Patient Stories

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

While many people may come out of retirement to go back to work, not many would come back to run an entire company. Then again, not many have the same drive and determination as Steve Fleischmann. Steve is a three-time prostate cancer survivor who now balances his time with his family, a variety of different sports, fundraising for cancer research and advocating for cancer patients – in addition to running, POP! Gourmet Foods in Tukwila.

Steve was 47 when he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer during a routine checkup in 2003. After talking with friends and doing his own research, Steve sought the care of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s Prostate Oncology Center specialist Paul Lange, MD, professor of urology at the University of Washington 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. 

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.

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 says. 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.

Being Open About Cancer

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

"Men don't know what the prostate does,” says 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.”

Patty, a marriage and family therapist, encouraged Steve to be open with family and friends about his illness. “I pushed him, because I think holding it in is bad,” she says. “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.”

Twice-Recurring Cancer and Life Changes

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 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.

“Getting cancer is one thing,” Steve says. “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.”

At age 51, all of these thoughts sparked Steve to take his 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.

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

Steve required frequent PSA monitoring and because his PSA was rising higher, Dr. Lange requested further testing. A PET scan in Italy revealed another recurrence, so at 56 Steve was facing cancer for the third time.

Although they had planned to move back to Seattle in August 2012, 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. The surgery was performed by Dr. Lange and Dr. Daniel W. Lin, who is chief of urologic oncology and professor of urology at the UW School of Medicine. “I think I was the second person to have this surgery at UW Medical Center,” Steve says. He has been cancer free ever since. 

Patient Turned Fundraiser

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 says. “We asked men who had had prostate cancer to be table captains and to fill a table.”

The annual event has raised more than $7 million to date and notable cancer survivors including Lance Armstrong and Colin Powell have been among the attendees. 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.

Along with his annual breakfast fundraiser, Steve and his daughter, now 18, give talks for various cancer support groups and events.

“I will never stop fighting for a cure for cancer. I’m an advocate to helping men diagnosed with cancer or who get their cancer back,” Steve says. “I will do that the rest of my life.”

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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