Jim Brian: Prostate Cancer

When you are told you have cancer, everything stops. You depend on family and friends to carry you through the challenges and crises.

“When you are told you have cancer, everything stops. Your sense of what’s important changes, and your priorities shift. You depend on family and friends to carry you through the challenges and crises. But you also need exceptional medical care and expertise to help guide your course and provide the necessary treatment. I was able to find all that and more, right here at Allegiance Health,” said Horton resident Jim Brian.

Jim had been going for regular visits to his family doctor, Bruce Barbour, MD, who was tracking the progression of an enlarged prostate and elevated levels of PSA, a protein that can indicate prostate cancer. “In February 2011, Dr. Barbour noted that my PSA was still in the high normal range, about 4.5, and he referred me to a urologist, Dr. Nitin Ambani, for a biopsy, just to make sure everything was okay,” Jim said.

The biopsy turned out to be positive for an aggressive type of prostate cancer, which came as a shock to Jim and his wife, Linda. “And since Dr. Ambani is a surgeon, I was surprised when he recommended radiation rather than surgery for my treatment,”Jim said. “He made the recommendation to best meet my needs, and I was very impressed." 

Dr. Ambani set up a consultation for Jim with a radiation oncologist at Allegiance Health. “The radiation oncologist was a rare combination of exceptional skill and warm compassion. She had to walk Linda and me through some very difficult scenarios, but we both have nothing but respect and gratitude for her,” Jim said. 

While the doctors discussed a plan of action, Jim went to his first meeting of the prostate cancer support group, Man to Man. “It turned out I was the ‘young guy’ at the meeting,” Jim said. “It was encouraging to see that these men had many years of prostate cancer survival behind them. They also had a lot of useful information and experience to share.”

Jim and his doctors ultimately decided on a non-surgical approach to treatment that would combine internal high-dose radiation therapy (HDR) with external beam radiation therapy, coordinated between the U of M and Allegiance Health. “This seemed like the best of both worlds with U of M’s extensive resources and the convenience of Allegiance Health,” Jim said. “Plus, Allegiance had the technology of a new linear accelerator” (a machine capable of targeting high doses of radiation to cancer cells while avoiding healthy tissue).

Treatment began in early July 2011 with the first round of internal HDR—a surgical procedure that delivers about 10 times the radiation dose of a typical external beam treatment, with the advantage of being very precisely targeted to avoid adjoining organs. “Unfortunately, the treatment brought a lot of unpleasant complications.” Jim said. “But I had great support from family, friends and my medical team to help deal with all those issues.”

Three weeks later, Jim started external beam radiation treatment at Allegiance Health, which was much easier on him. He is grateful to the Allegiance Radiation Oncology team, especially techs Laura and Beverly, whom he saw every day during his five-week course of treatment. “They definitely saw me at some of my worst moments but always treated me with compassion and skill,” he said.

Jim ended his treatment with a final dose of internal radiation in early September 2011. He was pleasantly surprised to find that it went much better than the first time, and he was able to return to work after a weekend of recovery.

His first two follow-up visits with Dr. Barbour in November and February showed Jim’s PSA had dramatically dropped below normal levels. He is now on a three-month follow-up, alternating visits between Dr. Soriano and Dr. Hamstra in Ann Arbor. He is working full time and remains active in the Man to Man support group.

“I need to thank everyone who’s helped me navigate this journey, but most especially my wife, Linda. I’m sure my struggles and the uncertainly we faced were harder on her than on me,” Jim said. He added that he is “truly grateful for the excellent care and support I’ve received from my team at Allegiance, which is helping make it possible for us to plan our future together.”

Early detection is key to successful cancer treatment. Your health care provider can help you identify your risks and recommend routine screenings that could save your life.