In a single month — August of 2015, to be exact — Mark Richardson celebrated retiring from a 41-year career at Carestream and learned he had prostate cancer.
“I was like riding a real high, retired, about to start my new life as a new man,” he says. “I’m expecting, ‘Hey Mark, everything’s OK.’ But the opposite happened. It was kind of devastating because I never expected prostate cancer because I didn't have any symptoms.”
A series of events led to the diagnosis. About 10 years prior he’d begun experiencing erectile dysfunction and had taken testosterone. During that decade, doctors monitored his PSA levels, which had slowly been creeping up, and he had routine digital rectal examinations.
When his wife, Peggy, noticed very slight changes – a little more urination, a little more irritability – she insisted he see a urologist. A free PSA test determined he had a 34 percent chance of cancer, and then a biopsy confirmed the prostate cancer diagnosis.
At that point, working with his urologist, Jean Joseph, M.D., he had to decide whether to proceed with surgery or wait and watch. The majority of men in a similar situation decide to have a radical prostatectomy, and that’s the path Mark chose: Joseph performed the robotic laparoscopic prostatectomy on Mark in October 2015.
The pathology report showed that he had stage T3a prostate cancer, meaning the cancer had broken out of the prostate but had not yet gone to other parts of the body. He faced many choices about the next steps in his treatment, after consulting with Jan Dombrowksi, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Pluta Cancer Center.
“We could’ve done radiation, could’ve not, but we figured, I’m 66 years old, just retired, let’s go after it with all we can to make sure we eradicate as many cancer cells as possible,” says Mark.
Before he could start radiation, though, urinary incontinence issues he’d developed since surgery had to heal. For him, that process took about three months, although timing can vary greatly for each person.
In the weeks between surgery and radiation, Mark began exercising, which he credits with helping him get stronger to overcome the side effects of surgery. About five days per week, he’d spend 30 minutes on the elliptical. He continued being active even once he started radiation therapy, which he had five days a week for seven weeks. The treatment made him feel tired, and fatigue lingered for a while before improving.
Mark has aced his PSA tests for the past three years. He’s learned about triggers and other ways to manage side effects, and credits his medical team with helping him cope. He also took a big step toward helping other men and sharing his experience by joining a support group for prostate cancer survivors called UsToo! Rochester.
In 2017, Mark and Peggy began a new role as leaders of the Us Too! Rochester chapter.
“We want to help others,” Mark says. “That’s really the bottom line.”
They host monthly meetings and plan seminars, but they don’t let it consume their lives. After all, both being under 70, they still have plenty to enjoy in life. That includes spending summers in the Finger Lakes with their grandkids, helping plan a recent 50-year high school reunion – both are grads of East High School, where they met – and considering winter excursions to the south.
“We’ve been here our entire life, except for time in the Air Force,” Mark says. “We like the area, good jobs, good schools, good educational opportunities. I say often to the medical folks, that, because of you, it’s making us live a long life.”