She Had His Back: Beth and Richard’s Story

In 2012, Beth Burdick and Richard Mackey began a journey that 1 in 7 men will take in their lifetimes. Richard had received a prostate cancer diagnosis. And they had just met.

Richard’s PSA had been slowly rising before he met Beth. Not wanting to undergo a prostate biopsy, he decided with his doctor on watchful waiting. After meeting Beth, his symptoms became worse. Then he got the dreaded news: the cancer had spread. He had had Stage IV metastatic prostate cancer and surgery was not an option.

“I never believed I would have cancer,” recalled Richard. “I guess I was delusional. I was in such good shape. I was so active. I lived very well. I did all the right things. And then to have fatal cancer. Are you kidding me?”

Giving up was not an option for the new couple. Richard warned Beth, “This is going to be tough.” But despite their fears, they were committed to fighting together, and to “keep going until there is a cure.”
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Undeterred, Beth became Richard’s inspiration, biggest cheerleader and most trusted medical advocate. Richard felt he had two choices. “I can sit in the corner and be depressed. Or say, to hell with it. I am going to live my life with optimism.”

Together, Beth and Richard tried anything and everything to beat the cancer. Richard began hormone therapy until it stopped working. Then he started a steroidal anti androgen, which worked for a while. He underwent radiation and immunotherapy. Eventually, the cancer spread to other parts of his body. His doctor told him, “You have six months left to live unless you get into some pretty intensive chemotherapy.” So, Richard started chemotherapy – something he was dreading.

“I never believed I would have cancer,” recalled Richard. “I guess I was delusional. I was in such good shape. I was so active. I lived very well. I did all the right things. And then to have fatal cancer. Are you kidding me?”

It was during this time that Richard sent a sample of his tumor for genetic testing. The analysis indicated that Richard had mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, defects that are also linked with breast and ovarian cancer. In 2015, PCF researchers discovered that nearly 20% of prostate cancers are caused by this mutation.

These results provided the couple with new hope. From her research, Beth knew that an FDA-approved drug called olaparib was being used to treat BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer. In some cases, there was up to a 90% response rate.

“I cannot tell you how excited I was when we got the report that he had the genetic mutation and which drugs were available based on the genetic analysis,” said Beth.

The success of olaparib in treating ovarian cancer led to clinical trials of the drug in prostate cancer. In late 2015, a landmark study found that olaparib could benefit as many as a third of patients with prostate cancer, including many who did not inherit cancer genes, but whose tumors acquired these defects over time. This clinical trial, funded by PCF was the first to show the benefit of precision medicine in prostate cancer.

On September 17, 2015, Richard and Beth received the news that gave them a new lease on life: he was in remission.

Upon hearing the news, Beth was ecstatic. “I cannot tell you how joyous I was. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I want him around 25 more years.”

Richard credits Beth with giving him the strength to persevere. “Beth has encouraged and helped me through this whole process. I truly believe she saved my life.”

Beth has an important message for other families facing prostate cancer. “It is not a death sentence. Two and a half years ago when Richard was diagnosed, the medicine he is on now wasn’t available,” she said. “It was in clinical trials for women with ovarian cancer. I firmly believe that with enough financial support there will be a cure for prostate cancer. And I don’t believe it is that far away.”

Beth and Richard are planning to travel in the years to come now that Richard’s cancer-free diagnosis has given them this second chance. Next year, a trip to New England and Eastern Canada. Then Montana if possible. Whatever they do, the newlyweds are appreciative for the time together and anticipate enjoying the adventures comes their way.

When asked why people should support PCF, the retired Air Force officer said, “It may save your life. Get busy and do it.”

Beth agrees. “When you look at the statistics that 1 of every 7  men at this point is going to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. That’s your father. That’s your husband. That’s your brother. That’s your best friend,” she said. “Make a donation to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. It will not only help that particular individual but will help individuals all over the world and all over the country. Talk about making a difference.”

Terms to know from this article:

Biopsy

The removal of cells or tissues for examination under a microscope. When only a sample of tissue is removed, the procedure is called an incisional biopsy or core biopsy. When an entire lump or suspicious area is removed, the procedure is called an excisional biopsy. When a sample of tissue or fluid is removed with a needle, the procedure is called a needle biopsy or fine-needle aspiration.

Hormone

A chemical made by glands in the body. Hormones circulate in the bloodstream and control the actions of certain cells or organs. Some hormones can also be made in a laboratory.

androgen

A type of hormone that promotes the development and maintenance of male sex characteristics.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that boosts or restores the immune system to fight cancer, infections and other diseases. There a several different agents used for immunotherapy; Provenge is one example.

Remission

A decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some, but not all, signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body.

PSA

prostate-specific antigen (PSA): A substance produced by the prostate that may be found in an increased amount in the blood of men who have prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia, or infection or inflammation of the prostate.

Tumor

A mass of excess tissue that results from abnormal cell division. Tumors perform no useful body function. They may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

BRCA

Are a human gene and its protein product, respectively. The official symbol (BRCA1, italic for the gene, nonitalic for the protein) and the official name (breast cancer 1).