Father Medard Laz’s Journey of Healing, Hope and Help

Categories: Spring 2017
Thirteen years ago, Father Medard Laz survived prostate cancer. After his successful surgery, he returned to his life in Florida and set his sights on spreading help—and hope—in Haiti.
Father Laz supports Food for the Poor’s projects in Haiti, which focus on improving the lives of the people who live there.

Father Laz had always been aware of his family’s history of prostate cancer; his father was diagnosed with the disease at age 54, had a prostatectomy, and lived another 30 years. Thus, in consultation with his doctor, Father Laz had been monitoring his risk for prostate cancer beginning at age 46. Over 11 years he had repeat PSA tests and nine biopsies, all of which had been negative for cancer.

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There was a period of almost 2 years in which Father Laz did not get tested. He had been preparing for a teaching trip to China, but it was cancelled due to a SARS outbreak. Then he saw a news report on prostate cancer testing, and this reminded him of his lapse in checking his PSA. He visited his doctor, got tested, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A subsequent MRI was “highly suspicious” for the spread of cancer to the bone. “If I had gone to China, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the doctor,” he said.

Choosing surgery

Father Laz decided to fully research the options to address the cancer. He wanted to “go to the best” doctors. If the cancer had truly spread, he was concerned that surgery would not be advisable. Father Laz first consulted with a doctor to discuss chemotherapy as an alternative to surgery. Then he consulted with a bone cancer expert, who reviewed the MRI and felt the cancer had not spread to T2 and T3. Father Laz considered watchful waiting, but ultimately decided against this because his PSA had been rising over the years. He also met with Dr. Catalona, who agreed that the MRI did not indicate that the cancer had spread. He thought that the highly suspicious spot on the MRI could be a calcium deposit or cyst.

Father Laz decided to have a radical prostatectomy with Dr. Catalona. He was 60 years old. “I thought ‘Hey, this is my best shot at getting a whole new lease on life and going forward.’ It turned out that way, and I don’t think I’m the exception,” he said. “My PSA has been 0.0, with no radiation, no chemo, no treatment whatsoever after surgery, and no complications of any sort.”

Father Laz encourages other men to stay vigilant of their prostate cancer risk. Men are being told, “Don’t worry about the PSA and don’t have the biopsy, and don’t have [your prostate] out,” he said. He is concerned that incidence of prostate cancer death will subsequently be on the rise. “My advice is check out all your options,” Father Laz said.

Father Laz (right) and the jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and California Chrome to many thrilling wins. Father Laz started following horse racing as a child.

“A new start on life”

After his surgery, Father Laz returned to Florida. He said, “After I got home, and the cancer had not spread, it felt like it’s time to give back, so what do I want to do with the rest of my life?” Father Laz felt like he’d been “given a new start on life.” He knows that other men who have survived prostate cancer feel the same way. “There’s so much we can do with our lives,” he said.

Shortly after his surgery, Father Laz joined a weekly discussion group on relief efforts in poor countries. He heard from people who had traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. “I wanted to get involved,” he said.

A year after his surgery, he traveled to Haiti with Food for the Poor, a large interdenominational charity based out of Coconut Creek, Florida. He saw firsthand the difficult conditions of the people there who struggle to feed themselves and care for their children. “There was no hope on anybody’s face,” he said. “That’s what really got to me.”

In the years since his trip, Father Laz has raised funds to support Food for the Poor’s various projects in Haiti, including establishing fishing villages, digging wells, building homes and schools, and assisting several hospitals. Their current project is building a school in a village in Haiti.

“You can really go on and make a difference with your life.”

Independently of Food for the Poor, Father Laz established Hearts for Humanity to promote critical thinking in education in Haiti. He also cofounded Angels in Action to support the education of students in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. “We’re trying to do things in the classroom as well,” he said.

Father Laz (right) attended the Kentucky Derby last year and met Bob Baffert (left), who is widely recognized as one of the most successful trainers in the history of horse racing.

Serving people in Chicago and beyond

Father Medard Laz was ordained a Catholic priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1969 where he served in parishes until 1999. He founded Holy Family Parish in Inverness, Illinois in 1984. Since 1999 he has lived in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and has served on weekends in several parishes in Ft. Lauderdale.

Father Laz is the co-founder of Rainbows, a support program for children in single parent or blended families. Over two million children have attended the program all over the world. Father Laz has also founded Joyful Again!, a weekend program for widows and widowers that is held throughout the country.

Father Laz is the author of nine books, most notably his best-selling, Love Adds a Little Chocolate, 100 Stories to Brighten Your Day and Sweeten Your Life. He has also written Coping When Your Spouse Dies and Life After the Divorce. He has given lectures and retreats throughout the country.

A love of racing

A few years ago, Father Laz and Dr. Catalona discovered a shared interest in horse racing. Now, during his annual appointments, Father Laz said, “We just can’t talk enough about horses.” Father Laz started going to the racetrack in Chicago with his father and brothers when he was a child. The sport isn’t as widely popular as it used to be, so he appreciates finding a fellow fan in Dr. Catalona. “He’s a truly wonderful man,” Father Laz said of Dr. Catalona.

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