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This is a story with a happy ending because I did something simple: I listened to my wife, my doctors (amazing people at NYU Langone), and to borrow what has become a horrible, politicized cliché, I listened to “the science.”
A month ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. No symptoms, mind you. I had just turned 60. A few weeks before my diagnosis, like many New Yorkers I caught COVID but had only mild symptoms. I worked out every day, throwing around weights in my basement and shadow boxing. A day after my 10-day quarantine, I ran six miles. I proclaimed I would live until 120, at least.
Then the blood test results came back: spiking PSA levels. (PSA is an enzyme and its elevation is a marker, albeit not a perfect one, for cancer of this annoying gland.) My recent MRI was fine, but the blood kept coming back weird, so my doctors recommended a biopsy. A day later, it came back with the diagnosis no one wants to hear: “Malignant prostate cancer.”
WTF!? This can’t be me. I’m too healthy; I eat well; work out like I did when I was a kid. No symptoms — particularly those you would expect from that part of a man’s body.
It doesn’t matter, of course. Prostate cancer is believed to be hormonal and it’s a silent killer — and yes, it does kill. About one in six men will get it, their second-largest cause of cancer death. All too often it’s diagnosed when it’s already spread beyond the gland because it often presents with no symptoms.
But it’s also highly treatable when monitored and caught early (as I’ve been doing over the past two years with blood tests and MRIs). So listen to your doctor when he or she recommends a biopsy, which isn’t a walk in the park but it beats the alternative.
Key is catching it early
That’s why this story will end on a happy note. I might just live to 120, or not; but I’m unlikely to die of prostate cancer. I listened to docs and my wife who urged me to keep on top of my bloodwork. My brother, Dr. James Gasparino, is an amazing critical care specialist, but his expertise extends beyond the ICU, which helped me through this as well. Taken together, I caught it early; the tumor is small and localized and because of that it’s being dealt with using a fairly non-invasive treatment, which, again, ain’t no walk in the park, but it beats the alternative.
I had great care at NYU Langone, and not because people know what I do for a living. I want to thank Dr. Marcel Laufer, my primary care physician, who spotted my rising PSA levels and pushed me to take action; urologist, Dr. Chris Kelly, his “right hand,” nurse practitioner Megan Markland, who watched me like a hawk with follow-up procedures. And the amazing Dr. Herbert Lepor, who performed the surgery and sent me home the same day.
Administratively, the place is run by talented men and women, including someone named Joe Lhota, a former investment banker, who served as deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani. It was Joe who made sure the city functioned in a variety of posts during the Giuliani years but particularly during 9/11. It’s easy to see why Langone is such a well-oiled machine.
Finally, and I’m not saying this to diminish the contributions of the medical staff at NYU, but the hospital is not named after a doctor, but a great financier, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone. Ken donated hundreds of millions of dollars to NYU to make sure people in Gotham had access to the best medical care around.
Thank God he did: In this era of anti-Wall Street class warfare it’s easy to forget how our money men and women want to give back, to fulfill their sense of noblesse oblige — whether it’s financing a hospital or a charter school for poor kids in the South Bronx.
They do it not to see their name on the building — trust me on this one because that in itself often brings unwanted attention. They do it because they know it’s the right thing to do. The board of trustees and advisers to NYU Langone include the likes of Larry Fink of BlackRock, Lori Fink, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, Ike Perlmutter of Marvel Entertainment, Fiona Druckenmiller, crypto-financier Mike Novogratz and former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn — all of whom got there by virtue of their generosity, not virtue-signaling.
Follow the science
Keep that in mind when you hear some politician bemoan Wall Street greed as a fallback whenever some crisis hits.
I’m writing this not for sympathy — I’m going to be fine and have friends who have been through a hell of a lot worse with cancer. I write this just as a reminder: We are all leaky vessels. Accept that and, yes, follow the science. Thanks to noblesse oblige we have some good scientists at our disposal.