Gray, Leggott and Mestemacher were in their 50s, had recently visited their doctors and were healthy. They were not experiencing any symptoms of prostate cancer. Yet, after following up with their doctors, all three men were diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Their stories are a reminder that prostate cancer can affect younger men and that life insurance companies are aware of the significance of an abnormal PSA blood test. Two of the men were younger than 55, the age at which the AUA now recommends doctors should begin screening men for prostate cancer. See pages 6-7 for the information on the new AUA guidelines and Dr. Catalona’s response.
Keith Gray leads a very active life. He is the director/president of Integrated Lakes Management in Waukegan, Illinois, an environmental services company, and is an avid horseman.
Gray’s diagnosis of prostate cancer at age 50 did not slow him down. Before deciding how to proceed, he did extensive research on available treatments and interviewed three urologists. He considered radioactive seeds, a robotic prostatectomy and a radical prostatectomy. “One thing that kept coming up in my research was that the success of the radical prostatectomy was directly tied to the number of procedures that the surgeon had performed. That led me to Dr. Catalona, because he’d done over 6,000 procedures,” Gray said. He feels he made the right decision in choosing a radical prostatectomy. “I’m 51, and plan to live many more years. I was concerned that the potential side effects of alternative treatments would affect my quality of life in later years,” Gray said.
Gray wanted to return to his active lifestyle as soon as possible after his surgery. He said, “Riding is very important to me, and I felt that the procedure I chose gave me the best chance to continue riding.” He was back on his horse only 4 months after his surgery. A year later, Gray said, “I’m as close to normal as I could be. I don’t see a difference in me now from the way I was before the surgery.”
Shortly before his diagnosis, Gray had a routine physical exam that did not include a PSA test. It did not appear that Gray was at risk for having prostate cancer. “All along, everyone said size of my prostate was normal. I had no symptoms at all at any point. I was 50 when this happened, and have no history or prostate cancer in the family.”
Gray believes PSA testing is essential and encourages other men to be their own advocate. “I don’t hesitate to tell other men to be sure their doctor checks their PSA any time they are getting their blood tested. I exhibited absolutely no symptoms and still had prostate cancer that was initially detected only by the PSA test,” Gray said.
Family is the foundation of David Leggott’s life. He is a truck driver and welder, but spends as much time as he can with his wife Kathy, whom he calls his “best friend,” along with their children and 4-year-old grandson. They live in Bonfield, Illinois, a quiet town with a population of 360.
At age 56, Leggott’s doctor checked his PSA and saw no cause for concern. Only 8 months later, his application for life insurance was denied. Kathy, who is a respiratory therapist at a local hospital, reviewed the insurance test results and noticed that Leggott’s PSA had more than doubled since his doctor visit. Leggott had his PSA tested again. The repeat PSA was elevated, and a biopsy confirmed prostate cancer. “I was very surprised,” Leggott said. “I didn’t really have any symptoms.” Kathy said, “I was stunned. He just got a clean bill of health 8 months ago.”
Leggott underwent a radical prostatectomy with Dr. Catalona. “David wanted to make sure he was still here to teach our grandson everything he knows,” said Kathy. Thankfully, the surgery was successful. After only a couple days in the hospital, he was able to return home to be near his family. “The timing was perfect because the cancer didn’t go any further than the actual prostate. It’s a really good feeling to know that it didn’t go any farther,” Leggott said. His PSA blood tests after the surgery have all been 0.
After his surgery, Leggott and his wife began to share their experience with others. Leggott said, “I work with a lot of guys in my business. A lot of them are probably like I was, just a little scared to go see a doctor. I just tell them, ‘You’re getting to be that age. Every statistic is that one in six men is going to get prostate cancer. Make sure you get yourself checked out.’” At her job, Kathy does likewise. “I work in the medical field with a lot of girls. I ask them, ‘Is your husband getting checked? It doesn’t matter what age he is—he needs to get checked.’”
Mark Mestemacher leads a busy life in Edwardsville, Illinois, with his wife, Carol. He is the owner/partner of Ceres Consulting, LLC, a barge transportation company. In his free time, he actively supports youth wrestling. He is one of the founders of the Edwardsville Wrestling Club, which now has over 200 members. Nationally, he is chairman of the board for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes/Wrestling.
When Mestemacher received the test results from the insurance company, he did not expect there would be problem with his prostate. He said, “When the insurance company said ‘go have it checked,’ I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Even after going to the doctor to follow up, I didn’t think it was going to be problem. I had no pain, no issues.” Mestemacher’s doctor checked his PSA twice over the next 5 months. In that time, his PSA went from 2.5 to 6, and a biopsy confirmed cancer. He was 54 years old.
Initially, Mestemacher scheduled a robotic prostatectomy. However, a friend called him to suggest scheduling an appointment with Dr. Catalona. “I really knew nothing about prostate cancer at all, but I was willing to get a second opinion,” Mestemacher said. “Dr. Catalona took the time to explain all the options that existed.” After the appointment, Mestemacher decided to schedule a radical prostatectomy. After the procedure with Dr. Catalona, Mestemacher’s follow-up PSA tests have been undetectable.
Mestemacher wants other men facing prostate cancer and other health concerns to educate themselves regarding treatment options. He said, “My lesson is go get educated. Because I knew nothing about prostate cancer, I took what the first guy said as the only way to do it. My recommendation is to really do your homework and find out what is best for you.”
Mestemacher also encourages prostate cancer survivors to be open about their experiences. “When it first happened, I didn’t want anybody to know about it. I think that’s a mistake, because then you’re not educating yourself. There’s something about other people who have gone through it already sharing their experience that helps.”