Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022

William Houston

Photos and text used with permission of
William Houston.

As a Retired Navy Chaplain, I was exposed to Agent Orange during a one-year tour with the Marines in Vietnam and developed prostate cancer as a result of this exposure. With the effects taking over twenty years to manifest, I was finally diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000. That year, I had a Radical Prostatectomy with no complications. However, when the pathology report returned with indications that the cancer could have gotten out of the capsule, I underwent a full series of radiation treatments in 2001 with no apparent negative effects. However, about four years later, I became both incontinent and impotent. Later, I had a penile implant that was successful, but nothing seemed to help the incontinence problem. Therefore, in 2009 I elected to have an artificial sphincter implanted. The first attempt at this resulted in tissue erosion and infection, which necessitated removing the initial surgical implants. About six months after this surgery, I recovered from the infection and underwent another procedure. Due to the earlier erosion problem, the surgeons had to use a different system that was successful, although it was not as effective as the original procedure should have been. Currently, though, my incontinence has been lessened and, while I still must wear protective undergarments, I am better off than I was before.

After my first surgery, my doctor suggested that I attend a local support group, which I found very helpful as men and their wives share their experiences in a supportive way. My wife is a uterine cancer survivor of over forty years, and she makes herself available to women who are also helping their loved ones deal with their own prostate situations. As the American Cancer Society sponsors this group, I accepted an invitation from them to participate in a "Man to Man" training program. After becoming more involved, I participated in the "Let's Talk About It" program, and I began to give Prostate Cancer Awareness talks to local organizations. I was also Chairman of the local "Relay for Life" program for two years. Currently, I am the facilitator of a Man to Man support group and the co-facilitator of another group in a nearby city. Maintaining these roles, I am continually rewarded in being a part of the American Cancer Society's activities and programs.

All of my experiences provided me with a greater awareness of prostate cancer issues, and I was pleased to be invited to attend the Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP) peer review in the Washington, DC area. Since this first PCRP experience, I have been invited back to serve on additional panels, and I attended the first IMPaCT (Innovative Minds in Prostate Cancer Today) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I feel my involvement in and exposure to current programs is very rewarding and most valuable in keeping me more informed and knowledgeable regarding the state of the science. This also helps to prepare me for the roles of group facilitator and Man to Man counselor, as well as my other volunteer involvements. As a Veteran with Agent Orange-related issues, I find that I have a unique opportunity to be of help in the Veteran community.

It is exciting and encouraging to be involved with these men and women, whose dedication and devotion contribute to bringing closer the cure for cancer. Having survived the complications of prostate cancer, I am able to live a full and rewarding life today. My wife and I are living examples of the positive results of cancer research and its promise of future advances. The cancer journey is certainly not pleasant, and while we are always aware of medical advances and the hope they bring, people with cancer issues are most aware of anxiety and dread. It is in working with these people that I find my experience and knowledge in these PCRP programs becomes most valuable. It can be the "silver lining" that gives meaning to an unpleasant experience.