Patient Care

It's Men’s Health Month: Be Your Own Advocate and Know Family History, Says Prostate Cancer Survivor

Jun. 20, 2021
Tim McConnell
Tim McConnell and his father

Tim McConnell has always been an advocate for his own health, and he knew he had a higher chance of developing prostate cancer. His father had two prostate cancer surgeries during the course of his life, but survived and lived to be 100 years old before dying from a cause other than prostate cancer. 

But the experience with his father encouraged him to pay attention to his own prostate health.

“I’m a real advocate of my own health,” he says. “I research everything.”   

So he set up an appointment with Thomas Frye, D.O., a urologic oncologist at Wilmot Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor in the Department of Urology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

McConnell had a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which came back high. Further imaging and a biopsy confirmed the news he had suspected: McConnell had prostate cancer, multiple spots on one side of his prostate.

He talked about all his prostate cancer treatment options with Frye: a wait-and-see approach, a full removal of his prostate through a procedure called a prostatectomy, radiation therapy, and an option called HIFU, or high-intensity focused ultrasound.

HIFU isn’t an option for all men with prostate cancer; it depends on the grade and location of the cancer.  But for those who are eligible, it is a minimally invasive approach that aims to maximize quality of life. Rather than removing the whole prostate, which can result in side effects like incontinence and erectile dysfunction, HIFU uses ultrasound to target the cancer on the prostate, aiming to remove the cancer but leave the organ itself intact.  It is also an outpatient procedure and has minimal recovery time.

After discussing all of the options with Frye and doing some research of his own, McConnell opted for HIFU.

“There were many types of treatments, but I liked this procedure because of what it did,” he said. “It was the least invasive and the most targeting. It targeted just the cancer and nothing else.”

He had the procedure in August 2020, and it went well. He recalls it taking about four hours, although he was under anesthesia.

“It was not a painful procedure,” he says. “What’s good about this procedure is, the organ is there for a reason and it’s still intact. About 50% of it is still there in function. That’s why I went with this.”

That afternoon, McConnell returned home. Recovery time was minimal. He’s retired but before long, he was back to doing things he loved: gardening around his home on Canandaigua Lake and supporting a neighbor with running a general store on the east side of the lake.

After his experience, he encourages other men to advocate for themselves, to maintain a relationship with their primary care provider, and to get checked if they have a family history or other increased risk of prostate cancer. While his story ended well, he knows others who did not get diagnosed as soon and it made a difference. 

“Don’t wait,” he says. “Don’t wait and be your own advocate in your prostate cancer journey.”

He adds, “It’s so important once you’re over age 50, you need to have a good relationship with health care professionals. Be very open. A urologist, is really kind of personal. You can’t hide your symptoms or feel uncomfortable about talking about it. Just be very open and honest about it.”