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“Taking it to the next level:” Walking into remission

Need a reason to take PCF’s Go the Distance: 100 Miles in June challenge? Read one man’s story – then join us here.

When Dick Cozza, now 76, was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer over 18 months ago, he says his doctors were astonished. “They told me they’d never seen anything like this” – all of his biopsy cores had a Gleason score of 10. He also had metastases throughout the lymph nodes in his pelvis, abdomen, and chest. He’s been through a lot with treatment as well: multiple treatments and complications, changes in daily routine and diet, and a lot of hope and fear. Dick will tell you, straight out: He’s preparing for death.

Yet as of October, 2020, Dick’s treatment team declared that he’s in remission, with his most recent MRI showing no evidence of metastasis. What’s gives? Dick credits walking.

In 2020, Dick heard about PCF’s Walk the Bases challenge: 41.5 miles in a month. As a retired physical education and science teacher, he was somewhat active – he walked his dog every day and lifted weights. He decided to accept the challenge, and take it to a different level. “I’m super motivated. That’s the way I am,” says Dick. He moved forward, putting together a walking program of 5-6 miles per day, at a 15-minute mile pace, 7 days a week. In his first month, he got up to 180 miles, and hasn’t stopped. Since that first month, he’s logged more than 1,500 miles.

How did he rack up the distance? Dick has some tips.

  • First, purchase good walking shoes specific for your new journey.
  • You may also want to get a sport watch or fitness tracker to track your miles, pace, heart rate, calories, etc. – as he says, “much more information that you can use!” (Your smartphone may already have this ability).
  • Walking routes: He walks the neighborhoods within 3 miles of his house or on a path specifically for walking and biking. So, he’s got some variety (with different mountain views!) to avoid boredom, and also listens to music while he walks.
  • Speaking of boredom (or fatigue, or lack of motivation), Dick keeps himself going with this thought: “I am fighting to live by walking! What better motivation can one have to overcome fatigue? I am trying to defeat an incurable Stage 4 Group 5 metastatic prostate cancer!”

So did walking save Dick? Turns out his doctors don’t know exactly why he’s in complete remission either, and are similarly amazed. He also continues on ADT and is tolerating it very well.

Dick may be a living example of the work of PCF-funded researcher June Chan, MD, of UCSF. Multiple studies by Dr. Chan and others have shown that exercise, from moderate to vigorous, can help delay or prevent prostate cancer progression and reduce the risk of death from prostate cancer. Exercise can also help reduce the side effects of ADT, such as weight gain and loss of muscle mass. Researchers are still working to understand the precise biological mechanisms, but Dick’s hunch about the potential benefits of an intense walking program may have a played a key role in his greatly improved health.

While encouraged and very grateful to be living longer, and so well, with his diagnosis, Dick doesn’t think he’s completely out of the woods yet. “I never call myself a ‘survivor.’ Until I hit the ‘finish line’ of 5 years…..then I would call myself a survivor, with some caveats.” He’ll continue walking, ADT, and regular follow-up with his healthcare team. “You must be part of the medical team trying to defeat this cancer. They cannot do it alone.“ And he remains especially grateful to his wife, who has been with him every step of the way.

What’s the one thing Dick wants people struggling with prostate cancer to take away from his situation? “There’s hope out there.”