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Staying Active, Staying Positive
Five years after a diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer, David Atkinson doesn't let the illness define him.

Two and a half years ago, David Atkinson described his journey with advanced prostate cancer. A West Point graduate and Army veteran, he was treated by PCF-funded researcher and medical oncologist Dr. Julie Graff at the PCF-VA Center of Excellence in Portland. When David’s cancer didn’t respond to standard treatment with enzalutamide, Dr. Graff ordered biomarker testing of his tumor to assess for gene mutations. Based on the results, she started him on the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) in December, 2020.

David Atkinson and his wife, Trish

Encouraging News

David recently shared a reassuring update: he’s doing well on the regimen of pembrolizumab plus hormone therapy. He stays active and enjoys life. He continues to work as a project manager with a construction company, does his own home repairs, takes walks with his wife, and even gets out on the ski slopes 2-3 days a season. Best of all, he spends lots of time with his one-year-old granddaughter, whose boundless energy keeps him on his toes!

The “New Normal”

Cancer- and treatment-related side effects have led to some changes in David’s routine. “Fatigue is the major issue,” he reports. He has scaled back his time on job sites to 1-2 days a week, and often takes a hourlong nap when he comes home from work. At initial diagnosis, he had metastases in his right femur and hip, and a dull ache remains. Years ago, the cancer had spread to his tailbone, impacting the nerves and causing significant numbness in his right leg. Although he is somewhat limited in the distance he can walk, David says, “I’m not letting the cancer run my life.”

Staying Vigilant

In the last year or so, his PSA has crept up a little bit. Imaging scans show that the bone metastases are stable, but that cancer cells in the prostate may be growing. David has begun a 25-day course of external beam radiation to the prostate, intended to keep this growth at bay. He continues to be closely monitored with imaging scans and PSA tests.

A Positive Attitude

David notes that when people hear about his situation, they say, “You don’t look like you have cancer!” He ascribes that to his attitude: “I’ve always been positive.” He’s confident in his partnership with Dr. Graff, and continues to stay informed of developments in prostate cancer research. “There’s something new coming down the pike all the time.”

Meet David and Dr. Graff in this video.

Read more about how the PCF-VA Partnership speeds the development of treatments and cures for prostate cancer among veterans, and how PCF supported early immunotherapy research efforts of Nobel Prize winner Dr. James Allison.