Getting Back on the Surfboard After Prostate Cancer

From prostate cancer to disease spread in the brain, one patient learned how to recognize how far he has come since his journey began.

Surfing has been a part of Phillip Kloer’s life since he was a child, but a proverbial wave — a cancer diagnosis, in this case — knocked him off of his board. He has since built up his endurance and is starting to surf again, but he highlights the importance of reminding himself how far he’s come so far.

“My friends I surf with are really good, and, of course, I go, ‘I want to surf like they do.’ And I just can’t. I’m not there yet,” Kloer said in an interview with CURE®. “But it’s all good. When I have to sit back and think about it, where I was to where I am now, it’s all good. I really have no complaints about anything.”

From a Regular Check-Up to a Cancer Diagnosis

In 2005, when Kloer went for a regular check-up with his primary care physician, she noticed a couple things that required further analysis: elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels and an area of concern on his prostate upon physical examination. Additional examination with a specialist led to a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Kloer went through the list of treatment options to see what would be best for him. He entertained the possibility of robotic surgery but declined once he found out that he would have to be in the hospital for three days. He then met with a radiation oncologist, who immediately put him at ease despite being anxious about speaking with him.

“I’m all nervous, … and he just comes in, sits down, looks at my chart and just goes, ‘So there you were, minding your own business, and now they’re telling me you’ve got prostate cancer.’ And I go, ‘Yeah.,’” Kloer said. “He just looked at me, he goes, ‘Well, how effed up is that?’ OK, I like you, you speak my language.”

From that first encounter, he decided he was in the right hands and proceeded with radiation, of which he felt the effects right away.

“The radiation treatments made me tired,” Kloer said. “But I would go surf. It would feel like, when I was paddling out, that I’d already surfed for three hours. I could still go out and put about an hour, hour and a half in, but, boy, I’d go home and fall sound asleep for about three hours. Then I (would) wake up, I’d be OK. I just continued doing that and went through all my treatments.”

He finished treatment and kept up with his regular checkups for three years until his PSA levels started increasing again. Kloer underwent a series of scans — some of which were done twice to confirm findings — to find out that they all were clear, and he could come back in six months for more scans.

Instead, he decided to wait to undergo more tests until he would “start feeling some kind of symptoms,” which occurred nearly a year later. He started feeling sick, which included vomiting, constipation and diarrhea. Then, he woke up one morning and was unable to urinate.

Kloer’s bladder got so full that he drove himself to the hospital and asked for a catheter to be placed. The care team started to investigate and eventually found the cause for this: a tumor in the front-right portion of his brain and a mass in his urethra.

He started putting the pieces together about other symptoms he was having; he lost his balance often, lost muscle control of his left leg and some other erratic behaviors while driving his car.

“I started doing really stupid things like going to the gas station, walking in, paying for my gas, walking out, getting into my car, driving away and not pumping the gas,” Kloer said. “I’d get a mile down the road and I’d go, “Wow, I didn’t get much gas for $20.’ I forgot to put (the gas) in. Things like stopping at a red light to turn, I’d see cars coming and I would just hit the accelerator and jump out in front of them.”

He was sent home with the catheter and started undergoing treatment with Casodex (bicalutamide) to shrink the mass in his urethra and reduce his PSA levels. After a few months, the mass shrank, and he was able to urinate again.

Next was surgery for the tumor in his brain. At this point, Kloer was having hallucinations, potentially a symptom from the tumor, which he said made him miserable.

“People would come to visit me, I didn’t know if they were real or not,” he described. “I started having them write their names on the nurse’s board in front of the bed so when I woke up, … I would know they would have really been there.”

Kloer underwent brain surgery, had a “monumental headache,” as he described, for two days, then he was transferred to a recovery hospital.

“I’m still having trouble with my balance, and it was like the fog slowly was lifting,” he said. “Things got a little clearer.”

Realistic Expectations

His balance improved over time, eventually he could walk without a walker, and he started doing things like shaving his face, brushing his teeth and other activities of daily living. He was then discharged to go home. Although it was scary at first to be back home, especially since he became tired very easily, he slowly would get more done around the house.

As Kloer’s stamina increased, so did his desire to get back to surfing. He bought a longboard — he usually rode on shorter boards — and went out to paddle in the ocean.

“I started paddling, and I felt like I was paddling through wet concrete,” Kloer said. “The water seemed so heavy. … I didn’t know I was this weak.”

Despite this realization, Kloer continued paddling on his longboard, although it was difficult at times to not take up his friends’ offers on waves passing by. He also started exercising again including weightlifting to build up his strength.

Currently, over a year later, he’s at the point when he can start surfing again, but not to the level he used to surf before his surgery.

“It’s frustrating,” Kloer said. “Sometimes I want to go from the longer boards that are easier to ride back to my shorter boards too fast. I get back on my shorter boards and then I’m falling off again. I’m bummed out about that, and then I’m just thinking, ‘Well, I’m making progress. I’m just not going as fast as I want to be going, so just keep at it.”

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