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Prostate Cancer Survivor

Steve Fleischmann

  • Diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 47 in 2003
  • Treated with nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy at UW Medical Center
  • Cancer recurrence in 2007; treated with radiation therapy
  • Cancer recurrence in 2012; treated with salvage pelvic and retroperitoneal lymphadenectomy

Steve Fleischmann has accomplished many things in his life. In addition to the traditional roles of successful husband, father, and businessman, Steve is a world traveler, a world-class fundraiser, and a three-time prostate cancer survivor.

Steve was 47 in 2003 when he learned he had prostate cancer for the first time during a routine checkup. After talking with friends and doing research on his own, Steve sought the care of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s (SCCA) Prostate Oncology Center specialist Paul Lange, MD, professor of urology at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine, and director of the Institute for Prostate Cancer Research. Steve and his wife, Patty, were impressed with Dr. Lange and his credentials, and by the fact that he was also a prostate cancer survivor. “Dr. Lange really understands what a man goes through,” Steve said.

Nerve-Sparing Radical Prostatectomy

Dr. Lange treated Steve’s cancer with an operation called a nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy in which his entire prostate gland and seminal vesicles were removed. There were other treatment choices Steve could have made, but he felt surgery was the right choice for him. “I had a family and a business to run with a lot of employees to take care of. But what was most important for me was to feel psychologically and emotionally that my cancer was gone.”

The nerve-sparing surgery was a success and Steve didn’t experience either of the two biggest side effects of prostate surgery: impotence or incontinence. “I didn't want to be a 47-year-old man in a diaper,” he said. Steve started walking the next day, even though it was painful. He was told to expect a six-week recovery, but was quickly back at work part-time, forever changed by the experience.

Being Open About Cancer

"Some men never tell anyone [that they have prostate cancer],” Steve said. “It's scary to find out you have cancer. You don't want to tell anybody.”

"Men don't know what the prostate does,” said Dr. Lange. “They don't know where it is. And they don't like to talk about it. They are terribly threatened by the potency part and their reproductive powers, which they do lose. Men do not like to be vulnerable.”

Steve’s wife, Patty, a marriage and family therapist, pushed Steve to be open with family and friends about his illness. “I pushed him, because I think holding it in is bad,” she said. “But he really made it easy for people to be there for him. That love and support was really helpful for him in recovery, and right before surgery when he was really anxious.”

A month after Steve's surgery, Patty threw a surprise party for Steve. About 80 people attended, including Dr. Lange and other doctors, to celebrate with Steve.

Radiation for Recurrence

After Steve’s radical prostatectomy in 2003, his doctors kept close watch on his blood levels every three months to make sure the cancer was indeed gone. But in March 2007, nearly four years later, Steve’s cancer was back. He had a Gleason score of 7 and his PSA was rising fast. Steve went back to SCCA for 36 days of radiation treatment in June 2007 under the care of Kenneth J. Russell, MD, professor of radiation oncology at the UW School of Medicine.

Diet and Prostate Cancer

In the months between his recurrence and treatment, Steve went full-speed into improving his strength with weight training and talking to an SCCA nutritionist about dietary recommendations to prepare for treatment. After his first experience with prostate cancer, Steve had begun taking several naturopathic medicines to boost his immune system—antioxidants and such. However his nutritionist advised he stop the supplements before treatment because antioxidants not only protect healthy cells from disease, they may also protect malignant cells as well.

Life Changes

“Getting cancer is one thing,” Steve said. “But getting it back is worse. You realize you’re susceptible to getting it again and every ache or pain becomes a fear, a worry. I feared that I could die from this someday.”

Steve decided to make some life changes. “I didn’t know what my future would look like,” he said. “I was 51, so I decided to take my family on an around-the-world trip for eight months.” They traveled to 22 countries, 75 percent of which were third-world. His children were six and nine years old at the time. “It was an amazing family time,” Steve recalled. “During this trip, I decided to sell my company and move to Italy for a year.”

Steve sold his business in June 2010 and in August 2011, moved his family to Florence, Italy where Steve enrolled his children in the International School.

Continuous PSA Watch

No matter where he lived, Steve required frequent PSA monitoring. Fortunately, “Dr. Lange set it up for me to have my PSA checked while in Italy,” Steve said. And, once again, his PSA started to increase again to an extent that Dr. Lange requested Steve have further testing. In Milan, Italy, Steve received a special positron emission tomography (PET) scan using C11 choline which can pick up persistent prostate cancer better than other tests. At 56, Steve was facing cancer again, for a third time.

Although they had planned to move back to Seattle in August 2012 anyways, Steve and his family now had another reason to do so. In September 2012, Steve underwent a salvage pelvic and retroperitoneal lymphadenectomy operation to remove the cancerous lymph nodes, performed by Dr. Lange and Daniel W. Lin, MD, chief of urologic oncology and professor urology at the UW School of Medicine. “I think I was the second person to have this surgery at UW Medical Center,” Steve said. He has been cancer free ever since.

Patient Turned Fundraiser

Back when Steve was first diagnosed in 2003, he decided to chair a breakfast to raise money for prostate cancer research. Such events are commonplace for breast cancer, but Steve believed his breakfast was the first in the country for prostate cancer at the time. The director of development for UW Medicine helped Steve plan the event called, “A Survivors Celebration,” which took place in early December 2003.

“The purpose of the breakfast was to get this disease out of the closet,” Steve said. “We asked men who had had prostate cancer to be table captains and to fill a table.”

At the December 2004 breakfast, 600 men attended, and almost $1 million was raised. In 2005, cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong, attended the December breakfast, and almost $3 million was raised. Since then, other notable men have supported this event and including United States statesman and retired four-star general in the United States Army, and prostate cancer survivor, Colin Powell in 2013. All proceeds are donated to the Institute for Prostate Cancer Research, a collaborative effort between UW Medicine and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, dedicated to researching new therapies and technologies for prostate cancer.

“I’m so over-the-top impressed with SCCA, with how much everyone cares and how available the doctors are. I bet SCCA is unique,” he says. “I bet you won’t get the same treatment anywhere else in the country. SCCA has earned the right to boast in my opinion.”

Steve has a lot to share with men and their spouses about cancer, treatment, and recurrence. If you would like to contact Steve, please e-mail him at steve@sfoi.com.

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