Work on 1,500-acre Oklahoma ranch never ends for prostate cancer survivor

There’s always work to be done on the Lazy KT ranch in northwest Oklahoma. Tending to a herd of Black Angus beef cattle. Hauling hay. Cleaning out horse stalls. Repairing a fence line. It’s a life Michael Horntvedt just loves.

The 1,500-acre ranch has been in his wife Katie Blunk’s family for three generations. It’s located outside of Freedom, Oklahoma, population 289. Michael and Katie’s closest neighbor lives five miles away — so different from the big city of Reno, Nevada, where they moved from five years ago.

But their peace and solitude on the Oklahoma plains was rocked when, at age 53, Michael was diagnosed with prostate cancer in March 2013.

Michael had been monitoring his PSA level for about four years and this time the number had jumped significantly. “And that’s when you sit down with your friendly urologist after your biopsy and he says point blank, ‘You have to have surgery,’ ” Michael recalls. “Wow. To a certain degree, it blows the wind out of your sails.”

Hearing “cancer” was bad enough, but Michael and Katie were even more put off by how Michael’s urologist delivered the news. Cold. Detached. Just the facts. “He said impotence is fifty-fifty; incontinence is a 20 percent shot,” Michael says.

“Everything you thought about living your life was going to be totally and majorly changed after you walked out of that office,” Michael continues. “We were building a home on our ranch at the time, and I was doing a lot of the work. So, the thought of 20 percent chance of incontinence didn’t sound too good.”

Katie shared the news of Michael’s cancer on her Facebook page. Friends and family from near and far posted words of kindness and sympathy.

And some offered advice about treatment options — primarily what not to do. “You know, you watch TV at night and those impotence and incontinence commercials take on a whole new light,” says Michael. “More and more, we veered away from surgery.”

A couple of friends phoned who knew of men who had successfully been treated with proton therapy, something Michael had not heard of before. “My urologist never mentioned it,” Michael says.

Michael obtained an information packet from the Slater Proton Treatment and Research Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center in  Loma Linda, California. It included a copy of Bob Marckini’s book, You Can Beat Prostate Cancer. The book really connected with Michael.

Protons appeared to offer the lowest risk of those side effects that would affect Michael’s quality of life. “We’re riding horses and motorcycles,” Michael says. “It’s hunting and fishing and running cattle. I didn’t want to lose that.”

Michael and Katie were sorting out the prospect of living in Loma Linda for two months. “Then, we found out there was a center right here in Oklahoma City, just three hours away,” Michael says. They visited the ProCure Proton Therapy Center and liked what they saw — and what they heard. Unlike the cold, assembly-line feeling they experienced from the urologist, “this was a very positive environment,” he notes.

The optimism and care exhibited by nurses, radiation therapy technologists and physicians at the proton center was huge for Katie and Michael. It provided hope that Michael could live a normal life based on medical science. And it helped buffer memories of how prostate cancer had harmed both Katie and Michael’s late fathers.

Michael talked with other men who had been treated for prostate cancer with protons. “All those conversations were totally different from the conversations I had had with people who did surgery,” says Michael.

Michael began his proton treatments in September 2013. They ended nine weeks later, just in time for the most meaningful Thanksgiving of all times.

“Once you get over the modesty aspect, it’s hard to believe anything is happening,” Michael says. “It’s bam-bam and they’re done. It didn’t seem real.”

Michael stayed at the home of a sweet relative not far from Oklahoma City during the week. He continued to work his day job as a financial advisor. On the weekends, he returned to the ranch to catch up on chores.

“The doctor told me being as healthy as I am, I wouldn’t have any downtime,” Michael says. “He said I might feel fatigued. But I didn’t. I never stopped the work around the ranch I had to do. I never thought twice about it.”

Michael says he recently visited with a client in Reno, Nevada. “He had had radical prostatectomy and the side effects were a huge mess,” says Michael. “I had to sit there across the table from him and not say, ‘Everything is fine with me.’ ”