Daniel Mahoney's Story
"One of the last things my father said before he died of prostate cancer was for me to get a PSA test," says Kennebunk resident Dan Mahoney, referring to the test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen in the blood and is used to screen for prostate cancer. Healthy men have low amounts of PSA in the blood, but levels normally increase as a man's prostate enlarges with age.
"I was only 43 at the time, and I knew that insurance wouldn't cover the test because I was so young," he continues. "But my father insisted. His father and brother had also died of prostate cancer. He told me to pay for the test myself, if necessary. So the next time I was at my doctor's, I said 'do it.'"
The test showed that Dan had a high PSA level. His primary care physician referred him to a urologist for a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a biopsy. The results were positive: Dan had prostate cancer. It was April Fool's Day, 2005. But this was no joke.
"I've never been so scared in my life," Dan recalls. "But I looked the doctor in the eye and said 'schedule me for surgery, I want it taken out.' Because if my father had had his prostate removed at the outset, his survival would have been better."
The urologist agreed to schedule him for a radical prostatectomy on May 17, an open surgical procedure in which the prostate is removed. But he also reminded Dan that there were other treatment options such as radiation seed implants (called brachytherapy), and he urged Dan to do some homework.
"I spent the next week on the Internet doing research," Dan says. "And I learned about laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgical approach. My urologist hadn't mentioned that."
Then, in what Dan calls a "strange sequence of events," while his mother-in-law was in her doctor's waiting room she happened to read a New England Journal of Medicine article about the great outcomes that a Portland, Maine, urologist was achieving with a new procedure called robotically assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy at Maine Medical Center. His name was Moritz Hansen, MD.
"I found Dr. Hansen in the phone book and called him," Dan relates. "He called me back within 20 minutes. I told him my situation and he asked me, 'How soon can you come in to see me?' I said, 'Now.'"
Dr. Hansen and Dan agreed that his prostate had to come out, and Dr. Hansen felt that robotically assisted laparoscopic surgery gave Dan the best chance of longevity with a lower risk of side effects.
"I had intensely researched treatment options and had met with several survivors. Most had had radiation seed therapy, some had open surgery, but I hadn't met anyone who'd had laparoscopic surgery," Dan says. "My cousin is an internist at the National Institutes of Health, and he told me to make sure that the surgeon had done at least 50 procedures. I was #53."
"He took care of everything," Dan says, referring to Dr. Hansen. "He addressed all my questions and concerns, and my wife's concerns. He wasn't afraid to give it to us absolutely straight. And you could see the compassion in his face. He'd be a horrible poker player - but he's an incredibly wonderful human being."
"I went in for surgery at 6:00 a.m. on May 5th," Dan recalls. "I was on the operating table at 8:00 a.m., out by 2:00 that afternoon, awake and alert that night, and out the door the next day. It completely shocked me, how fast and relatively easy it was.
"I feel dynamite today," he continues. "I'd say I'm at 97.5 percent. I've become a real zealot about the dangers of prostate cancer, especially in younger men. Dr. Hansen has had me speak to a number of patients about the laparoscopic procedure - especially younger ones - and dealing with the fear. I'm glad to do it.
"My situation did a 180-degree turnaround the minute I heard back from Dr. Hansen," Dan adds. "He really talked me down off the ledge, and provided so much service at the emotional level as well as his surgical expertise. I have all the faith in the world in him."
He also gives Maine Medical Center high marks.
"My prostate cancer surgery was the end of an extremely long run of dealings with healthcare professionals," Dan says, noting that his son was born with Down syndrome in 2002, and early on suffered from seizures and failure to thrive. "We were just seeing ourselves clear when I got diagnosed with cancer.
"So I know Maine Medical Center better than I'd like to," he admits. "But I appreciate that they're there. It's bittersweet, but definitely more sweet. I feel like the luckiest man alive to be here today."