When Pat Sheffler’s son needed to sell some more insurance to hit his bonus, Pat did what any good dad would: he bought more insurance from him. Before Brandon Sheffler could issue the new policy, his dad needed to undergo a routine physical; no problem, because Pat Sheffler, at age 53, was a multi-sport athlete – the kind of guy who runs marathons AND plays basketball 2 hours per day.
But the life insurance company called Pat with some concerning news – his PSA was 37. Brandon had already done some research and was ready with, “Don’t worry, Dad, it’s probably just a false positive.” Not so. Pat was diagnosed with Stage 3 prostate cancer.
“The biggest thing in my entire world is my family,” says Pat, “Very first thing I thought was, ‘My poor son.’ Your mind goes a million directions. After I calmed down, I remember thinking, ‘I am not missing my daughter’s graduation, no matter what.’”
Pat had stage 3 prostate cancer. In stages 1 or 2, PSA has started to rise, but the cancerous cells are confined to the prostate. In stage 4, the prostate cancer cells have traveled to other parts of the body, most commonly lymph nodes and bones. But in stage 3, the tumor has often started to bulge outside the prostate without (yet) any evidence of distant metastasis. 50-80% of men who undergo surgery for stage 3 prostate cancer see their PSA rise again within 10 years.
Pat, 53 at the time of diagnosis, did his own extensive research on treatment, going as far as UCLA, USC and the Mayo Clinic… only to determine that the best doctor to do his surgery was urologist Dr. Christopher Kane, right in his own backyard at UCSD. Furthermore, as luck would have it, there was a PCF-funded clinical trial, looking for high-risk patients with just his profile.
The trial, led at UCSD by PCF-researcher Dr. Rana McKay, in collaboration with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, grew out of a 2014 PCF Challenge Award with study Principal Investigator Dr. Mary Ellen Taplin. It asks the question: “Can we cure more patients if we apply more potent hormonal therapies at the early stages of disease?”
“Before I even had the surgery, they put me on prednisone, Lupron, apalutamide and abiraterone.” Because Pat had a hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, the drugs he was on were designed to decrease androgens and block their activity. “I got tested every month before surgery and watched my PSA numbers drop – 34, 27, 21, 10, 4, 2, 0.2.” After surgery, Pat participated in the second part of the trial to test whether another year of hormone therapy would improve outcomes.
Pat had the surgery on November 5th, 2018. The day before, he walked 5 miles with a friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at a similar time as he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “She kept saying, ‘Why are you here, you have surgery tomorrow?’ and I kept saying, ‘I’m here because I don’t have surgery until tomorrow.’”
Pat has done 7 marathons and multiple Spartan-type races (some with his whole family). He’s played in the same community softball league for 40 years – in the 80s, with his dad, and now with his sons. He typically plays basketball 2 hours a day. He’s in about as good shape as you can be for a guy who’s 55.
“When I had the surgery, the doctor made a point of telling me how healthy I am on the inside. I played basketball before and after treatment – 13 hours a week, never missed a week. I eat whole foods and I’m a super positive person, no matter what. I think that matters. Life is what you make of it. My family never got depressed, because I never got depressed. Positive vibes is my thing.”
A few months after his diagnosis, Pat showed up to a softball game… only to find his son Brandon in a T-shirt that said “Positive Vibes” on the front and “Sheffler Strong” on the back. Then his other son, Tristen, showed up with the same shirt on. “I want one, why didn’t you get me one?” Pat said. And then his mom showed up with one. And his wife. And his friends and his nephew and another 20 people showed up with the same shirt. As Pat tells it, “I wear my heart on my sleeve, so it impacted me in a big way. Later after practice, we went to a local pizza place. ’Why don’t you open Facebook?’ my daughter Ashlen said.” There, Pat found that his wife and daughter had orchestrated a secret Facebook group, where 100s of people around the world had all taken pictures of themselves in the same shirt.
The clinical trial and positive vibes finally paid off. A year after surgery, Pat went off the drug protocol. Two months later and still off the trial meds, his PSA was undetectable. Furthermore, his testosterone was rising back to normal. “It is a highlight of my profession,” says Dr. McKay, “This is how we get the next best therapies out there for patients. These are the moments and breakthroughs we look for. I always say, Remission+Time=Cure. My hope for Pat is that he’s cured – that he can go on just being an amazing dad, husband, and advocate for prostate cancer awareness.”
“What I take from this, from a selfish perspective, is that I’m proud that my life leading up to this was authentic. I’ve always been a positive, outgoing, happy person and that’s the truth. You would never know I was diagnosed with anything. We manifest our own health by positive energy, and a positive mindset is a big part of that.”
Pat discusses his experience in this video.