My Journey with Prostate Cancer and Active Surveillance
Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with Gleason 6 prostate cancer at the age of 55 – and, against the advice of five medical professionals (including my wife, a nurse practitioner) I chose not to have intervention.
I was fortunate because my urologist knew me, and knew that I marched to the beat of a different drum. While he recommended that I have a radical prostatectomy (RP), he said, “Mark, I know you well enough to know that you won’t do this.”
At that time (2005), an RP was the gold standard for treatment of prostate cancer, and I struggled with my decision to refuse that for nearly a year. Why would I know more than the professionals? My father died of prostate cancer. My wife felt I was perhaps off the edge. Nevertheless, I was the one who had to live with my decision.
My urologist gave me the name of another prostate cancer patient who had chosen not to have an intervention. That person gave me much hope, and launched me on the most fascinating journey of my life – a journey at times wrenchingly stressful and uncertain, but in the end, rich.
This journey also has led me to a better understanding of the tremendous forces impacting a medical system comprised of well-meaning doctors, whose desire to provide the best care can be tainted by conflicts of interest that, at times, deprive them of their ability to be objective. In my opinion, they are good people navigating a broken medical system.
I currently serve as Chairman – North America for ASPI, and am a regular contributor to several men’s health publications, including the PCRI Insights newsletter. Prior to my tenure at ASPI, I was an attorney, owner of a metal fabricating business, and film producer. My wife, Wendy, and I have three sons, and live in northeastern Pennsylvania.
What is your greatest personal or medical accomplishment achieved during your AS journey?
Helping many men avoid surgery and unnecessary biopsies. Men’s lives have been destroyed by overtreatment, and that is unacceptable. For me, personally, the greatest reward has been to find my true power – forging my own path on AS, rather than following the path suggested by five medical professionals. It has also been rewarding to trust my instincts and stop having biopsies for the past 13 years – again, against the advice of the medical profession. Most recently, I have gone head-to-head with my doctors to refuse a contrast agent for MRIs.
Is there a misconception that you had originally believed about PCa or AS that you have since debunked?
I originally thought cancer was cancer. I have found there is tremendous difference in how cancers progress.
Can you describe one lifestyle change that has helped you effectively follow AS?
The main change has been to go on a living food diet. I have found that my bland breakfasts have evolved into exciting salads.
How did your family or friends respond to the news about your PCa diagnosis, and your decision to follow AS?
There was virtually no support for my decision. Even my wife, who is a nurse practitioner, felt I should have a radical prostatectomy. Going against my wife’s judgment was the hardest decision.
Do you have a motto or quote that gives you inspiration?
“Food is your medicine, and medicine is your food.” -Hippocrates