Tom Blank

Photos and text used with permission of
Mr. Tom Blank.

I was 49 when I first heard the words, "You have prostate cancer." That was 19 years ago. Actually, I think I should have received that diagnosis much earlier when I had a PSA of 6.5 at age 45. But then my doctors didn't make much of the reading, shrugging it off because I was "too young to have prostate cancer." While accompanying my wife to a doctor appointment, I took measures into my own hands and asked our internist for another PSA test. The doctor was amenable to my request, and the results showed a PSA of 11.0. When the results were presented to my urologist, he reiterated I was "too young," but he ordered a cursory biopsy (obtaining 3 cores). It was only after these results came back that a diagnosis was made. With the new information in hand, I quickly found a different urologist and hospital and started my journey. This prostate cancer journey included surgery in 1996, a biochemical recurrence diagnosis on April Fool's Day in 1998, years of "active surveillance", and external beam radiation and a dollop of androgen deprivation therapy in 2010 based on a PSA reading of 10. Since receiving those last treatments, it's been so far so good.

Prior to my diagnosis I'd taught and conducted research on the social and psychological aspects of aging, during which time I only passingly mentioned that prostate cancer is a common disease in old men. But after my experience fighting prostate cancer, I figured if I was going to continue to do research, my work would focus on the impact of prostate cancer on a man's quality of life from time of diagnosis through treatment to long-term survivorship. A week after surgery, I sat at my laptop, catheter at my side, and wrote up a research grant proposal. From my subsequent research and my own experience, I know all cancers have negative impacts - some from the disease, and some from the treatments (e.g. erectile dysfunction). Many men that had "success stories" of treatment still endure considerable disruptions in life. I've witnessed friends have recurrences or die from prostate cancer. One of my colleagues, diagnosed a year before me, had a PSA over 100 and Gleason 9 disease. Yet, he lived 2½ years, during which time he traveled to England and India to do research on spiritual leaders, attended conferences, and taught his classes. Ironically, one of the classes we shared for many years is titled "Death, Dying, and Bereavement." I've found survivors can decide to positively improve their lives be it psychologically, spiritually, physically (better health behaviors and lifestyles), and sometimes in their relationships with family and friends. I've witnessed the good come from a bad situation.

During these years I have seized opportunities to make an impact on the lives of cancer survivors, especially prostate. I've been actively involved with the Hartford Hospital Prostate Cancer Support Group, an US-TOO affiliate and one of the oldest in the country. I'm proud to have recruited other members of my support group to be Consumer Reviewers. In recent years I've also been on the Board of Directors and Co-chair of Education Committee for the Connecticut Cancer Partnership, which is the organization responsible for the state's Cancer Plan, and I've done research on many aspects of cancer quality of life.

When I learned of the Prostate Cancer Research Program and its mission, it seemed like a perfect way to complement my advocacy and professional contributions in the area of psychosocial research. I was able to bring my understanding of good research to help me evaluate ideas that will be vital to preventing, treating, managing, and hopefully eliminating prostate cancer and the physical, psychological, social damage and deaths it causes, even if I could barely comprehend the science behind those ideas. I also represented the "Reluctant Brotherhood" by providing the scientific review panel a vantage point from one who lives with the disease day-in and day-out.

During the past 12 years, I have had the tremendous privilege to serve on a dozen panels, and to speak at a PCRP Innovative Minds in Prostate Cancer Today (IMPaCT) meeting. Every time I participate on a review panel, I summarize my experience the same way: exhausting and exhilarating. It is hard work and time-consuming to do the reviews, and it becomes complicated to set aside multiple days for Peer Review. Sometimes in the midst of the review process I question whether it is worth it to me; but then I do it, and I experience again the excitement of reviewing "the best of the best" research. The research is on the cutting edge and spans a continuum from prevention, detection, treatment, causes of castration resistant advanced disease, and supporting good end of life care. It is constantly palpable, the urgency to make progress on the fore-mentioned goals. I am invariably uplifted by the commitment and competence of the Scientist Reviewers and, I must add, their appreciative and respectful stance to us, the Consumer Reviewers.

I look forward to an ever brighter future for all the men and families who are dealing with or will deal with prostate cancer. I am certain a significant part of that brighter future rests with the PCRP.