The next time you're lined up to start a race, or even milling around the transition area, look around you. Try to spot six men. Easy enough, right? Statistically, of those six, one is likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.
James Girand was that one. In 2006, after several years of regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, Girand's doctor noticed an elevated level of the protein (which is produced by the prostate gland) in his blood. Despite a digital rectal exam that suggested otherwise, a biopsy revealed an aggressive and malignant tumor in his prostate.
"We read all kinds of things about what an active lifestyle will do in terms of getting you some degree of not impunity but fewer chances of getting heart disease or this or that," said Girand. "Given my lifestyle, I thought I had an exemption to cancer, but it turned out not to be the case."
Girand quickly sought out the best urologists in the country for advice; all agreed he needed a radical prostatectomy. Following the removal of his prostate, Girand, now 70, was able to quickly get back to a normal life—one that includes racing as a top age-group duathlete.
Dr. Peter Carroll, Girand's surgeon, predicted he might recover faster than the average patient due to his physical fitness.
"With my conditioning, I had my catheter taken out in a week," Girand said. "I was running in two weeks; running hard within a month. I started cycling again in three months. I was well inside the forecast made by doctors."
His recovery didn't hinder his ability to turn 2007 into one of his most accomplished years in racing, claiming second-place finishes in the 70 to 74-year-old age group at the National Duathlon Championship and the World Long-course Duathlon Championship.
When not training and racing, Girand, who served on the USA Triathlon board from 2002 to 2005, works equally as hard to help men who are looking for answers to questions concerning prostate cancer. His website, www.prostatecancerpatients.org, is meant to be a first stop for those on the road to surviving the disease.
"I realized while I was choosing my treatment that there was no central collection of experiences from men who have been treated for prostate cancer," Girand said. The site's main function is to act as a place for survivors and those dealing with the disease to post their experiences and learn from each other. In addition, there is also an extensive collection of information from top urologists as well as from the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Topics such as biopsy, diagnosis, Gleason rating and treatments are discussed. The site also offers links to support forums and a glossary of terms.
Girand sites statistics estimating that 230,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year and 27,000 will die from it as a significant reason why diligent annual testing is important. More than twice as prevalent as cancer of the colon or bladder, prostate cancer is completely curable when detected early. His mission is to make sure men—athletic or not—are aware of how important being tested is, in addition to providing a place that combines knowledge from expert physicians with the experiences of survivors.
"As I've gotten in to this, the interesting observation is that most men don't want to think about it or even discuss it. It has to do with continence and potency and the image that if you have prostate cancer you'll end up being castrated and you'll lose all of the things a man views as part of his being," said Girand. "That's the way it was 25 years ago, but now, with an informed populace and with great advances in treatment and diagnostics, that's not necessary at all.
Girand's surgery involved a procedure called nerve sparing, which works around the two neurovascular bundles alongside the prostate. This process almost always ensures a return to nearly normal functions.
As Girand continues to prepare for duathlons, he remains vigilant in monitoring his PSA levels. Several tests since the operation have all shown no sign of the cancer's return.
Girand recommends that men be aggressive in learning about and being tested for prostate cancer. A yearly PSA test and an open dialogue with a doctor or urologist are essential.
"What is necessary is vigilance," Girand advised. "Once you reach the age of 40 or 50, depending on your family history, you've really got to start looking for potential symptoms of prostate cancer."
"If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, I suggest someone seeks opinions from the great medical centers," he said. "They have the brightest doctors, are doing the most research, get access to the newest equipment and are on the cutting edge for treating prostate cancer."
For more information, visit Jim's website at www.prostatecancerpatients.org, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.