Joe Lunardi has built a career on predictions. As the first “bracketologist,” Lunardi developed the art and science of predicting the teams that will be selected in the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. He even correctly predicted all 68 teams to appear in the 2013 tournament. But there was one thing he didn’t see coming – his prostate cancer diagnosis.
After routine bloodwork in the fall of 2015, Joe received a disconcerting call from his primary care physician. His results indicated a slight elevation in his prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein produced by the prostate gland. High levels of PSA can be a sign of prostate cancer or it can also be a sign of prostate enlargement or inflammation. Out of caution, his physician referred him to see a urologist to get screened for prostate cancer.
From that moment, it was like the shot clock began. Shocked, scared and still buffeted by the sudden loss of his brother Rich to pancreatic cancer the year prior, Lunardi decided to swiftly deal with the potential issues at hand.
“We are all informed by our own experiences, and what I learned from my brother’s experience is that you almost never find out in time. And I certainly wasn't going to take that chance if it could be avoided,” Lunardi said.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in every eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. Nearly 270,000 men are expected to be diagnosed this year. Unlike other illnesses, prostate cancer rarely presents any symptoms, which is why screening is immensely important.
Dr. Max Ahn at MidLantic Urology explained that current guidelines from the American Urological Association for prostate cancer screening recommend “shared decision making” between a patient and his physician when he is 55-69 years of age and of average risk. If he is high risk, screening should be considered beginning at the age of 40.
Those at high risk include African American men and those with a family history of metastatic or lethal adenocarcinomas (e.g. prostate, male and female breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancers) spanning multiple generations, affecting multiple first-degree relatives, and that developed at younger ages.
And when it comes to getting diagnosed and treated, timing is critical.
Lunardi soon met with Dr. Michael Hagg, a urologist with MidLantic Urology at Lankenau Hospital. Dr. Hagg walked him through the next steps in screening for prostate cancer, which involves taking a biopsy of the prostate. Biopsies are used to confirm the presence of cancer cells and evaluate how aggressive the cancer is likely to be. Without hesitation Lunardi agreed, and Dr. Hagg performed his biopsy in December 2015.
Then he received the call – the kind of call with news that no one wants to get. Dr. Hagg confirmed their suspicions, a majority of the biopsied cells came back positive, some scored as aggressive. Lunardi had prostate cancer.
Lunardi’s next move was to get a full work-up to determine the severity of his cancer. Known as cancer staging, this work-up helps physicians understand how much cancer there is, how best to treat it and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
The results showed fortunately that his cancer was contained to the prostate, which opened the door to an array of treatment options. Prostate cancer management can include active surveillance, surgery, various radiation therapies, cryotherapy and high-intensity focused ultrasound.
“Dr. Hagg laid out all the options, and my wife Pam and I considered the pros and cons of each. But truthfully, I wanted to get rid of it right away. If he had said, we want to remove all your fingers and toes, I probably would have done it,” Lunardi said.
With the support of his wife and two daughters, Lunardi decided surgery was his best treatment option. Dr. Hagg referred Lunardi to his MidLantic Urology colleague Dr. Ahn, whose expertise is in robotic, laparoscopic and minimally invasive surgery for urologic cancers.
At the time, Lunardi was vice president of marketing communications at Saint Joseph's University and a commentator for the Saint Joseph's Hawks men's basketball team. Despite being in the middle of the basketball season, he moved forward with his swift timeline. Less than two months after his biopsy, Dr. Ahn performed Lunardi’s prostatectomy, a surgical procedure involving the partial or complete removal of the prostate.
The surgery was a success, and over the course of his recovery he only missed three games. Lunardi’s PSA has been undetectable ever since.
Looking back now six years since his diagnosis, Lunardi is thankful that he took an active role in treating his prostate cancer.
“As Ben Franklin said and Coach John Wooden often quoted, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I find so much truth in that, and it relates to my cancer journey,” Lunardi said.
His preparation was staying on top of his health and getting routine bloodwork, leading to the discovery of his elevated PSA, then meeting with the doctors at MidLantic Urology, and ultimately resulting in a successful treatment for his cancer.
“By planning and being prepared, I didn't have to make a half-court shot to win this game,” Lunardi finished.
MidLantic Urology’s expert physicians are prepared to care for you at every phase of your prostate cancer journey, from screening and diagnosis to treatment and recovery. To learn more about MidLantic Urology or find a location near you, please visit: www.midlanticurology.com.