As a boy, Kent Leipold saw his grandfather diagnosed with prostate cancer. When he was a young man, Kent learned that his father and uncle also had the disease, while his mother suffered from breast cancer. In fact, his father's doctor spoke words that were both startling and comforting.
"When my Dad was diagnosed, his doctor looked at me and said, 'If you live long enough, you are going to get this, too, so watch what you do and take care of yourself,'" Kent said. "When I was diagnosed, I knew enough about it that I didn't want to go without a fight, but there was still a lot of information I needed in order to make the best decision for me."
Kent said his father chose not to talk about his diagnosis or his cancer, and by the time he was more open about it, too much damage had been done.
"Dad's cancer moved quickly, and I had a sinking feeling that, had I done nothing, my cancer would have gotten outside the capsule," Kent said. "I met with doctors at the M.D. Anderson hospital in Houston, and got some recommendations from a fellow survivor from Us TOO, and I had my surgery in Austin, Texas one month after my diagnosis."
Speaking with cancer patients now, Kent tells them of his family's history, and that being proactive is his recommended approach. He also tells them to be honest, mentioning that just before his own surgery, an operating room nurse told him the best thing to do was to be honest about all he was experiencing.
Advocacy has become a major focus in Kent's life. He is active with Us TOO; he has worked with a prostate cancer survivor group called 29000 Men, out of California, and took part in a survivor's walk in Austin in 2011 by the group ZERO: The Project to End Prostate Cancer.
"I got interested in advocacy because of my cardiologist," Kent said. "He asked my surgeon to call him when he prescribed any medication to make sure it wouldn't affect my heart. As it turned out, rapid heartbeat is one side effect of a medication I started taking following my surgery. I had to be hospitalized and have my heart shocked back into rhythm, and while I was recovering, I looked through a photo album, saw pictures of my Dad, grandfather, and uncle, and said that if I made it through the end of the year, I would become a prostate cancer advocate."
Kent said an Austin hospital offers free PSA screenings every year, and while 200 men are tested, he is concerned about the thousands of men who never have had a test, and those are the men he hopes to reach through continued advocacy efforts. Nominated by Us TOO for a peer review opportunity with the Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP), he readily accepted.
"Working with the [PCRP] was truly a blessing, and it gave me the opportunity to give back to other men what was given to me," Kent said. "I hope this experience will help raise awareness and let men know they have choices. They need to hear someone tell them to do something positive for themselves and their family."
Like many sons, Kent said he learned many valuable lessons from his father. One he chooses not to follow, however, is what he calls the John Wayne mentality, or the tendency of some men to not discuss their diagnosis, or worse yet, ignore it. Despite his family history, Kent admits that he let himself think that way - until his diagnosis.
"I thought I was Superman," Kent said. "Lo and behold, I wasn't. There seems to be such a big gap in awareness between breast cancer and prostate cancer, and I think a big reason for that is the hesitancy of men come forward and talk about it."
Cancer-free for nearly four years, Kent said he owes a debt of gratitude to many people who helped and supported him, his surgeons and medical professionals, and those who blazed the advocacy path he now follows. He also offers a tip of the cap to a very good friend.
"After I came home from the cancer surgery, my golden retriever, Teddy, would always come up and nudge me, and would walk with me around the house," Kent said. "I couldn't walk very far, and he knew that, but he would get me up every 30 minutes just to move around. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer, and we took him to the veterinary hospital at Texas A & M, and they got it all - so now, I live with a cancer survivor."
Two cancer survivors under the same roof - sounds like a new family legacy.