Don Wisniewski – Prostate Cancer Patient Story
Don “Wiz” Wisniewski, 72, says he’s always been conscientious about his health.
“I was especially glad I kept my annual urologist appointment in 2019,” says the Gibsonia, Pa. resident.
That’s when a routine blood test showed Wiz’s prostate specific antigen (PSA) was rising – an indicator of possible prostate cancer.
After a biopsy confirmed cancer, Wiz had surgery at UPMC Passavant–McCandless to remove his prostate gland. In November 2022, tests showed his PSA levels were rising again, and Wiz had robotic surgery to remove lymph nodes near his tailbone.
Sometimes a few cancer cells remain after surgery. They’re difficult to find on a scan until they grow a bit. When cancer cells appeared again in early 2023, Wiz’s doctors consulted with a radiation oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Passavant–McCandless. Based on his history, the doctor recommended that Wiz undergo pelvic radiation. A positron emission tomography (PET) scan identified where to direct the radiation. Radiation therapy can treat a broad area to reach these cells without damaging the surrounding organs.
“At first I was nervous about getting radiation,” says Wiz. “But my doctor explained the process clearly and I understood what was going to happen and why. I thought, ‘OK, I can do this.’”
Advanced Radiation Therapy
“I was prescribed one radiation therapy session, which totals 38 individual treatments,” says Wiz. “I went to UPMC Passavant-–McCandless every weekday morning for just over seven weeks in April and May.
“I’m a little claustrophobic and was worried when I went in the first time,” he says. “I was relieved when I saw how it actually worked. I’d go into the treatment room and settle on the table. The radiation technician then positioned the linear accelerator (LINAC) and the machine moved around the table.”
Wiz received hormone therapy in conjunction with radiation. “With hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, cancer cells need testosterone to grow,” says Heath Skinner, MD, PhD, chair and medical director, Department of Radiation Oncology, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “Hormone therapy interferes with this process.
“We also want to minimize the side effects of radiation therapy as much as possible,” he says. “We can’t promise zero side effects for all types of radiation, but we’re aiming for as few as possible.”
Besides fatigue, patients usually experience few side effects from radiation therapy for prostate cancer. “I actually played nine holes of golf every Wednesday and worked part-time when I was going through radiation,” says Wiz. “I stayed busy but didn’t do a lot of heavy lifting. I slept more and went to bed earlier.”
“I can’t say enough about the support and care I got every day.”
Wiz says he’s grateful for the exceptional support he received throughout his treatment at UPMC Passavant.
“I can’t say enough about the support and care I got every day — from the doctors, radiation therapy nurses, and techs to the front desk receptionists who knew me by name when I walked in,” says Wiz. “There was always someone to answer questions and help me through things. It was reassuring to know they were watching out for me every step of the way.”
They also celebrated with him when he finished his final treatment, he adds.
“The nurses and staff were there to congratulate me: ‘You’re done! Ring the bell to celebrate!’,” says Wiz. “My wife gave me a hug. All the nurses told me how happy they were for me. It was a very moving experience.”
Today, Wiz is back to his busy life in retirement: working with his nonprofit to build and repair houses pro bono in West Virginia, attending Pirates games with his wife, getting out on the golf course, and keeping busy with a part-time job at a local building supply store.
“Great people work at UPMC Passavant,” says Wiz. “I’ve only had good experiences with UPMC — I’m so glad I chose them.”
To schedule an appointment with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, call your doctor or location directly or call 412-647-2811.
Don's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.