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Local brothers planning their fight on cancer

January 31, 2011 - By Angela Cummings, Special to The Journal (Martinsburg, WVA)

HEDGESVILLE - Heredity is a powerful thing and statistics show that in areas of health, genetics play a significant role in what happens to our bodies. Whether it's high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, we know that if someone closely related to us has a specific diagnosis, we must be proactive in seeing we do not fall victim to the same disease.

This is also true with cancer. Depending on the type, some people are genetically predisposed to a higher probability of having it - prostate cancer is one of those types of cancer.

Russell Liskey, 73, of Hedgesville, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1984 and is a 27-year survivor; his brother, Garland, 75, a part-time resident of Hedgesville, was diagnosed with the disease in April 2010.

Russ said that his cancer was first suspected during a routine physical exam. His physician felt a nodule roughly half the size of a baby aspirin and recommended he get a second opinion. The second doctor found the same and referred him to a urologist.

"The urologist said at my age (then, 48 years old) it being malignant was about a 5 percent chance." Not thinking that it was cancer, Russ said he was floored when the biopsy results came back positive.

"They didn't have the options they have now," added Russ. But today, although his brother's story of diagnosis is similar (found during a physical exam), his story of treatment is much different.

While the primary treatment choices remain either radiation or prostatectomy, the surgical procedure for a prostatectomy has greatly changed.

Garland admits that cancer treatment is a personal choice.

"When I heard the word cancer, all I could think of was that I wanted it out of me. I know several men who have had the 'seeds' (radioactive treatment), but if I have cancer in me, I want it cut out," said Garland, so he opted for the prostatectomy; however, since his brother's surgery, technology has come a long way.

When they received the news from his urologist, Garland's wife, Lillian, said all she could do was cry. Then once the original shock wore off and Russ and his wife, Harriett, stepped in to offer their support and personal knowledge, Lillian said she started searching the Internet for all the information on prostate cancer and treatment she could find.

"I looked up everything I could about the illness and Virginia Hospital Center (where Garland had his treatment)," Lillian said.

At Virginia Hospital Center, Dr. Robert M. Mordkin performed a new procedure on Garland called the "da Vinci prostatectomy."

Unlike the traditional prostatectomy that Russ received - where the surgeon made a large open incision in the lower abdomen - Garland has five very small incisions where his surgeon was able to perform the prostatectomy with minimal invasiveness, allowing him a quicker recovery time.

While the da Vinci surgical system uses a robotic platform to assist the surgeon, the surgeon is still in control of the prostatectomy.

"I went in on a Monday and walked out on Tuesday," said Garland, as opposed to his brother's 10-day stay.

Garland said that while usually they do not perform surgery on men over the age of 70, they found his heart to be in good condition, so they proceeded.

Now that the Liskey brothers are both post-prostate cancer patients, they must annually have a prostate-specific antigen test taken. The PSA is a test for prostate cancer, and it can be run using a blood draw.

Russ recommends for any man over the age of 50 (or 40 if there is a family history of prostate cancer) to request the PSA because it's as simple as telling your doctor at your next physical. All he has to do is add it to the lab slip when he orders other labwork.

Since Garland is a new prostatectomy patient, he has his PSA tested four times for one year, then will have it tested annually.

Once a man has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, it's important to educate yourself and your family about the cancer, available treatment options and what to expect after treatment.

After treatment there are obvious side effects; such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

Garland and Lillian were lucky to have Russ and Harriett as sources of information and solace, but not everyone has that, so 12 years ago, Russ and Ron Golembiowski started the Man to Man Support Group in Martinsburg. After Golembiowski moved away, Russ's wife Harriett filled in as co-facilitator and worked for many years as a team until three years ago. The present co-facilitators of the group are Dr. Paul Kradel and Steve and Olga Adams.

The group meets monthly, except in July and August, and the Liskeys encourage men to bring their spouses or significant others. Men and women are divided so they all feel like they can speak openly.

While Russ says the Man to Man support group has had great success, he says African-American men are still apprehensive about getting tested for prostate cancer.

"I think they're afraid of what they might find," said Russ, but according to the American Cancer Society, African-American men are more likely to have prostate cancer and die from it than Caucasian or Asian-American men.

Education and annual physical exams are the key to diagnosing and beating prostate cancer.

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