Q & A with Veteran and Prostate Cancer Survivor Robert Kuhn
U.S. Army Veteran Robert Kuhn, author of Rucksack Grunt, served in Vietnam as an infantry soldier. Bob is a life member of the DAV (Disabled American Veterans), a VA volunteer driver, and a prostate cancer survivor.
- How were you diagnosed with prostate cancer?
Last year, I felt perfectly healthy when I went to the VA for my routine annual physical exam and as a part of the usual routine, the doctor sent me to the lab for bloodwork. A week or so later, I received a phone call from the VA informing me that my PSA count was a little bit elevated to 4.3. I wasn’t too concerned though because my count had been gradually increasing over the years as I grew older. I thought that was normal and to be expected at my age (68). I shrugged it off, thinking that they would just prescribe some kind of pill to bring the PSA down as they did with my mildly high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. But no, it wasn’t quite that simple. They wanted to do a biopsy!
- What was most difficult about your prostate cancer journey? What did you do to help yourself get through it?
Man, I hate biopsies! They stick 12 big needles into the prostate, one at a time. Twelve individual jabs! And then after diagnosis, to my consternation, the doctors would never come right out and tell me what the best treatment option was. They always said that it was up to me. Each treatment has differing side effects, it all just depends on which side effects that YOU want to live with. They were telling me that I need to make my own cancer treatment decisions! I immersed myself into the internet search engines and had several long conversations with my younger brother who also had prostate cancer 5 years earlier. Deciding on the treatment option was one of the most difficult decisions that I have ever had to make. And I prayed a lot!
- What have you learned, that you wish you had known at the beginning?
In the beginning, fear of the unknown clouded my decision-making process making it an almost impossible task. I feared the biopsies but they really weren’t so bad. I feared the after-surgery catheter that remained in for two weeks, but that wasn’t so bad. I feared the prostatectomy surgery recovery process but that wasn’t so bad either. I went to my grandson’s little league game five days after surgery. By God’s grace, I was one of the fortunate ones that had only minor temporary side effects, so for me, that wasn’t so bad either. Now, 13 months after diagnosis, with my first post-surgery PSA test result of 0.02, I realize that the initial fears were much greater than the outcome reality and I feel great now.
- What’s important for fellow Veterans who are facing a prostate cancer diagnosis to know?
One of the first things I discovered was that Vietnam Vets are 100% covered! The VA has a whole list of ailments and illnesses that they consider presumptive service-connected disabilities due to Agent Orange exposure. All treatments are 100% covered and you will also begin receiving some serious monthly disability payments from them. But you have to file a claim to receive the payments. The VA won’t just start sending payments to you automatically. [editor’s note: If you are a Veteran, be sure to discuss your individual benefits with VA staff] It is especially important for Veterans possibly exposed to Agent Orange to be tested routinely, because Vets with that exposure may have a 50% greater risk of prostate cancer than Vets who have not been exposed. A big factor in making my decision to use the Pittsburgh VA was that they employed highly trained, very skilled surgeons to perform my robotic radical prostatectomy. In my opinion, it is extremely important to have an experienced, acclaimed surgical team and the Pittsburgh VA has a great urology department.
- How can family and friends best support a man during prostate cancer?
When you face the prostate cancer challenge, you don’t have to do it alone. It’s ok to lean on your family and friends for help and guidance. My wife and daughters, my brother and sisters, and some friends were very helpful, supportive, and comforting, Mostly, by just listening. You are going to face some difficult decisions. Be open with your family and friends. It helps to talk about it all and bounce your thoughts and ideas as well as your feelings and concerns off of them. It helps them too! May God’s Grace be with you all.
We are grateful to Bob for sharing his story. For more, see his blog.
Please note that every person with prostate cancer is a little bit different, and Bob’s experience may not reflect other patients’ journeys. We encourage you to discuss your specific medical situation with your treatment team, and your insurance benefits with your insurance provider or with VA staff, if that applies to you. As Bob has stated so well, making decisions about your treatment can be challenging. We believe that patients should be fully informed. You can download our free, comprehensive Prostate Cancer Patient Guide here.