Jefferson University Hospitals

John Shares His 'I Can' Story on Beating Prostate Cancer

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"I tell everyone I can to go to the doctor, get screened and catch the cancer early"

Like most men, John was never a big fan of going to the doctor for his annual physical.

That changed three years ago.

That's when John went for a physical required for his job as a well driller. His blood work from that February 2008 annual check-up revealed that his PSA – prostate specific antigen – had skyrocketed to 13.

Then an ultrasound and a biopsy confirmed his worst fears: the husband and father of three was diagnosed with stage 3 prostate cancer. He was 50.

A self-described "average Joe," John is used to finding solutions to tough problems at work where every job is different and most require fast, innovative problem solving.

So after his diagnosis, John wanted to know three things:

  • What were his chances of beating the cancer?
  • What were his treatment options and was one of them robotic-assisted surgery?
  • What would happen if he had surgery and the surgeon found that the cancer had spread?

The first answers John received were not satisfactory.

Pressed by his brother-in-law, a radiologist, John decided to seek a second opinion from the prostate cancer experts at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals.

Getting a second opinion at Jefferson, however, raised the specter of traveling from his home in suburban Bucks County into Philadelphia. 

"I was scared to death of going to the city," he says. "I was scared to death for my wife. I didn’t want her to have to deal with that."

Sure he'd make the hour-long drive into the city to see a game or a concert every once in a while, but really it would be much more convenient to just get his prostate cancer treated at the community hospital near home. Then his family – his wife, kids and siblings – would be nearby and he'd have all that support.

But he liked that Jefferson offered the full array of options including robotic-assisted surgery and a multidisciplinary approach where the radiation oncologists, medical oncologist and urologists provided individualized care geared for each patient's case.

John now says he thinks that the decision to come into "The City" saved his life. It also took his option of choice off the table as soon as Leonard Gomella, MD, chairman of urology at Jefferson, and the rest of the multidisciplinary team looked into his case.

"Dr. Gomella told me open surgery was the only option," John recalls. "He said, 'I want to get in there and root around.'"

That appealed to John.

"Being in my kind of business, I don't look at a job like 'why isn't this like the last one.' Every job – like every person – is unique when you are drilling 1,500 feet or more into the ground on a geothermal project."

So John opted for surgery with Dr. Gomella. The operation took twice as long as expected. The cancer had spread to John's intestines and elsewhere.

Afterwards, John asked the surgeon how it had gone. Dr. Gomella was confident that he had gotten all the cancer and assured John that he and the rest of the Jefferson team would follow him closely to be sure it was gone and to determine what follow-up treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy might be needed.

During that time in the Hospital, John met other men who'd also had surgery for prostate cancer – some open like John and others robotic-assisted procedures like he had hoped before it was clear how far the cancer had spread. One man he recalls said how he hadn't told his buddies who he regularly played basketball with about his diagnosis or his surgery. Nor did that man plan to tell his friends after he recovered – it's a personal thing, the fellow patient said.

"I agree it is very personal," John said. But the conversation got him thinking. If he could get one of his brothers or one of the guys at work to get screened and spared them what he'd just gone through, wasn't that worth a slightly uncomfortable conversation?

And now that's what John does. Yes, it's private, but John tells everyone he can to go to the doctor, get screened and catch the cancer early.

Today, he's been cancer free for three years.

Oh and there was another benefit:

John and his wife discovered Philadelphia and found that they love coming down to the city. When he has a check-up his wife comes along. "We have a city day, we go to dinner afterwards. We make it a time for us."