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From the Winter 2019 Quest
Andrew and Susan Fox with the Flying Scotsman train in Edinburgh, Scotland. They call themselves “train people.”
Andrew Fox credits the railroad with many good things in his life: childhood joy, a fulfilling career, and the best way to travel the world. Today, he is going full steam ahead on the other side of prostate cancer.

Andrew Fox’s passion for trains began when he was just three years old. He had the opportunity to ride with the railroad switch crew at the tracks near his father’s business in Berkeley, California, where he grew up. Later, when he was in elementary school, he would visit those same train tracks in the afternoons and dream of one day being part of the crews that rode by. Those experiences made lasting impressions. “It’s been in my blood ever since,” Andrew said.

Just one week after he graduated from high school, he got his first job in the rail industry as part of a survey crew. “I thought I’d fulfilled my life’s ambitions,” he said. Later, he became a brakeman and a conductor, and then as he gained experience and higher education he moved up to management. He pursued degrees at Northwestern University, obtaining both a bachelor’s in civil engineering and an MBA, because he could use the knowledge and skills in his railway career.

The railroad also brought Andrew and his wife, Susan, together. While Susan also grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, they had never met. Susan had been a teacher, earned her MBA, and then took a job at Southern Pacific Railroad, where Andrew was also working his way up the ladder.

After they were married, they both worked in the rail industry for many years. Their positions brought them to San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Denver, and Long Beach, California, where Andrew started a railroad. He was there for twelve years before becoming president of the South Shore Freight Railroad. This brought them to Chicago nine years ago.

After forty-eight years in the industry, Andrew now calls himself retired, although he still does consulting. “I’ve been privileged to do exactly what I loved doing for my whole life, and it’s still the theme of my life,” he said with a laugh. “It’s been a vocation and it’s an avocation.”

Travel adventures

Semi-retired life affords Andrew and Susan ample time to travel—and their primary interest is still in trains. Andrew said, “We go to different countries and parts of the world in part just to see the trains and railroads that are there.”

Their favorite train to ride is The Canadian, a 1950s-era style train which runs from Vancouver to Toronto through prairies, lake country, and the Rocky Mountains. The views are stunning, and the train reminds Andrew of the family trips he took as a child across the U.S. and Europe. “It’s a real throwback, which is why so many people and I love it,” he said. They’ve built a community around annual winter trips on The Canadian.

Other noteworthy train trips include the Rovos Rail in Africa. They took the train from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Pretoria in South Africa, and then the famous Blue Train to Cape Town. They hope to return and take a longer trip across Africa in the future that also includes safaris. “It’s on my bucket list,” Susan said.

The Foxes on the trail ride just minutes before the accident. “How quickly life can change!” Andrew said.

Not all their travel adventures have been on the rails. Last year, they went to Grand Teton National Park and took a beginner-level guided horseback ride through the mountains. The trail was beautiful, but they soon came to a narrow bridge over a dry creek bed. Halfway across the bridge, the horse in front of Andrew’s horse balked and ended up pushing Andrew and his horse off the bridge. “I landed in a field of boulders, broke six ribs, had a collapsed lung, and spent the next eight days in the hospital,” Andrew said of the harrowing experience. Meanwhile, Susan’s horse spooked and ran off the trail, where she had to be rescued by a guide.

They count themselves lucky; it could have been much worse. Andrew didn’t hit his head during the fall, and the horse didn’t land on him. “Thankfully, I’m fully recovered,” Andrew said. They’ve also heard that the horse is doing fine. Still, they’re not keen on repeating the horseback experience. “I’m going strictly back to trains,” Andrew said.

Their upcoming adventures include a fourteen-day trip on the Tran Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow.

Andrew and Susan explored the waterways in Venice, Italy.

In retirement, Susan also discovered a passion for the Italian language after traveling to Italy. She started taking Italian language classes at age 60. Today, she is fluent in Italian and travels to Italy at least twice a year. She also uses her language skills as a volunteer with the Chicago Greeter Guide organization, through which she gives free tours of Chicago to people who speak Italian. She said, “When everybody gets ready to retire, especially when you don’t have kids or grandkids, you’re looking for something that gives you some extra meaning. For me this is just perfect.”

Facing prostate cancer

Andrew had a history of high PSA scores that were treated—twice—with a course of antibiotics. Despite this seemingly confusing history of fluctuation, he insisted on having annual PSA tests. At age 62 his PSA went up again and antibiotics did not lower the value. Suspecting cancer, his primary care physician referred him to a urologist for a biopsy. Shortly afterwards, Andrew was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Andrew and Susan on safari in Zimbabwe.

Andrew advises other men to be watchful of their PSAs. He said, “Don’t ignore it. Follow the regimen, the same as with screenings for other cancers.”

Andrew explored treatment options ranging from surgery, radiation, and the wait-and-see approach. His urologist gave them a book that discussed the pros and cons of various treatments in great detail. “It was a hopeful book that made us much less terrified about the surgical option,” said Susan.

Andrew felt that his age warranted active treatment. “The wait-and-see approach is going to be around your neck forever,” Andrew said. Susan agreed, saying. “At that age, it could catch up with you.”

Andrew was most interested in a nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy, which led them to Dr. Catalona, whose office was just down the street from their condo in Chicago. “Our motto is ‘find the guy who has done 1,000s and 1,000’s of them,’” Susan said of their search for a surgeon.

At their initial appointment, Dr. Catalona spent about an hour going through Andrew’s history and the proposed plan for nerve-sparing surgery. “I felt very reassured and confident that we’d found the right guy,” Andrew said. It’s been four years since his radical prostatectomy. They have “no regrets” and all positive results so far.

He hopes other men with prostate cancer will consider surgery. “Once you get the diagnosis, deal with it,” he said. “The sooner you deal with it, the sooner you’ll be behind it. Maybe it’s the engineer in me, but fixing things seems better than patching them.”

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