Three years ago, Harvey Antczak was in a weight-lifting program when he noticed pain in his groin and saddle area. It progressed quickly and before long, he was having trouble lifting his legs to run on the treadmill. He was shocked to learn that something as devastating as stage 4 prostate cancer was the cause.
“I went from being fit and weight-conscious to not being able to do much at all,” says the 63-year-old Victor resident and retired teacher from the Rochester City School District. He was confused, in pain, and given a prognosis of 18 to 24 months to live.
However, Antczak rallied after entering Wilmot’s palliative care program, which allowed him to receive specialized care for symptoms along with standard treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to stabilize the disease.
“Palliative care saved my life, to be honest,” he says.
Not only has he exceeded his life expectancy, he has been well enough to enjoy his four children and 16 grandchildren and “participate in life.” He was diagnosed in January 2016, and each January that comes and goes prompts a family party with ice cream.
With palliative care, Antczak says, his daily pain level has dropped from severe to modest and manageable, thanks to a combination of medications that includes medical marijuana. He is able to be comfortable at home, and enjoys gardening and building Lego creations with his grandchildren. He credits palliative care specialist Erin Denney-Koelsch, M.D., for helping him to see the benefits.
Interestingly, research conducted by the Palliative Care Program at URMC and Wilmot concluded that men with advanced cancer are less likely than women to consider the approach. The study authors noted that men are sometimes more stoic, and view palliative care as “giving up,” when they are faced with pressure to “fight.” Patients also may confuse palliative care with hospice, which is comfort care at the end of life after all treatments have stopped.
Antczak believes that men aren’t as open to palliative care for two reasons:
“You don’t want to admit that you’re not as strong as you thought you were, and that you need help,” he says. “Some people see it as a last resort.”
In addition, he says, it’s hard enough to cope with a cancer diagnosis and sometimes it’s just easier to shut down instead of talking to a palliative care specialist about your values, goals, fears, and wishes.
“It’s very difficult to open up and to explain the things you’re going through,” he says. “You may not want to talk, but a good palliative care doctor can take away the anxiety and really help. Dr. Denny has taken direct interest in me, my family, and my emotional needs in addition to medical needs. She is very kind.”