Calvin Smeltzer

Calvin Smeltzer

Prostate Cancer - My Journey

Cal had the care and support of a number
of specialists as he managed his heart
blockages and prostate cancer.

He said, "I was impressed by the personal
approach and the concern for me as an
individual."

Calvin Smelter of Northampton is back to work and back on the greens, just the way he likes it. That wasn't the case in September 2009, when he suddenly was diagnosed with serious heart blockages and later learned he also had an elevated level of the enzyme PSA (prostate specific antigen) in his bloodstream.

He's healthy now, but things could have turned out very differently for the financial advisor and avid golfer had he first ignored a strange sensation in his chest. Although he did not have any pain, he knew something wasn't right. Cal made an appointment with his primary care physician, Dr. Dennis McGorry, Sr., of Allentown. That office visit proved to be life-saving. He was referred to St. Luke's heart specialists for follow-up care and a blood test performed at that same primary care office visit led to the discovery of an elevated PSA, which can sometimes signal prostate cancer.

My Health Care Team

Cal's heart problem was evaluated by Drs. Donald Belmont and Raymond Durkin and required immediate intervention. “They would not send me home; I stayed in the hospital for the first time in my life,” says Cal. “St. Luke's heart surgeon Dr. Jeffery Veluz, came to see me right away and I was scheduled for quadruple bypass surgery at St. Luke's Hospital - Allentown Campus. “I was very lucky; I hadn't had a heart attack yet.”

About six months later and fully recovered from the surgery, Cal now needed to have further testing for the elevated PSA. “Dr. McGorry told me I wasn't out of the woods yet; we may have yet another health concern on our hands,” he says.

Cal went to see urologist Dr. Frank Tamarkin of St. Luke's Center for Urology in spring 2010. “I had another blood test; this time my PSA was a bit higher and a biopsy was done,” says Cal. “This came back positive for prostate cancer. Of course I wasn't happy about the cancer, but I knew I was lucky again. The cancer was early stage, slow growing and had not spread, so I had some time to make a choice on how I wanted to receive treatment.”

The Right Surgical Treatment

Dr. Tamarkin explained the surgical options to Cal, including the robotically-assisted prostatectomy. The procedure is the most advanced, minimally-invasive surgical option for qualified prostate cancer patients, according to Dr. Tamarkin. It improves quality of life by sparing nerves for erectile function and preserving the bladder control mechanism. This further decreases the risk of urinary incontinence.

Dr. Tamarkin also recommended Cal speak with radiation oncologist Dr. Nimisha Deb to discuss the available radiation therapy treatments that target tumors while preserving surrounding healthy tissues. “Dr. Deb spent a tremendous amount of time explaining the radiation therapy options to me,” says Cal, “She also told me either of the disciplines would be positive; I just needed to decide which treatment was best for me.”

Cal's research did not end there. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men and Cal has many friends who have been diagnosed with the disease over the years. “Seven of my golf buddies have had prostate cancer and have had different treatments, so I have built up a general knowledge of the disease,” says Cal. “I've heard their stories and know about the treatments they've had from the radical traditional surgery to radiation treatments to the advanced robotic surgical procedure. Many of the guys didn't have the advanced options we have today. I thoroughly explored all the options and consulted with doctors. My wife Christine was with me at every meeting, too. She was a full partner in every discussion. We actually spent six months researching all the choices before making the decision.”

Cal decided to have the robotic prostatectomy in September 2010. “I like the idea that it is an advanced technology and that the doctors in this group have a lot of experience in performing them,” says Cal. “I remember the night before my surgery, Dr. Tamarkin called to reassure me. He asked, ‘Are you ready for tomorrow?’ Then, he told me he would do his best to protect the nerves in the area and get my body get back to normal functioning. He is attuned to the personal aspects of the procedure and addressed my concerns on an individual level. I appreciated his confidence and openness.”

Cal had robotic prostatectomy at St. Luke's University Hospital-Bethlehem Campus. “I had never been in a hospital before my heart surgery and then a short time later for prostate cancer surgery; I'm glad now I was at St. Luke's; it was an eye-opener. I got outstanding care in each case.”

Back to Work...and the Links!

Since Cal's job does not require strenuous activity, he was able to resume working on a part-time basis a week following the robotic surgery and returned to work full time within two weeks. “I was actually golfing six weeks later,” says Cal. “Resuming a normal lifestyle with very little discomfort was important to me. I also wanted to make sure I would be around for my family, and I plan on being around for some time.”