You may have noticed that it’s been a while since my last blog entry. I’ve had a lot going on and am usually reluctant to be this public about my private life but I need to share what follows. I’ll have a new blog post ready in a couple of days and it really will be about sharpening.

I am being treated for prostate cancer (don’t worry, I’ll be fine.) And my mom died (it’s okay, she was ready.)

My cancer was diagnosed very early; I have radioactive seeds implanted in said offending gland and my prognosis is excellent — I’ll be around a good long while. More about me in a bit.

Mom was 88 years old, living by herself in her own home, but trigeminal neuralgia, failing eyesight, weakening kidneys and an overall decline in strength and balance had left her very ready for the next big step. (“It’s been a good life. I’ve had enough.”) She had a hemorrhagic stroke on February 16 and died a couple hours later. Not bad at all. She was a great mom, a good friend, an adventurous world traveler and yoga instructor into her eighties. Her quick, painless passing is a sadness, not a tragedy. My sister, brother and I, along with the rest of her family and friends miss her a lot.

Beverly Balla 1921 - 2010

The topic of this Public Service Announcement is Prostate Specific Antigen (both “PSA” – clever, eh? And you thought it was about Pressure Sensitive Adhesives!), a protein produced by the prostate gland that is measurable in the blood of those of us with a prostate. PSA content in the blood tends to rise when the prostate is upset about something, be it an infection, mechanical abuse (bad bicycle seat), or cancer. Ladies, unless you want to know more about all this, please feel free to return to your woodworking blog perusal. Those of you with Y chromosomes who are up-to-date with your blood tests and doctor visits (that’s code for the digital rectal exam which is not nearly as bad as most of us imagine(d)) are likewise dismissed. But if you’re a male “of a certain age” and haven’t been getting your checkups, bend over! It may be primitive and embarrassing, but that and the blood test are the best we’ve got. Be glad someone is willing to do that for you. Do it because someone cares about you. And if you’re afraid of the exam or what you may find out, you’re just being a foolish little girly-man.

Based on my experience I’d heartily recommend a PSA test along with the physical. Do a little research and you’ll find lots of controversy about the reliability of PSA tests: that they produce too many false positives and negatives which lead to unnecessary biopsies or neglected cancers. Well, I’m here to tell you that my annual PSA test and my doctor’s concern have saved me from some very unpleasant eventualities.

Getting into more detail:  first let me say that I’m 58 years old and in excellent health: good diet, proper weight, regular exercise, haven’t smoked tobacco in 35 years and quite moderate in all other things, no family history of cancer at all. Last July my routine blood-work showed that my PSA jumped from 2.87 to 4.31 in one year. Not a high number but the rapid rise was cause for concern. We tried antibiotics, hoping it was just prostatitis but finally last January decided on a biopsy that came back positive for cancer. Mine was caught so early that it was undetectable otherwise, even invisible to ultrasound. The earlier the catch the better the prognosis for survival and an early diagnosis makes one a better candidate for radioactive seed implantation, the current best treatment option (an opinion shared by many). The other treatments are external beam radiation (every day for eight weeks or so with a risk of unpleasant side effects), or surgical removal of the prostate (up to six weeks recovery with considerable risk of side effects.)

As far as I’m concerned, the seeds are the best of the bad. The implant surgery is a one-hour, out-patient procedure that left me with a sore butt for a week or so. I have 137 tiny titanium cylinders containing palladium-103 in my prostate that were inserted with 38 needles through my perineum. (I bought a Geiger-counter on eBay and sure enough, I am radioactive. You should hear that thing crackle!) The radiation irritation came on a week or two later making it hurt to pee. I’ve bitched and complained about this irritation for almost a month now, but I remind myself often that the discomfort is the effect of killing cancer. And, the discomfort I’m experiencing as I cure my cancer is nothing compared to what so many other cancer patients have to go through. Palladium-103 has a 17 day half-life so I’m already at about 25% of the original dose. I’m five weeks post-op right now and feeling better every day. Bottom line, I got lucky.

Intraoperative Fluoroscope Image of Radioactive Seed Placement

I’ve been reluctant to “come out” about this publicly. I’m not the most public person and wasn’t sure it was right to post my personal cancer story in my sharpening blog. But a friend whose advice I respect and seek said that I should post my story because so many of my readers are in the target age-group and that most of them would never read such a thing anywhere else. As I’ve been informing my friends about my condition I am dumbfounded by how many men, roughly my age have never had their prostates checked. To them and any of you who are in the same camp I say get over it! If you are of a certain age, floating on that river in Egypt and don’t go to the doctor in the next week, let me put it this way: You like living? You like sex? Peeing on demand? Get thee to a doctor! The life you save may very well, quite literally, be your own.

Okay. I’m done preaching. The next post will be in a day or two and it really will be about sharpening (Odate Crowning Plates, in fact.) But if any of you have questions or concerns that you think my experience can help with, you can find my contact info at and I’ll do my best to answer whatever questions you may have. I seem to have abandoned all modesty in the last few months so don’t be shy about asking personal questions about my condition or my treatment or what I’ve learned along the way. I am here for you, brothers.

Author: Ron Hock

Owner of HOCK TOOLS (.com) and author of "The Perfect Edge, the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers"

20 thoughts on “PSA”

  1. Ron,

    I am very glad the prognosis is so positive! And I am also glad you took care of it early, and decided to go through the treatment, regardless of the discomfort you are feeling for a while. I lost a friend to the prostate cancer while living overseas a few years back – he was in his early fifties. Unfortunately, we are susceptible to what could be a terrible and terrifying disease.

    My heart goes out to you and Linda. And I send my wishes for nothing but THE best outcome!!! Thanks, bro’.

    1. Thanks, Al. I’m very confident in this treatment and I’m feeling closer to normal every day. This will sound weird but they say that if you must get cancer this is the best (most treatable, etc.) one to get as long as you catch it early. I really am going to be fine and plan on another thirty years or so.

      BTW, I’m not supposed to let pregnant women or young children sit on my lap for another few weeks. Darn!

  2. Ron,

    It is a blessing that your Mom was able to pass in her own home, and in her right mind, and with everyone around. Without invasive medicine, and with dignity.

    Thank you very much for posting all the personal details of your prostate condition. It’s extremely helpful. For example, I do keep track of PSA and have a digital rectal exam every year (at 68), but I didn’t know about the radioactive seed option. The availability of that treatment option is even more reason to do the diagnostics and ensure an early catch.

    Your story is an excellent antidote for this recent spate of folks talking down the PSA test. When that number changes rapidly, you want to know about it.

    Thank you for your most thoughtful blog entry!


  3. Ron,
    Just wanted to say thanks for sharing! I’m sure it wasn’t easy to “go public” with either of these stories, but it was encouraging to hear your reports of both. I’m glad that your mom was ready to go, and that your family is apparently dealing well with that. Here’s to continued peace with that.
    Also, thanks for sharing about your new prostate treatment. I’m not quite “of a certain age” yet, but I suppose it’s not far off, and it’s good to know what’s available. I’m very glad it’s working for you, and I hope you continue to recover quickly!

  4. Ron,
    A prayer for your mom. …

    Thanks for preaching about PSA. It may be inconvenient or uncomfortable, or sometimes erroneous, but it is so much better than not being able to detect the problem. I was fortunate some years ago to work for an employer who actually had on site annual screening for those who wanted it. They also did the same for skin cancer screening. We were very lucky employees. Of course, I took them up on it, and since retiring have continued the regular screening.

    We live in very fortunate times, great medical technology advances in detection and treatments. Let’s hope the gummit’s intervention in our health care doesn’t slow that progress.

    All the best on your recovery.

  5. Ron: I admire your courage, sense of humor in the face of tough times, and, oh, yah, your plane blades. Thanks for sharing. Your friend was right..

  6. Ron, I completely understand. My cancer was treated with radiation. They discovered mine after a major operation and I was going through PT and OT (thankfully using my shop activities. It has not shown up again and I’m in my sixth year. I wish you well and if you would like to talk, just send a note. God Bless.
    Shalom, John

  7. Ron:
    I want to endorse your comments about prostate cancer. I also had my PSA nudge above 4.5 and had the biopsies done. I was your age at the time I think (58) and had no symptoms. The rectal exam showed nothing. I am a lifetime non-smoker, fit, not over weight, could go to bed at night and not need to get up to pee, etc. All fine. Except….. the biopsies showed 8 out of 10 positive for cancer. I opted for the prostatectomy (i.e. get rid of the thing) but it was too late. It had already spread elsewhere, and of course we know not where – and when we do know it will be too late there as well. I am now 61, and , according to the statistics, may not get to see 70. It was my misfortune for the cancer to be at the back and on top of the prostate, which made it easy for a cell or two to float away.

    So, like you, I have been preaching to all who will listen: have the checks. Forget the statistics as they are only accurate at a population level. You, individually, might be like me – an exception out on the fringe.

    There seems to be a huge amount of misinformation out there on the subject, with many GPs telling their patients to not bother with check-ups (I’m in Australia). But I can tell you, I don’t want anyone to end up in my position needlessly.

    And really, the entire process – digital exam, biopsies, and the operation – was pretty painless. I was up walking around the day after the op, and working within a couple of weeks (carefully). The worst possible side effect of the op is sexual dysfunction, but if they get the cancer soon enough that can usually be avoided these days.

    I applaud you for speaking out, and urge all your readers to take this matter seriously. Facing an early death is not an attractive alternative when it can be so easily avoided.

    1. Well said, Robert, and thanks. If my story doesn’t get their attention, yours should definitely generate a few doctor’s appointments. C’mon guys, don’t wait! Time is the enemy!

  8. I heard this via the SpokenWoodPodCast. I do go for regular checkups, even though I to whine about them. And I appreciate your being so candid. I am sure this will prompt one or two of our brothers (or sisters to prompt their significant other) to have this life saving checkup.

    Thanks again.

  9. Hang in there Ron. I’ve just been through my fourth quarterly check after a prostatectomy and have a 0.0 PSA so things look pretty good for me.

      1. Hello Ron, I’n just getting to read your Blog. I’m sorry to hear of your loss. Next, thank you for your candor. I’m of that “certain age”, and the first finger wave was the worst. The rest have been no big deal. I’m sure that you have saved at least one life. Many, Many thanx. Bill B.

  10. Ron, My father passed away from prostrate cancer because at the time this procedure was not available I have had the seed implant procedure, and I can tell you that regardless of what anybody says negative about it. It’s well worth the minor irritating ability to pee, for a short time. My PSA after 10 years of constant checking shot up to 7.6. One year later it’s 1.2. We are alike in as my mother passed very quickly and quietly also, she sat down in her recliner, closed her eye’s and was gone. Unfortunately she was too young, but lupus had ravaged her to the point where she was unable to enjoy life. Thanks for sharing this on your blog. Gd Bless

  11. Your decision to “come out” was more than appropriate for this web site. It is a great example of the caring and sharing that makes woodworking such an enjoyable and worthwhile endeavor.

    Your reputation as a man of integrity (as well as all around nice guy) gives the importance, credence and degree of seriousness that the topic deserves. Thank you!!!
    I join the others in wishing you ALL the best in the years to come.
    See you at WIA,
    BIll Bolio

    1. Thank you so much, Bill, for your kind words (and to all who have responded.) My physical reaction to the course of treatment, the radioactive seed implants, and recovery was apparently a bit on the rough side of the curve. I hear tales of men who barely noticed that the seeds were there. I noticed, with considerable discomfort (always trying to remember how much better this treatment is compared to what so many men have to go through.) But in the last couple of weeks I’ve started to realize how close to normal I am. I’m back to my normal energy and productivity and everyone keeps telling me that I’m looking healthy, too. So I think the prostate cancer chapter of my life is behind me (except for periodic PSA tests, etc. to verify that the cancer is gone and stays gone.)

      Linda and I are looking forward seeing you and everyone at WIA. Please be sure to stop by and say hi.

  12. Ron, good to hear your report, yes, there is a life after PC. I’m semi-retire at the moment, a small project management job, and I feel great! My last PSA 1.0. Yes it’s behind you, one thing I don’t know if they told you, but you might just have a spike around 1 year, I didn’t, just don’t get alarmed if you do,YOUR NORMAL!. Take care God Bless- Roy

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