Living well with advanced cancer

February 18, 2016

Sidney Thompson has had only one really bad day since being diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago. It came in July 2008, when he learned that his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level had risen to the point where he would need chemotherapy.

“That afternoon I was dumpy,” recalls Thompson. “The next morning I made up my mind. I’ve always been a fighter. My parents instilled in us that it’s better to think about how to accomplish something rather than sit around and mope.”

Thompson, 69, grew up in rural Minnesota, where family and church helped shape his values of hard work and personal responsibility. He worked as a stockbroker and venture capitalist, flew his own planes, traveled extensively, developed a chain of restaurants, and with his wife, Freddie, raised three children.

The couple live in Minnetonka and spend winters at their condo in Florida. Thompson began experiencing urinary problems in 2003. By February 2004, his PSA level had risen dramatically. He credits a golfing buddy in Florida for steering him toward the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Prostate and Urologic Cancer (IPUC), where he received external beam radiation therapy to treat his cancer.

Six months later, Thompson’s medical team discovered that the cancer had metastasized to his bones. He began hormonal therapy to reduce the production of testosterone, which can spur the growth of cancer cells.

A long road to recovery

Since September 2008, Thompson has been receiving chemotherapy with docitaxel every three weeks. Robert Kratzke, M.D., a medical oncologist with the CPC and Thompson’s doctor, notes that 80 percent to 90 percent of men who receive docitaxel see an improvement in their symptoms.

“Quite frankly, the side effects haven’t been that bad,” Thompson says. He is tired and doesn’t have much appetite, but adds, “To put up with side effects is a small price to pay for a reasonable life.” And that’s Kratzke’s main goal in treating men with advanced prostate cancer. “It’s an unfortunate dilemma that our treatments are getting better and better but are not curative,” he says.

This can lead to a tricky balancing act between continuing treatment and maintaining quality of life. “The overriding principle should be symptom control or prevention of further decline in quality of life,” Kratzke says.

Hope for the future

Kratzke anticipates that at least two new approaches for treating advanced prostate cancer will become standard practice in the near future.

One is combining docitaxel with bevacizumab, an antibody that slows cancer growth by blocking growth of new blood vessels. The second is an immunotherapy in which some of the patient’s white blood cells are removed, genetically engineered to become cancer-fighting cells, and then reintroduced into the person’s blood.

In the meantime, Thompson is feeling good and hanging on to his positive attitude. “I’ve done my damndest to make sure I live every minute as productively and positively as I can,” he says.

- Story courtesy University of Minnesota Foundation