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Paul Upperman, Prostate Cancer Survivor

Cancer does not discriminate no matter age, race or how much money you have. On October 23, 2018, I was officially diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer at age 44 after seeing numerous specialists with multiple misdiagnoses. Before my diagnosis, I had gone to see my doctor with a left swollen shoulder earlier that year on July 6. I was administered pain relief medication and was to check back in with him in thirty days. When I returned with the same symptoms, he referred me to a shoulder surgeon. The specialist made a quick diagnosis and sent me home with a Cortisone shot and said to return in another thirty days. I came back with the same pain and he sent me to another specialist who in turn sent me to six weeks of physical therapy citing a pinched nerve in my neck. Shortly after was when they wanted to order an MRI for my neck, and I asked for an additional one for my left shoulder. After some back and forth with my insurance provider they finally agreed to both MRIs.

On October 3, I was diagnosed with bone cancer of the left shoulder. I was upset, as I felt like I had lost a significant amount of time with a misdiagnosis even though the doctors I worked with meant well. That day was also my wife Tonya’s birthday, who has been by my side since 1994 and continues to be my rock. I took her to go see the movie “A Star is Born” where we stayed long after the credits started rolling and wept together. The song “Shallow”, by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, performed in the movie continues to be a source of comfort and inspiration for us.

Following the bone cancer diagnosis, I started working with the treatment team at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Hospital (UAMS) located in Little Rock. My doctor had me do a 24-hour urine collection and bloodwork around October 20, which revealed the true extent of my cancer. Stage IV prostate cancer had spread to my spine, lateral shoulder, hips and right knee as well as other places in my body. My PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) levels were reading off the chart at 1,500 levels shocking my doctor and care team. Due to these high numbers it is unknown what the exact reading was as it is highly unusual for such high levels. I started taking a testosterone suppressor and a once a month shot to generate bone growth. About six cycles later, my PSA finally dropped to .87 and I was told my cancer had stabilized. Currently my PSA level reads .21.

After the initial PSA reading, a chest port was inserted into my right shoulder and I started chemotherapy on October 30. I underwent ten rounds of radiation on my left shoulder and right hip. Currently, I am taking multivitamins, B12 and iron trying to get my levels back up to where they need to be and anti-depressants. My legs often go numb and I experience chronic back pain. The hematology oncologist who oversaw my chemotherapy told me that had I not gone through with treatment I would have had 45-60 days to live. That right there puts life in perspective.

I am not a stranger to cancer as my brother passed away from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1997 at the age of 25. Since then I have had made it a personal mantra to say that every day is a holiday and even more so now since my own diagnosis. I have found much support in many avenues of my life that I can’t not be excited for the tomorrow. With the loving care of my wife who tells me daily how much of a warrior I am and how it’s not the size of a dog in a fight but the size of the fight in the dog I am able to take things day-by-day. My doctor at UAMS continues to be there every step of the way responding thirty minutes or less to any questions or concerns I may have. I am also member of several prostate cancer support groups on Facebook some of which recounts stories of survivors who have lived ten years after their initial diagnosis.

Before my diagnoses I was a successful business owner of a lawn care company that I managed and an avid musician. Due to my diagnosis I have had to cut back many of my clients and services from my business. I find a tremendous amount of solace in music and play percussion and piano, but my main focus remains guitar. A few other songs I listen to every day include “Collide Acoustic” by Howie Day, “Only God Knows Why” by Kid Rock and “My Body” by Volbeat.

For others reading my story who may have the same diagnoses, or have a loved one who is, I hope my account brings you some insight. Have faith in your doctors and nurses but also seek second opinions and listen to your gut! I would also like to add a very special thank you to the doctors, nurses, and staff at UAMS.

As Tim McGraw said, “Live like you were dying” as you wake up in the morning and open your eyes and to remember live everyday like a holiday.

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