Peter Gray had no idea he had cancer when he scheduled a check-up in January 2013. He and his wife had just moved back to Portland, Ore. after years of living on the East Coast and an extended trip to Europe.
“I felt fine. We were walking around Sweden every day. I felt healthy,” Peter says.
Peter had a preexisting condition that left him susceptible to kidney stones and required regular monitoring by a urologist. In the past, he had X-rays done to check for stones. Now in a new city, he needed a new doctor, and OHSU urologist Dr. Jennifer Sung ordered a full CT scan. It was thanks to this higher-resolution scan that the radiologist noticed a shadow on his bladder.
This “shadow” turned out to be a tumor, and a biopsy determined that tumor was cancerous. Since Peter had no symptoms, this news came as a surprise.
“When you’re told ‘you have cancer,’ it’s one of the most dreaded things you can hear,” he says. “It takes days to come to grips with it. It’s a shock you never imagined — a whole new chaos. But then, you just have to come up with a plan to deal with it.”
And that is exactly what Peter and his team of doctors did. Just one month after the biopsy, OHSU urologic oncologist Dr. Christopher Amling did a robotic-assisted cystectomy which removed Peter’s tumor, along with his entire bladder, part of the lymph node, prostate and some of the small intestine, which was replaced with an ileal conduit. Six weeks after his surgery, Peter started chemotherapy.
Between his preexisting condition, major surgery and weakened immune system, every one of his four rounds of chemotherapy required hospitalization.
“That is really tough on your body. Healing demands all your focus. I’m grateful my wife was there to do the rest,” he says.
Beyond the support of his spouse, Peter turned to meditation during the toughest moments of his treatment. He would tell himself: I am alive. I am healthy. I am strong. “I might not have felt that way, but I would remind myself of all those cells doing their job to keep me healthy and fight off the cancer.”
In October 2013, Peter walked out of the hospital after fighting off an infection following his final round of chemotherapy. When a year went by with no reoccurrence, despite the aggressiveness of his cancer, both he and his doctor were amazed.
“That year was very intense. By the following fall, I turned a corner,” Peter says. “I started thinking about life again. Before, I was only thinking about death.”
Since then, Peter has been vigilant about monitoring his diet, staying hydrated and keeping active while making sure not to overexert himself. He says he does a better job of listening to his body, and working with his doctor to identify patterns or signals that might indicate a problem.
His urologist, Dr. Amling, is also committed to safeguarding his health by continuing to monitor him with scans twice a year.
“The thing about having cancer is that it’s like your body has turned on you. It takes some time to feel confident that was not going to happen again,” Peter says.
Now that Peter has been cancer-free and healthy for three years, he and his wife feel more confident about making plans for the future. They are currently booking a trip to England to see Stonehenge, do some fly fishing, visit friends, and tour London.
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