Emblom to share his story at 2012 Relay for Life

Without his faith in God, Steve Emblom not sure he could have faced each day

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

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Steve Emblom is a three-year prostate cancer survivor. He will be one of two keynote speakers at the 2012 Relay for Life event to be held Friday, July 13. Also speaking will be Greg Zylka.

Emblom, owner of Emblom Brenny Funeral Home in Little Falls, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in July 2009.

“I was told by the doctors it was an aggressive form of cancer,” said Emblom.

Battling an aggressive form of prostate cancer, Steve Emblom, left, and his wife Nettie, have had a three-year long journey to this point. Emblom will speak at the 2012 Morrison County Relay for Life event Friday, July 13.

Emblom’s father Carl also had prostate cancer, and is still living. Nettie, Emblom’s wife, said that Steve’s grandfather, Carl, also had the disease along with a cousin.

Emblom said he had always been on top of his health and made sure he had regular exams.

“It was earlier in the year that I noticed indications that something was not right,” he said. Prostate cancer symptoms include a slow stream when urinating and frequent urges to go.

Since a normal prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level is different for everyone. Emblom said that men need to know where their “normal” is. Then, when their PSA numbers change, they will know something is wrong.

Passing blood is another indication of prostate problems.

“If there are any indications of a problem, I encourage all men to consult a urologist immediately,” Emblom said.

When he went to see his doctor, Emblom’s PSA level was 3.5, within the “normal” level of 0-4. The following Monday he went to see an urologist who later that week took a biopsy. In less than another seven days, Emblom was told he had prostate cancer.

“When I told Nettie, I said we are going to stay positive,” said Emblom. “We will let God walk us through this.”

That is exactly how the two have proceeded on this journey.

Emblom was given a regime of Lupron, a female hormone that suppresses testosterone in men.

“Because testosterone feeds prostate cancer cells, the Lupron would hopefully decrease the tumor’s size,” said Emblom. “Surgery to remove the prostate was in the picture, but not until the tumor had lessened.”

When the surgery was possible, Emblom scheduled one for the first week of September. Afterwards, the news was not what the family wanted to hear. The surgeon told the family the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes in the pelvic area and to his left hip bone. He and other doctors were afraid of affecting other cancer cells with the surgery, so Emblom’s prostate remained intact.

“I knew as soon as I woke from the surgery that it wasn’t good,” said Emblom. “I wasn’t in the operating room long enough for the doctors to remove the prostate.”

Emblom’s urologist, Henri Lanctin, referred him to an oncologist at CentraCare in St. Cloud, Donald Jurgens, who came to see him while he was still in the hospital.

“He laid out options for me,” said Emblom. “It would be either chemotherapy or possible radiation, but not both.”

The Embloms learned radiation was eliminated because of the tumor’s proximity to other tissue and the chance of damaging that tissue was good.

The hormone therapy was working with the urination problems, but the cancer was still a concern and the oncologist wanted to start chemotherapy. Because there are harmful effects from treatment, along with the beneficial ones, the Embloms decided to get a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

The doctors there agreed with how Jurgens wanted to proceed with Emblom’s battle with prostate cancer.

On Nov. 4, 2009, Emblom began the treatment. He had six rounds of chemotherapy, three weeks apart. Each round lasted about three hours. This continued until about March 2010.

“Nettie and I made the decision to start living our dreams now and not wait for retirement,” said Emblom. “We began spending a lot more quality time with family and friends and began to travel.”

Before his last two chemo treatments, the two went to Arizona for several months. Emblom needed to fly home twice to receive his therapy.

When the first rounds of chemotherapy were finished, Emblom’s PSA numbers were down and the cancer was no longer present in his bones or lymph nodes. That was Feb. 18, 2010.

On July 22, 2010, during his three-month check-up, tests showed his PSA had risen and he said he had begun to have urination problems again.

Five days later, Emblom learned the cancer had moved to the back side of his bladder. He went back to the Mayo Clinic for another opinion on how to proceed. While there, learned the cancer was gone from the left hip and the lymph nodes.

Still, Jurgens did not want to remove Emblom’s prostate because of possible tiny cancer cells just waiting to be disturbed and begin growing.

In September 2010, cancer was still on the right side of the prostate, but still none in the bones or lymph nodes. A radiologist told the Embloms that radiation was now a possibility. But, in October, a bone scan showed cancer in a vertebrae. Emblom hoped that the radiation, scheduled for November, could also be done on his spine. His xrays were sent to the Mayo.

The radiation never happened, and a 10-round regimen of chemo was ordered as the Mayo found the cancer was also in his tailbone.

But, after seven sessions, his PSA numbers doubled and his doctors determined the chemo was not working.

In April 2011, a new chemo cocktail was tried and after two treatments, his PSA numbers dropped. But in May it climbed again. Through the rest of the month the numbers continued to climb and drop at will, creating elation and disappointment in the Emblom family.

In September, Emblom’s PSA numbers were still rising and after CT and bone scans,  the doctor told him the cancer was again in his lymph nodes and his pelvic area.

After a procedure which would reduce the size of his enlarged prostate in September, the Embloms learned the cancer was growing from the bladder to the ureters which connect the kidneys to the bladder. He later had a shunt inserted.

During this past spring, while in Arizona, Emblom made the decision to see a doctor at the Cancer Treatment Center of America.

“When the doctor arrived, he told us he thought he was in the wrong room because what he saw was a healthy man,” said Emblom. “He said that after reviewing the medical files, he expected to see someone who couldn’t walk and who appeared very ill. He was amazed at how healthy I was.”

The doctor, Jaixin Niu, gave Emblom three choices. They could continue chemotherapy, start estrogen treatments or become part of a clinical trial that would begin in April. After noting the current chemo treatments were not working, Niu decided to suspend them and start the estrogen regimen with premarin.

While the Embloms were impressed with Niu, they felt as if they were back at square one.

Niu told them that he was an oncologist and not God. “I will do what I can for you,” he said.

In March, they learned the premarin was not working, as Emblom’s PSA counts had risen again, this time to almost 50. He was put on another round of chemotherapy typically given to women with  a breast cancer that has metastasized to the bones.

Now back in Little Falls, Emblom continues with the new chemotherapy regimen at the Coborn’s Cancer Center in St. Cloud.

The Embloms feel fortunate for the entire ordeal.

“There is a one-year – five-year life expectancy for my type of cancer,” he said. “Only 4 percent make it the full five years. I am beginning my fourth year in July and I thank God every day when I get out of bed.”

He said he still feels good and is not in any pain. He believes God is answering his prayers to have just one good day.

“We are dealing with this one day at a time,” said Nettie. “Steve always has looked to the future and with cancer, it’s hard to imagine what the future holds. He has had to learn to stop doing that and enjoy today. Not to worry about what will be, or not be.”

Niu is still waiting for the Federal Drug Administration to approve his new study for prostate cancer patients. When that happens, Emblom plans to be there.

“I will do everything I can,” he said.

Emblom and his wife both said they are so fortunate for their support system and for their dedicated employees. “Doyle Hofer and Trent Iverson have taken care of the funeral home, allowing us to go to all my treatments,” said Emblom. “They and our part-time staff have been there for us to the nth degree.”

“I am thankful I was raised with my faith,” he said. “Without that, I don’t know how I could have faced each day.”