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Survivor’s Son: “No reaction is as strong and fierce as when it’s your own family member”

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Ask Ian McLeod how his dad is doing, and he’s happy to tell you:  “He’s doing phenomenal.  He had a wonderful surgeon, his surgery went without any complications, he healed up nicely and he was out of the hospital the next day.”  Although his father, Neil McLeod, will have a catheter as his surgery site heals, his recovery so far has been “smooth sailing,” Ian says.  “He’s had some pain, and obviously he’s adjusting to having to slow down for a little bit,” but otherwise Neil is looking forward to getting on with the rest of his life.

Neil is 57, and his prostate cancer was detected during routine screening.  “I’m proud that my dad was proactive,” says Ian.  “He just got his tests done regularly without anyone pushing him to do so.  I’m more than pleased; it’s been eye-opening.”  Ian knows that his own risk of getting prostate cancer one day has just gone up.  Having a family history doesn’t mean that prostate cancer is Ian’s destiny, but he’s going to follow his father’s example:  “I’m going to get screened early.”

At age 25, Ian has some time before he needs to start screening, but now that prostate cancer has entered his life, he is working hard to raise awareness and to help find a cure.  Recently, he raised $3,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, in a personal fundraiser that got more than 85 people involved.

When Neil was diagnosed, Ian did what we hope all family members will do:  he began reading up on prostate cancer.  “When I first heard about my dad, I had no idea what prostate cancer really was, so I Googled it, and did my own research.”

One name kept coming up in his searches – that of legendary golfer Arnold Palmer.  “Arnold Palmer, as much as he was the ambassador for golf, was also a champion for prostate cancer awareness.  I learned a lot through him and his foundation.”

Indeed, Palmer “dedicated himself to helping other men with prostate cancer,” notes medical oncologist Jonathan Simons, M.D., CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.  “His ‘Arnie’s Army’ raised more than $2 million for research and awareness.  He was cured of his disease, and he gave back as a real supporter of prostate cancer research.”

In watching a “60 Minutes” interview with Palmer, Ian learned that if someone wrote Palmer a letter, he would write back.  “I don’t know what stirred me to do it,” Ian says.  “I thought, ‘Screw it, I’d love to get my thoughts down on a piece of paper.’  Arnold Palmer taught me a lot about what prostate cancer is.  I wrote a letter with no expectations of getting anything back.”  A week later, a letter from Palmer showed up in Ian’s mailbox.

“It said, ‘Dear Ian, I’m sorry to hear about your dad,’ and he said a few other really kind things, including, ‘He’s going to be fine, stronger than before.’”

The day after Ian got that letter, Arnold Palmer died.  “My dad framed the letter, and I think it was a big source of motivation for him, and comfort.”

Just having someone to talk about prostate cancer with, and to listen to his fears, meant very much to Ian.  “Maybe it’s part of the male makeup,” he says.  “You want to be macho, you want to be the provider.  I know there are a lot of men out there who would rather live the life they want and deal with the consequences later.  I think that’s a bunch of hogwash.  One of the things I realized in the hospital with my dad is that your health is your livelihood.”  As for men not wanting to think or talk about prostate cancer, Ian continues:  “This has to change.”

Having prostate cancer hit so close to home “made me stand up and take notice, and be more passionate.  No reaction is as strong and fierce as when it’s your own family member.”

Although Ian’s paternal grandfather developed leukemia when he was nearly 80, his family is generally healthy.  “There’s no cancer on my mom’s side of the family.  This is kind of unchartered territory for all of us.”

Because Neil’s cancer was caught very early, he had several good options for treatment.  He did his homework and found a highly rated surgeon with an excellent success rate for radical prostatectomy, Simon Chung, M.D., in Fairfax, Va.

“The pathologist called yesterday,” says Ian.  “Cancer was only in a very small percentage of the prostate: 10 percent was cancerous.  Nothing had spread.  Everything was clear.”

Update:  Neil only needed the catheter for a week, Ian reports, “because he healed so quick!”

Janet Worthington
Janet Farrar Worthington is an award-winning science writer and has written and edited numerous health publications and contributed to several other medical books. In addition to writing on medicine, Janet also writes about her family, her former life on a farm in Virginia, her desire to own more chickens, and whichever dog is eyeing the dinner dish.