Savage Words: I'm a cancer survivor; Here's my story, because I've got time

By: 
Tom Savage, Contributing writer

Submitted photo 

Tom Savage was able to celebrate with his daughter Isabella (middle) and her mom, Nancy, following Isabella’s singing performance at Carnegie Hall in February. News on that trip changed Savage’s life forever.

 

I was in New York City earlier this year, having a truly memorable day.

It was my kind of day. Cloudy, a little misty and about 50 degrees.

My daughter, Isabella, was scheduled to sing at the famed Carnegie Hall two days later. Her mother Nancy and I spent the day walking up Central Park West to visit the National History Museum. 

Our stroll back to the hotel was just as memorable. Perfect weather, hot coffee in-hand, laughs and beautiful New York City sites all around us as we gazed into Central Park.

Then I got a phone call.

It was Feb. 3, 2022, and my life changed forever.

The call was from Urology Specialists in Sioux Falls. They wanted to set an appointment.

“Urology? Appointment for what,” was exactly my response.

“Let’s see,” said the nurse as my heart rate jumped a number. “Elevated PSA.”

That seemed weird, but I went ahead and scheduled the appointment. I didn’t think much of it because I thought for sure I was in the clear.

A PSA, or Prostate-specific antigen, number is garnered from a simple blood test. 

 

 

I go to the doctor every January for an annual check-up. Part of that check-up is a complete blood work panel. It’s a breeze, and it measures everything from Glucose, to Sodium, to Chloride, to Potassium…you get the gist. It measures everything.

My father had prostate cancer in 1999. He had his prostate removed, and 23 years later, he’s still making me laugh from his home in Brandon. Ever since my dad’s prognosis 23 years ago, he’s drilled into me that if I go to the doctor for a check-up, GET A PSA TEST!

I promise, over the last 23 years, even if I went to the doctor for a papercut, I asked for that PSA number.

This time was no different. Just before we left for New York, my PSA number came back. It was 3.2, and I honestly felt pretty good about things. Typically, anything under 4.0, and you’re in good shape.

After the phone call from the urologist, I shrugged it off, but it still hung in the back of my head as we got back to the hotel. I checked messages, and I had an email from my doctor. 

It read that because my number had jumped from 2.2 to 3.2 in a year, it would be a good idea to visit the urologist.

Made sense, but because the number was below 4.0, I still shrugged it off.

Two weeks later, I visited the urologist.

“You can come see me in three months, you can come see me in six months,” he said. “But there’s a biopsy in your future.”

Suddenly that shrug got a lot more stiff.

On March 22, I had a biopsy on my prostate. In the end, I’m going to strongly encourage any man in their late 40s / early 50s to get your PSA number checked. But I’ll be honest, having a biopsy done on your prostate is no picnic.

On March 24, just twwo days after my biopsy, I got a phone call while driving down Interstate 229 in Sioux Falls, and I nearly stuck the sucker in the ditch. I did indeed have positive cancer cells in my prostate.

The nurse suggested I meet with my doctor, and I did for March 28. Those were five very, very long days. 

I’m thankful to say that my doctor calmed me down in a big way when I finally got to meet with him. He said they caught the cancer extremely early and that I was exactly the guy they were looking for: a man in his 50s with a low score on the cancer scale. He told me if I had my prostate removed, I could live to be 90.

He also told me there’d be post-op situations that I’d have to work through for the rest of my life. I didn’t care.

“I just want to meet my grandkids someday,” I said. 

“You will,” he said with a grin.

So I did it.

On April 29, I underwent the first surgery in my 52 years. Following the surgery, my pathology report said nothing had spread outside the prostate, and I’m in the clear.

Whew.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Nancy is indeed Isabella’s mother, but she was my wife for nearly 20 years. Even though we’re not technically married any longer, we’re best of friends, and I’ll never be able to repay her for what she did the first few days after surgery. I won’t go into details, but if you’re ever in a situation where you need help, I pray you have a Nancy. I simply do not know what I would have done without her.

I have an extremely loyal chocolate lab, Molly. We’ve walked Sioux Falls a million times over, and she’s never said no to an excursion. Following surgery, you’re given strict instructions to not sit around. Every 30 minutes, no matter the pain, you’re forced to walk to avoid potential blood clots.

Everytime I struggled to get out of the chair, Molly stood with enthusiasm, tail wagging. But unlike the many times before, my walks were now limited to the hallway, a turnaround in the bedroom, the hallway again, and another turnaround in the living room.

Molly was there, every step. As I gingerly walked and winced with every step, her nails were clicking right by my side. Every hallway, every turn, every lap. I even went around the ping pong table in the living room a couple of times, just to see what she’d do. Every turn, every lap.

There were a few times when I made the turn in the bedroom, she stood in the doorway, ears perked and head cocked, with a look on her face like: “Seriously, what are we doing? This would be way more fun outside.”

Don’t worry, Molly. That day is coming soon.

Isabella is the light of our lives. If you’re reading this, no doubt you have a similar light. Fellas, whatever that light may be, go get a PSA test to see it through. It saved my life, it could save yours.

And Isabella, if you’ve made it this far, yes indeed, I can’t wait to meet my grandkids someday. But you’re a 17-year old junior in high school. Don’t be getting any crazy ideas…I’ve got time.

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