Prostate Cancer: Sheep or Wolf? – A Conversation with Murray Wadsworth

Prostate Cancer Survivor Murray Wadsworth Wrote A Book to Help “Navigate Systemic Misinformation” About the Disease

Murray Wadsworth is a self-described “fit and enthusiastic weekend triathlete who included regular checkups and annual screenings for prostate cancer in his overall health and wellness plan.” At forty-seven years old, he had a prostate scare when a blood test showed elevated PSA levels. However, the biopsy came back clear, and his life went on. 

A decade passed, and another blood screening again showed elevated PSA levels. Unlike the first benign one, this biopsy tested positive for cancer. Murray then underwent a number of treatments in both the US and abroad, and detailed his journey in his memoir, entitled Prostate Cancer: Sheep or Wolf?: Navigating Systemic Misinformation. 

After reading the book, I felt like I knew more about prostate cancer than I ever did before. For example, I knew Gleason scores had something to do with prostate cancer, but I didn’t understand where they came from or how they were determined. Within the span of a few paragraphs, it finally clicked. This should be a book for all men to reach to understand more about this male-specific cancer. 

I had the chance to speak with Murray and we discussed his thoughts on prostate cancer, what he learned by traveling the world for his care, how he hopes men will start treating their health, and what he hopes men take away from the book.

“I cannot find solace in the common proclamation that if a man lives long enough he will develop prostate cancer, but not die from it.” 

This quote really encapsulates his attitude towards the perception of prostate cancer. I asked him what he would rather see as a “common proclamation.” He stressed that having cancer has nothing positive about it, even if we don’t die from it. Having cancer is not good for the human body and treatments have a tendency to leave the patient in a weakened state. He questions why half a million men are on hormone-blocking drugs. While their prognosis in regards to death is good, it changes the course of their life.

To this point, he believes in and supports research into prostate cancer, as that helped him. He would love to see a great emphasis on early detection. The earlier cancer is caught, the less damaging treatment can be. He noted that there seems to be a higher emphasis on early detection and early diagnosis in Europe, which tied in nicely to our next discussion topic.

A big part of Prostate Cancer: Sheep or Wolf and Murray’s cancer experience dealt with traveling to Europe for various aspects of diagnosis and treatments. 

Since not everyone has the opportunity to travel across the ocean for treatment, I asked him about his top three things that are part of the standard medical care experience abroad that he would like to see in the US. 

First, he would love for doctors to provide a detailed consultation letter after each appointment. It’s one thing for a patient to listen and take notes during an appointment, but having a doctor put it in writing has a different feel to it. The letters lay all of the information on the table and challenges the doctor to give a more thorough, understandable, and realistic statement of facts. 

Secondly, he would like to see diagnostic imaging for prostate cancer become more commonplace. In Europe, this type of diagnostic imaging is treated similarly to mammograms for breast cancer. 

Finally, his biggest wish is for a multidisciplinary approach to be the norm, which was first introduced to me by Scott Hamilton earlier this fall. In this approach, a team of different specialists meets to review the available data and come up with multiple treatment methods. This team will meet to discuss the different options, with the goal to come to a consensus on a recommendation and explain why to the patient. 

This is more common in Europe since there is no competition due to different structures of how they are paid, as compared to America. Personally, I would love this type of diagnostic approach. Even though I lucked out and have an amazing medical care team, I think this would be a great option for everyone to experience.

Time and time again, my interviewees on ABSOT mention that men take better care of their cars than their health. 

Murray took this paradigm and flipped it on its head. When he was searching for an RV, “rather than accept the standard RV offerings, I researched adaptations and made additions to suit my requirements. That is how I approached my prostate cancer.” 

As we talked, he again reiterated this point, and advocated that men become “patient detectives.” Drawing parallels to the current COVID pandemic, many medical experiences come with a lot of confusing, and occasionally conflicting, information. Men must take the time to make sure they are informed before, during, and after each medical episode. In some cases, we have a personal say in what happens and in others we don’t. Oftentimes, there is no singular right answer, and we have the power to hit the pause button to figure out which decisions work best for us. 

Towards the end of the book, he said that when they found six cancerous lymph nodes of the thirty-one they removed, he “maintain[ed] the view that twenty-five were free of cancer.” This struck me as a great attitude. It further impressed me when he shared that he also had melanoma and COVID, making him the world’s most overachieving patient. 

He made a decision to maintain this positive mindset and not “go dark” when handed the diagnosis. Instead of seeing the six cancerous lymph nodes as his nemeses, they are his heroes. They “sacrificed” themselves to keep the rest of his body healthy. Rather than avoiding potential bad news, he encourages men to change their interpretation; instead of thinking that a challenging diagnosis is dreadful, think that you are lucky to be alive. 

Murray’s singular message in Prostate Cancer: Sheep or Wolf is for men to get screened.

Over 30,000 men die yearly from prostate cancer and another half-million are on hormone blockers. In many cases, he feels that this could have been avoided if men were screened earlier. He encourages men to be aware of body changes and to get informed of the changes. Appendix A of the book dives further into his mission, and he has graciously allowed me to link to it here.

His overall message refers back to his book’s title. Prostate cancer can be a sheep or a wolf, but either way, don’t let it get out of the barn. 

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