Our Stories: Ken Schweizer
The man with the great smile is Ken Schweizer.
He’s 78 but doesn’t look it, a Korean War Veteran who’s been living with prostate cancer for nearly 13 years. “When I turned 65, I went on Medicare, and I thought it was a good opportunity to get a physical,” he says, which led to a prostate biopsy and a PSA test. His PSA was very high, “in the thousands, way, way up there.” He went to UCLA, where doctors told him his cancer “was too advanced in their opinion to operate on, because more than likely it had started to metastasize.” This was confirmed by bone scans and other tests.
So he started on androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), which he continues, and then several different forms of chemotherapy. “By this time, it was almost 10 years down the line, and I went back and started chemo again.” His longtime oncologist, Matthew Rettig, M.D., “is saying I’ll probably stay on chemo as long as I can tolerate it and it keeps the cancer under control, and hopefully something else might come down the pipeline.
“I was just in chemo yesterday. The medication’s taken me 12 years down the track, and I’m still going. I feel pretty good. The first week after I get the chemo, I’m kind of weak, lethargic. I get it every three weeks, and the second week is better. The third week is pretty good. Then I go back and start again.”
One side effect of ADT is weakening of the bones, and three months ago, Schweizer tripped and broke his hip. “My bones are pretty brittle,” he says. But after a partial hip replacement, “I’m pretty well recovered. In fact, they x-rayed me today and the surgeon said everything looks good. I’m walking pretty good; I favor the one leg a bit, but a couple more months, and I should be as good as new on that. Before that came about, I never had anything, really.”
Because of Schweizer’s service in the U.S. Army, he was able to switch his care from UCLA to the VA Hospital. “I was treated for the first six or seven years at UCLA, then one of these prescriptions was going to be very, very expensive.” Then Dr. Rettig stepped in. “He said, ‘Why don’t you come over to the VA,’ because he treats patients at both places, ‘and we’ll see if you can’t save you money.’ That particular medication, the one that was so brutally expensive didn’t work too well, anyway. I’m happy with the VA. I see Dr. Rettig there; in fact, with the chemo, I think I get better treatment.”
Schweizer was an engineer in the Army during the Korean War, and went into construction after the service. He worked in California and then in Australia, where he became general manager of a large construction company. “We worked everywhere, all through Australia, branches in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Sydney. I met my wife there, we got married there, and both of our children were born in Australia. They’re adults now, and quite successful on their own.” The family moved back to California when the kids were young, and “we’ve been here ever since.”
Schweizer could sit around and be mad that he has cancer, and fill his mind with negative thoughts. That’s not his way. “I’m happy to still be around here. Let’s face it: more than 10 years ago, I was told I didn’t have much chance. Why not be happy? I still do everything I need to do, drive, whatever.” If he has any advice to offer other men in his situation, it is this:
“The only thing I can say is, stay positive. That’s been my experience. I didn’t let it get me down; in fact I worked through the first seven, eight or nine years of it. I worked 10 to 12 hours a day, while dealing with the prostate cancer. Keep a positive attitude. The other thing is, become educated about what it’s all about. There’s a lot of fears, and certainly men are dying, there’s no doubt about that. You really need to educate yourself and know what you’re dealing with, because in a lot of cases, prostate cancer is not a death sentence. You might have to give up a few things, but that’s okay. Read what you can, stay up to date with it, but just be positive. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”
And, he adds, he has had a lot of help. “I have a great family. My wife and kids are very supportive. They’ve been very good through the whole thing. My grandkids are down here on a regular basis.” When he broke his hip, the family held a birthday party for his granddaughter right there in his hospital room