Stories of Prostate Cancer:

Joe Hawkins Takes Charge of His Health

Categories: Summer/Fall 2017
Joe Hawkins’ commitment to his own health helped him detect—and manage—his prostate cancer.
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Table Rock State Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains, close to where Joe Hawkins lives.

For more than 10 years, Joe Hawkins had been a “historian” of his PSA. He was particularly careful to note changes in his PSA velocity. PSA velocity is the rate at which a PSA score changes from year to year. Some studies have shown that a sharp increase within a 12-month period indicates that a man is at higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. His PSA values had been increasing gradually as he got older, which he knew was normal. But in 2015, Joe noticed a spike in his PSA from the year before, up to 4.9.

The sudden rise in PSA spurred Joe to see a urologist, who felt a nodule on Joe’s prostate. A subsequent MRI found an area of concern, and a biopsy found Gleason 7 prostate cancer. He was 65 years old.

Taking the next steps

After the diagnosis, Joe and Regina, his significant other, “dug deep” into research on prostate cancer treatment and networked with other men who had faced the disease. They wanted to find the best treatment for his cancer—and the right physician.

Dr. Catalona’s name came up several times in the articles he read about prostate cancer, and in his conversations with others. After speaking to Dr. Catalona on the phone, Joe made an appointment to see him in the office in Chicago the following week. They discussed options for treatment, including radical prostatectomy and radiation. “Through all that conversation it seemed that for me, a radical prostatectomy was the best option. Dr. Catalona was the best choice for me, and the gold standard for this surgery versus robotic surgery. Ilikethefactthathehadalotof experience with it and that the procedure has been around for a long time,” Joe said. “You could easily tell that Dr. Catalona was not only a very experienced doctor, certainly a recognized expert in the field, and he does research. But he really impressed me by caring a lot about me as a patient, and I know that he’s just the kind of person who cares about all of his patients that way.”

“I think keeping a record of your PSA and tracking it over time could be a lifesaver. At least in my case, I feel like it was.”

The surgery and moving forward with life

“My job before the surgery was very clear,” Joe said. “Everything was laid out and planned, so as long as you follow the plan you could expect good results. And I did have excellent results,” Joe said. He considers himself “lucky” to have a good pathology report following the surgery. “I feel great. I’m back to my regular exercise and work schedule, and life is good,” he said.

Early detection and advice for other men

Joe believes that early detection of prostate cancer is important. He recommends that men be “vigilant” about their own bodies, and follow up on their PSA values. “If you see something start to move or change, get to your urologist and have it checked out sooner rather than later. In my opinion, that’s a good thing, and from a research standpoint they’ll continue to make progress on early detection,” he said.

Healthy living

Joe is committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One of his daughters is a vegan, and recently Joe has been eating a plant-based diet. “I pretty much changed my diet to vegan and I enjoy it,” he said. After reading books about research on plant-based diets, he concluded, “I believe it’s important. There’s a lot of phenomenal plant- based food to explore, and it was easy for me to stop eating animal products.”

Joe’s also a runner, and appreciates that just a few months after his surgery he was back to jogging. “I usually try to run first thing in the morning. My day goes better if I exercise,” he said. He uses an activity tracker to keep himself accountable. “You want to live as long as you can, but you also want to have a good quality of life. I think the combination of exercise and nutrition helps give me the better shot at that,” he said.

Living a full life, living in the moment

Joe lives in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He is the CEO of a company that provides tools and equipment for the automotive after market. He founded the company after graduate school. Although his position as CEO keeps him busy and requires him to travel, he still finds time for his hobbies. He is an avid reader, enjoys traveling and skiing, and occasionally plays golf.

His faith, Regina, and his family are very important to him. Joe has two sons, two daughters, and two grandchildren. “My kids are all grown, finished with college, and pursuing their own lives,” he said. They enjoy spending time together as a family when they have the opportunity and often make a family event of cooking together. “We try not to be in a rush and everybody has something to do,” he said. The family also enjoys an outdoor lifestyle: hiking, fishing, and traveling. For Joe, it’s also important to connect with his kids independently. “I like to travel with each one of them individually, so we get a some one-on-one time,” Joe said.

As a father, Joe wants his children to be aware of their risk of prostate cancer. “I’ve told my kids what Dr. Catalona told me—when you’re 35 years old, have your PSA checked. If it’s more than 1, see a urologist,” he said. “We’re finding out a lot about the genetics of prostate cancer, but I think there’s an opportunity us to know more,” he said.

Today, Joe tries to focus on living in the moment. “I feel like I’ve had good treatment and a good outcome, but I also realize that you never know. I really don’t think about it. I’ve got this moment and I want to make the best of it,” he said.


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