him and the surgeon I’d first seen. He was so open, and gave so much more information. On the other hand, he’d done about 140 robotic RPs, whereas the surgeon back at home had done 400. While I still didn’t like the idea of surgery, I felt there was an advantage to the greater experience level and to having a surgeon close to home in Massachusetts during recovery. I went ahead and scheduled robotic prostatectomy for September 21.
Then a serendipitous email changed my decision. I was on mailing lists to prostate cancer, and the subject line of one made me curious. I clicked on it, and it led to a taped interview with Dr. Sperling. I went to his website, and read about focused laser ablation. It made perfect sense to me. All along I felt there had to be something besides “hacking me up” and I knew I wanted something noninvasive. I arranged an August appointment with Dr. Sperling in New Jersey, and brought my records. After he reviewed my file and consulted a colleague, he told me I was a candidate for the focal laser procedure. That’s exactly what I was looking for! I cancelled the surgery.
On the appointed Tuesday in early September, Mary and I drove to the MRI center. I was scheduled to arrive at 12:30. Everything was explained to me and Mary. I was given conscious sedation to keep me relaxed yet still able to communicate. After being prepped, I was taken to the MRI suite for the procedure. At one point, I could feel a slight sensation in the prostate area and told them about it. They increased my sedation. Other than that single instance, I couldn’t really tell anything was happening. I had no other sensation.
When it was over, I got up and sat in a chair. I was given a sandwich and something to drink while the two doctors reviewed the procedure. Then they both came in to meet with me and said everything went great. They asked how I felt, and I told them fine.
I got dressed. Mary and I have an apartment in New York because of her work there, so I spent the rest of the week with her. That night we went out to dinner. The next day, Wednesday, I walked three miles. On Thursday and Friday, I played 18 holes of golf. It was like nothing every happened. I had no side effects whatsoever. I was ecstatic. I had a follow-up exam a month later with the urologist. My PSA had dropped from its highest point of 7.5 down to 3.2-and he said it will still decrease.
I’m happy with my treatment choice. To me, it was well worth it. I’ve had no longer term effects other than improved urine flow due to the decrease in prostate size. I’ve been telling people about it since I had focused laser done. I say, “Talk to me. You’ve got nothing to lose.” I’m still mystified at how lucky I was that I clicked on that email and found Dr. Sperling. All in all, it was a life-changing experience. I pinch myself every day and feel like it’s a miracle.