Bert Hoffman’s Recovery from Prostate Cancer at Sheba
My name is Bert (Buz) Hoffman. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in March of 2009 and in May of that same year, underwent Robotic Radical Prostatectomy at University of Chicago to remove a Gleason 9 tumor. The surgery went well and the PSA remained undetectable for the next four years. In June 2013, the PSA began to slowly rise and in September of 2015, I entered a course of IMRT radiation for 49 sessions. The PSA continued to rise, indicating the radiation was unsuccessful.
In February of 2018, our urologist suggested we take the PSMA scan in California. Upon googling the test, the first thing that came up was that Sheba had a far more accurate PSMA scan than the one offered here in the States. The same scan Sheba uses was only in clinical trials here. We made the decision to go to Tel Aviv. Sheba’s website was easy to navigate, and we contacted the International Medical Tourism division.
We were responded to immediately by a medical supervisor Vladimir Roitman who advised us of what medical and personal information they would need and how to proceed further. He set up all of the necessary appointments with the scans, as well as a follow-up with the oncologist.
He also answered all of our questions in an extremely timely and professional manner. Three weeks later, we were on our way to Israel. We were told exactly where to go and what to do.
While there was the option of housing, we chose our own hotel instead. The day after we arrived, we headed to Sheba to meet with our designated medical coordinator Larissa Grodberg, in the offices of the International Medical Tourism Division. She was to be our contact and guide throughout the process. From the very first, we felt we were in good hands.
She was extremely knowledgeable, friendly, caring, and calming, putting us very much at ease about getting medical treatment in a foreign country with all new doctors. After reviewing the records we brought from home, she escorted us to get blood tests and to the Nuclear Medicine department for the scan. She spoke with the staff and translated so we were never in the dark as to what was happening.
Five days later, Larissa escorted us to Dr. Raya Leibowitz’s office to receive the test results and treatment recommendations. Dr. Leibowitz was wonderful. It is a rare individual that can make you feel upbeat while informing you that your cancer had indeed returned. She informed us that the scan revealed a small 6 mm tumor in only one lymph node.
While we were there, she picked up the phone herself and called the head of Radiology – an action unheard of in the states. She confirmed with him her recommendation of radiation. We were to meet with Professor Symon two days later.
Larissa again accompanied us to the new office (this place is huge!) so we wouldn’t get lost and to make the introductions. After discussing treatment options, the plan was to radiate the lymph node containing the tumor but secondarily, he would also blanket the surrounding area including lymph nodes up and down the chain on either side.
We could do 10 days of treatments at Sheba or 5 weeks in the states. We, of course, chose Sheba. Prof. Symon’s recommendation was also to combine a six-month course of Androgen Deprivation Therapy to increase the chances of success. He spent a great deal of time with us explaining the pros and cons. It was our call. We never felt pressured to do anything.
When we returned the next day for the radiation simulation and injection, there were no nurses available who’re trained in the protocol (it was just before Passover) to do the somewhat complicated shot. Professor Symon was walking by and offered to do it himself. Again, something that would not have happened in the states.
A few days later, after the simulation was completed, Larissa called and said they could begin radiation right away. We went back to the hospital immediately and she showed us where to go, explained the protocol for checking in each day, got us our new credentials and made sure we knew exactly what to do – all the while reassuring my wife when I went in for that first treatment.
Because we were there over Passover and several subsequent holidays, the actual days we were there was longer than 10, but they made every effort to accommodate us and move appointments to get us squared away as quickly as possible. Aside from the normal side effect of the ADT, I went through the treatment with only some temporary injection site pain and a little mild fatigue from the radiation.
We met with Prof. Symon one last time before leaving to determine a long-term plan. He personally typed out the medical summary and his recommendations for our physicians back home. Again, he took so much time with us, we never felt rushed. He made sure all our questions were answered and we had copies (in English) of all the results before we left.
At Sheba, we were treated like royalty. Escorted everywhere, timely appointments and treatment, friendly and caring staff and an outstanding diagnostic and treatment facilities.
The decision to go to Sheba was the best decision we ever made. We would highly recommend this course of action for anyone considering diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.
It’s now almost two and a half years since I received treatment for prostate cancer at Sheba, and I’m pleased to report that I’m feeling fine! Other than living in the midst of the COVID pandemic, my life hasn’t really changed at all.
When I was first diagnosed, I knew that the cancer wasn’t going to kill me. I just had to cope with the effects of various cancer treatments and change my lifestyle to accommodate some of the treatments. Also, after the first prostate surgery, I was treated for kidney cancer. Now, looking back, it all just feels like a bump in the road.
I always tell friends and family that when it comes to cancer, don’t take the “wait and see” approach. Get to a good doctor as quickly as possible, because if the cancer is caught early enough there are so many treatment options available. And if you need treatment, get to Sheba as fast as you can!
Immediately after my treatment at Sheba, I had PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood tests at three month intervals. Currently, I’m happy to be at six month intervals. While I don’t live with a fear of the cancer returning, I do feel nervous before the PSA tests. I don’t worry that I’m going to die, but that I’ll have to undergo more treatments, which disrupt my life.
The only noticeable complications that I deal with as a result of prostate cancer are sexual. All things considered, it’s not so bad! And once I remind myself that “I don’t have cancer!” any issues I encounter are nothing more than a minor inconvenience in my life.
At initial meetings with Dr. Leibowitz, when I received the results of my PET scan, she told me my medical history indicated a 50/50 chance that the cancer would return within two to four years. So from the very beginning, my expectations were set realistically. The good news is that my PSAs have been perfect for the last two and a half years, so I’ve already passed the first milestone.
How do I live with the uncertainty? I constantly remind myself that improvements and advances in cancer treatment are being achieved regularly, and if the cancer does recur – I get to come back to Sheba to get it taken care of again!