LIVESTRONG Leaders are individuals that make a yearly significant commitment to those in their community affected by cancer by spreading the message of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. They do this by fundraising, hosting events, bringing LIVESTRONG Foundation resources to their local hospitals and more. One of our amazing leaders, Rhonda Colbert, talks about her husband’s battle with prostate cancer, his involvement with LIVESTRONG and what she is doing to help spread the LIVESTRONG Foundation message.
April 15, 2008: One week before my husband’s 49th birthday. We received the call you never want to get. My husband had aggressive prostate cancer. Jon had trouble urinating for years and was told by another doctor that he had what they called a “doctor’s bladder.” At the time he drank so much coffee that it had desensitized the feeling to go. We left thinking, “Okay, that’s all it is.” But over time Jon knew something wasn’t right. He was young and healthy. He ate well, ran and cycled and worked out daily. He was given Flomax, which helped for a while. But when he went back for his annual check-up, his PSA count had gone from a 1.9 to a 2.8. His count was still in the normal range, but it had almost doubled in a year. Of the biopsies they took, 9 out of 12 were cancerous. On the Gleason scale of 2-10, his was a 9.
We met with his surgeon and received even worse news, to us anyway. Because his Gleason score was a 9, the surgeon would have to remove the nerves that cause erections. We cried more over this than over the fact that he had cancer. They told us that after the surgery there were things we could do to have a normal sex life again. I should have asked what their version of normal was.
On May 8, 2010 Jon had his prostate removed using the Da Vinci Robotic surgery. The doctor told us that the margins looked good and that he felt he had got all the cancer. A month later, Jon’s PSA had decreased—good news! A month after, his PSA was up again—bad news.
At Jon’s three-month check-up, his PSA had risen again. The cancer had spread, but his doctors didn’t know where. Jon was put on hormone therapy. We were told it could take days, weeks, months or years to work. Jon told the doctor he felt like a women trapped in a man’s body. He was basically going through menopause—hot flashes, mood swings, crying over commercials, forgetting things. That was my role! I apologized to him for having to put up with me all those years, but I really wanted to remain queen of my domain. I wanted my testosterone-driven husband back.
When Jon was diagnosed his brother gave him a LIVESTRONG wristband. Jon looked into the LIVESTRONG Foundation when he met a prostate cancer survivor who at the time was a LIVESTRONG Leader. He encouraged Jon to become a Leader, something that Jon would consider to be one of the best things he ever did. The support he received and the connections he forged as a result made his cancer journey a positive thing in his life. He passed out wristbands and was able to share his story with others.
Meanwhile, we had to go to a therapist so I could learn how to give injections into his penis so that he could get an erection. This was supposed to be our “normal” sex life? Jon had asked about getting an implant, but he was told that as long as the shots worked to “stick” with those—at least we kept our sense of humor! As his wife, though, knowing that I was no longer capable of turning on my husband without using the injections was heartbreaking.
Jon went on and off of hormone therapy for about two and a half years. He starting having pain in his hip, and in April 2010 a bone scan showed that the cancer had metastasized to his bones, from his skull down to his legs. Hormone therapy helped for about six months, but his next bone scan was much worse. His pelvis was 75% cancer. He was in so much pain that he had to be admitted into the hospital. Chemo started immediately, along with ten radiation treatments to his right hip. No more running, cycling or anything that would put pressure on his bones.
Back to our so-called “sex life,” Jon decided he wanted to have an implant. He was tired of the injections, and frankly I really did not like giving them. In December 2011 he had the implant put in—but that is another story for another time!
The implant worked just fine, but by then Jon was sick so often and on so much medication that having sex was the last thing he wanted to do. Jon went through five rounds of chemo and more radiation, but nothing was working. In December 2012 we were told that he probably had weeks left to live and that it was time for hospice to help manage his pain. I promised him that as long as I was able to keep him at home and care for him, I would.
We also found out we were to be grandparents again. That was all the motivation Jon needed. By June the tumors in his spine were pressing on his nerves, and he was unable to get out of bed—but he still kept his amazing strength and willpower. Our second granddaughter was born on July 14, 2013. Two weeks later our family drove up from Atlanta so that Jon could hold her.
On August 22, 2013 Jon lost his battle with cancer at the age of 54. One out of six men will get prostate cancer in their lifetimes, and most men will die with it—not from it. Jon made it his mission to tell men to man-up and get checked. Just a simple blood test and a digital exam once a year can make a difference.