In the 1980's, Gene McNichols was in his 30s and building his career in the family business founded by his father, Bob McNichols. Bob was an inspiring figure, a WWII veteran who led the company and his family on a foundation of their Christian faith. The company was rapidly expanding when the family experienced the shock of Bob's prostate cancer diagnosis. "There wasn't a PSA test then, so he didn't really have a chance," Gene said, adding that the disease had already spread out of the prostate. "His life changed when he found out he had prostate cancer."
After a battle that was difficult and painful for Bob, Gene, and the rest of the family, Bob passed away less than two years later at age 59. Today, Gene and the rest of the family carry on Bob's legacy through the family business and in their personal lives.
Family history and vigilance
As a result of losing his father to the disease, Gene decided to stay "extra vigilant" and began monitoring his PSA before he turned 40 years old. Ten years ago, an elevated PSA test led to his prostate cancer diagnosis. "It's so important that the PSA happened," he said of his test result.
Thankfully, his cancer was detected early. He reached out for advice from friends in Tampa Bay, Florida, where he lives. Several people he knew had undergone prostate cancer treatment with Dr. Catalona. "Everybody encouraged me to see Dr. Catalona and learn more about my situation," he said.
Gene decided to have a radical prostatectomy with Dr. Catalona. This September marks a full decade since his surgery. While he continues to monitor his PSA for recurrence and sees Dr. Catalona annually, every single PSA test since his surgery has been at 0. "It's been really great," he said of the test results and his upcoming anniversary, noting that recurrence after more than ten years is very rare.
Taking care for the future
In Gene's experience, one person's health affects the whole family. "I learned about that because of what I went through when my dad got prostate cancer," he said. "Those hard lessons come along when you lose someone." Thus, he believes in the importance of wellness and preventive care. "I always have tried to stay ahead of the curve on my health," he said. He is committed to having an annual physical and encourages other men to do the same. "If we don't get an annual physical and take care of ourselves, it's not only going to be our problem, it's going to be a problem and a challenge for everyone in your family, too. It's a responsibility to get a physical—not just for yourself, but for the whole family," he said.
Similarly, Gene has advised his
sons to consider their family history of
prostate cancer and be screened for the
disease. He said, "We've talked about
how important it will be for them to
beat the odds by doing the preventive
care, testing, and check-ups."
Grateful for family and faith
Ten years after cancer, Gene feels grateful. He and Patsy have six children and eight grandchildren. They cherish spending time together. "You really appreciate the blessings of life and family after you've had a curveball," he said. Family support also meant a lot to him as he was facing the disease. "It's a real family affair when you get something like prostate cancer," he said.
Gene and Patsy travel frequently, for business and pleasure. Recently, they purchased and renovated a vacation home on Lake Wawasee, Indiana's largest inland lake. The lake has special significance for Gene, who used to visit there with his mother and father when he was a child. Some of the family recently gathered at the lake house to celebrate the Fourth of July with a lot of good food, swimming, and boating. Although he and Patsy strive to maintain a healthy diet, they also appreciate the sweeter things in life. Gene admitted that at their family gathering he enjoyed treats with their family. "I might have had more cookies or ice cream than normal," he said with a laugh.
Faith also remains an important part of their lives. Gene and Patsy are active members of Our Savior Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg, Florida and are involved in local and worldwide ministries. As he faced cancer, prayers of support from their faith community helped him through the process.
Success in business, giving back
Gene is currently chairman and CEO of the McNichols Company, a specialty metal distribution company. What began as a small mom-and-pop shop in his father's living room is now a national company with nineteen service centers across the country. However, it is still a family business. Gene's son Scott is the current president, and his other two children, Jennifer and Steven, are owners and part of the family council. The fourth generation of the McNichols family, Gene and Patsy's grandchildren, are all stockholders, and they hope to see the business stay within the family in the future.
Both the McNichols Company and the McNichols family are known for their strong leadership, generosity, and philanthropy. In addition to supporting the Urological Research Foundation, Gene and Patsy have served on boards for numerous civic, community, and faith organizations in Florida and around the world, including The Florida Aquarium, Tampa General Hospital, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and Radical Life Ministries in Costa Rica.
Photos courtesy of Gene McNichols