John Swingle didn't have time to slow down for prostate cancer surgery. The pulp and paper industry executive and engineer has already retired from one career and settled into another part-time career. He’s an active member in the Jesup, Georgia, Kiwanis Club and participates with his wife in church activities. The Swingles hold Jacksonville Jaguars season tickets. His busy schedule, not to mention the commuting distance from his Wayne County home to the advanced treatment facilities at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, influenced the treatment decisions he made His urologist, Michael Cox, M.D., presented several treatment choices.
“(Cox) talked to me about the various options, and didn’t really pressure me one way or the other, radiation versus removal. I just decided to have the surgery and be done with it,” Swingle said.
Swingle is healthy and sailed through prostate cancer surgery in January 2012 with no problems. The surgical procedure that removed his prostate involved the da Vinci Si, a robotic surgery device for complex urologic procedures. With the da Vinci Si system, surgeons can perform less invasive surgery with fewer complications, very small incisions (1 to 2 centimeters in length), and unmatched precision.
“As far as the surgery, he did a great job,” Swingle said. “I was in there (Memorial) about 26 hours at most. I came out around lunch the next day and felt pretty good.”
The news was good, too. Cox had examined the prostate gland and found it retained its normal external texture, with no sign that nearby lymph nodes were involved. While laboratory exams showed that 30 percent of Swingle’s prostate tissue had cancer cells, there were no signs it had spread beyond the prostate itself. Given those findings, Swingle has not had to undergo radiation, chemotherapy, or other treatments for his cancer. When he and his wife drive in to Savannah these days, it’s more likely to be for a Sam’s Club run than for anything related to his cancer diagnosis. Traditional open prostate surgery frequently led to complications such as incontinence or impotence. Robotic-assisted surgery has reduced the incidence and severity of those complications. Speaking frankly on this intensely personal subject, Swingle is matter-of-fact – “So I leak a little occasionally” and other changes, but nothing life-altering.
Swingle’s prostate cancer never produced any symptoms. A series of screening blood tests over several years, ordered by his family physician as part of his regular annual checkup, revealed rising prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, levels – a marker for prostate cancer. Since his surgery, those levels have been essentially zero, he said.
Prostate cancer is a complex disease with different treatment paths, requiring discussion and decision-making between the physician and patient. There’s even controversy in medical circles, Swingle pointed out, about the screening process itself. But Swingle took it all in stride. He learned about his treatment options, made a decision, and quickly returned to his busy life, without missing a beat.