Published on November 1, 2020
David Kensler’s Story
After David Kensler was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he underwent a turbulent five years of treatment. Hear him recount his patient story, from his initial reaction when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer to his treatment journey, and how participating in a clinical trial led to him being declared cancer-free. He also shares helpful advice for fellow patients who find themselves in a similar situation.
A Clinical Trial Saved My Life
Five years ago, my time was almost up. I had stage IV prostate cancer and had exhausted just about every FDA-approved option available for me. I was barely clinging to life.
I had spent the previous years trying to manage the cancer after being diagnosed in 2011. I received treatments from a prostatectomy to a regimen of abiraterone acetate (Zytiga) and prednisone, to chemotherapy with docetaxel, which came with side effects so debilitating that I was forced to stop using it.
By the fall of 2015, the tumors began to grow back. With them came pain, the need for a colostomy (which I resisted), and a sense of resignation. At this point, I was out of options.
I remember eating pain medication like candy.
I remember making a phone call to a hospice center.
I remember making plans for my family’s financial future, a future that I thought wouldn’t include me.
And that was when I got a call from my oncologist, Dr. Judy Wang, who recommended me for a phase I trial of combination immunotherapy drugs. The clinical trial was being held in Florida, where I live. There were 20 spots available and I was given one.
A Risk Rewarded
I remember receiving the treatment and seeing the little bags of clear liquid that were given to me. It could be water in there, I thought. It could be anything.
A mere three weeks after starting the trial, something amazing happened: the tumors were shrinking. After years and years of treatment, we had finally found a sustainable treatment option that worked. And maybe “worked” is the wrong choice of words here, because it did more than that: it saved my life.
On December 23, 2016, I was declared cancer-free, and I’ve remained cancer-free ever since. And honestly, it feels like I’ve been given a second chance to live my life and to spend time with friends and family, especially my two grandchildren.
While my story can be pretty impactful in and of its own right — it can, and should, instill hope in those currently suffering — there are other morals embedded into my story. Some very important ones, especially if you’re fighting for your life right now.
My Advice to Every Patient
First, I think it’s important to realize that you should never give up. I know the frustration of encountering treatments that only worked to an extent, or for a certain amount of time, but I also know the joy of discovering the right treatment for me, one that was delivered to me in a last-minute clinical trial.
I’m not trying to say there’s a magic bullet for curing prostate cancer, because it’s not that simple, and unfortunately not everyone’s story ends as happily as mine. But if you stay focused, and hopeful, what you need could very well come along. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, it could happen exactly when you need it.
My next point involves the people who most directly saved my life: my oncologists, Dr. Judy Wang and Dr. William Harwin with Florida Cancer Specialists. Dr. Wang was the one who recommended me for the clinical trial that ended up saving me. In fact, the drug company behind the trial had called her to essentially say she would be wasting a spot in the trial on me, because they thought the treatment may not be effective against prostate cancer. But my doctor insisted. And she was right.
I mention Dr. Wang and Dr. Harwin not only to showcase the amazing job they did, but to emphasize how important it is that you take time to find the right doctor for you. There’s a difference between doing your job and caring about what you do, and Dr. Wang, Dr. Harwin and their entire team exemplify the latter part of this.
It may take some time, but it will be worth it to find a doctor or team of doctors with whom you feel comfortable and confident. It’s also a huge bonus to be able to work with the same team, and that familiarity goes a long way for both parties.
Trust me on this one — it saved my life.
By David Kensler
Transcript | Prostate Cancer Patient Story: From Diagnosis to Cancer-Free
What Was Your Reaction to Your Prostate Cancer Diagnosis?
David Kensler: First of all, you can't even believe it's happening. Second of all, you can't believe it’s happening to you. You don't know who to turn to, and you're passed from the people that you know to people that you don't know with jobs that you've never heard of. I had never heard of an oncologist. I didn't even know how to pronounce it.
I was diagnosed on June 9th and I was told I had bad Gleason scores. My Gleason scores were nines. I didn't know what a Gleason score was. Fact of the matter is, you're in shock.
How Did Your Diagnosis Change Your Life?
Well, everything changes. Your outlook on life, your planning. You're thinking more about your next test than you are Thanksgiving or Christmas. Right? You're not thinking about that... and I'm running a business. I'm running a huge company. It's like, you know, I got to act like this is nothing. I just got to suck it up and I got to keep doing what I'm doing but every day from that day on, "Hey buddy, cancer. You."
The closest person I had was actually a theater friend, an actor, that works in my wife's theater and he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and I just started going with him because he's by himself and didn't know anybody. So I started just going with him, just for the support of it. Through him, I actually learned more than I ever knew.
You have to take a lot of breaths and you've got to go, “okay this is the cards that I've got.” And I've got to play these cards the best I can.