Attacking Prostate Cancer:

A Team Effort All Around

Categories: Winter 2010
Don and Nancy Keprta wanted to be interviewed together. “The two of us have been a team for 35 years and the experience with prostate cancer made the bond even stronger,” Don Keprta said. After a false start in the initial diagnosis and treatment options, the Keprtas kept adding to their team, additions which benefitted themselves and a lot of others.
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Taking in colorful mums on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, Don and Nancy Keprta.

When Don was diagnosed, he had just joined Safeway, and was on his way from California to Chicago to become President of the company’s Dominick’s Supermarket chain. Fortunately for Don, Safeway is a committed supporter of prostate cancer research.

The Safeway team helped him after his first experiences inspired little confidence.

“I was 54 and in good health. Prostate cancer was the furthest thing from my mind,” Keprta said.

After a routine physical at 52 his PSA came back 3.4. The score should have set off some alarms.

“Instead, my doctor said not to worry about it. I didn’t know anything about PSA scores and if my doctor wasn’t concerned, I wasn’t either.”

Keprta missed the next annual physical at age 53 but thought it was a good idea to get one before he left for his new position.

The PSA from that exam came back 7.2, and a biopsy soon followed.

Keprta went into the meeting for his results still thinking nothing was wrong.

“I had no problems and no symptoms. I thought I was going to hear a diagnosis of inflammation,” he said.

His wife, on the other hand, was not as confident.

“I was suspicious, and I was worried. Typically, I wouldn’t go to a doctor’s appointment with him, but I went to this one,” Nancy said.

The biopsy showed 8 of 12 cores to be cancer. The doctor, a radiation oncologist recommended immediate radiotherapy. As they found out later, that treatment for Keprta’s condition was not the most appropriate.

“I left with my head spinning, and that’s when Nancy really helped. She and I decided we needed to tap into our most ready resource, Steve Burd, the CEO of Safeway who is personally involved with the Prostate Cancer Foundation.”

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American Cancer Society’s Inaugural Discovery Ball Dinner (L to R) Dr. William J. Catalona, Jan Catalona, Honorary Emcee Katie Couric, Nancy Keprta, Don Keprta.

They began to add to their team. And they recommend others do the same with any cancer diagnosis.

The recommendation from the CEO led them to a California urologist and a nuclear medicine test to see how far the cancer had spread. It was close to the edge of the prostate but not beyond.

Clearly, treatment was needed as soon as possible. The one that could provide complete removal of the cancer was a prostatectomy.

The Keprtas decided they wanted the operation in Chicago since their move was practically complete.

Nancy got on the Internet and found many references and recommendations for Dr. Catalona. The California physician confirmed the choice. A few days later, they were in Dr. Catalona’s office for a consultation.

They had just bought a house in a new city with a new job. They didn’t have time to dwell on the current medical situation.

“ ‘Deal with it and move ahead’ was our feeling,” Don said.

“We didn’t have the option of much else,” Nancy said.

Shortly after, Keprta had the prostatectomy and, five years later, has for the most part put it in the past.

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Legendary Prostate Cancer Survivors (L to R) Tommy Lasorda, Don Keprta, Jerry Roeper, Michael Milken.

“Now, everything is pretty much working as it did before the operation. After the prostatectomy, I do remember having three days of what I would call ‘an adjustment,’ but without too much pain or discomfort,” Don said.

On a Friday, nine days after the operation, the catheter was out and Keprta went to work on Saturday.

One thing he did postpone – moving into the new house.

“Don wanted to leave memories of the operation and the hospital behind. We stayed in the rented apartment until he was ready to move into the house. The apartment was about the surgery and recovery. The house was about a start in a new city,” Nancy said.

The Keprtas moved into their new house a stronger team than ever.

“We always did things together and counted on each other, but with this experience, we were depending on each other emotionally in a demanding time. The bond strengthened,” Don said.

With the start of a new executive position came more additions to the team – additions to benefit cancer research and awareness.

On a personal level, Keprta makes himself available to anyone who wants to talk with him about prostate cancer and his experience. He gets the message across that men need to get a baseline PSA and then make sure they have their PSA checked annually.

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Dominick’s employees taking Don’s challenge to raise $500 in one hour for prostate cancer during a recent grand opening celebration.

On a community level, Keprta is a strong and visible advocate of the Dominick’s month-long prostate cancer fundraiser at the checkout lanes. Under his leadership, Dominick’s has expanded programs for prostate cancer awareness education for customers and employees. Dominick’s now hosts an annual awareness event supported by Chicago sports teams and Chicago media as well as City and State health officials.

Every year, Dr. Catalona and Keprta speak to Dominick’s employees about prostate cancer, and both customers and employees are offered free PSA testing and research study participation in conjunction with the Urological Research Foundation.

The Keprtas both sit on the Board of Ambassadors for the American Cancer Society’s Discovery Ball, and co-chaired the inaugural Discovery Ball event in 2006. Don is also a member on the ACS Executive Board of CEOs Against Cancer.

Dominick’s Foundation supports the prostate cancer research of Dr. Catalona and the Urological Research Foundation. This year, as a result of Safeway/Dominick’s relationship, the Prostate Cancer Foundation gave a substantial contribution of $100,000 to Dr. Catalona for his research on the genetics of aggressive prostate cancers.

Through their successful fight with prostate cancer, the Keprtas have created a winning team whose efforts helped save many lives by advocating early detection and awareness.

The team that started out with two strong players could now fill a stadium.

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