Men aren't supposed to cry, thought Michael Gianunzio. The longtime lawyer had spent years fighting bad guys, like the people who ran Enron, but even he would cry several times during the coming months.
If asked, Gianunzio would have described his life before cancer as normal — not boring, but routine.
Then, he had his annual physical. He had gotten a blood test the week before, which included a routine screening for prostate cancer — a normal test for men over 50 and not something Gianunzio was concerned about.
“I always wondered how I'd feel if I got back a test with a red flag on it that says ‘way out of whack.’ Well, I got one,” he says.
Gianunzio’s family doctor said there wasn’t any need to worry. His prostate was probably just inflamed. He’d prescribe a course of antibiotics and check back in a couple of weeks.
Still, Gianunzio worried. He did endless research on the Internet and looked for any evidence he could find that it wasn’t cancer. He thought back to his childhood and remembered his mother mentioning this or that person getting cancer. Those people never got better.
Gianunzio had second blood test two months later. His results came back even higher than before — not a good sign.
Dr. Padilla, Gianunzio's family doctor, sent him to a urologist. Gianunzio’s wife Jackie tried to reassure him, but he knew there was something wrong. Dr. David Yee, Gianunzio’s urologist, did a biopsy. He took 16 samples. Nine of them turned up with cancer. Dr. Yee recommended robotic surgery, which spares the nerves connecting the patient’s brain to his penis. He was very clear that he did not recommend waiting.
Gianunzio was floored. “I said ‘I want this out of me, doctor, as soon as possible.’ To this day, I can't believe I said that. I am usually a wimp when it comes to medical things,” Gianunzio says.
He walked out of the office, called his wife, cried, and prayed that God would help him through this.
Over the next few days, Gianunzio wrote to 77 friends and relatives, telling them about what he was facing, and got back dozens of replies offering up prayers and good thoughts.
“It made a difference to me in ways I can't express. These friends and relatives were there for me. Just the suggestion that someone would pray for me made me stronger,” Gianunzio says.
In the three weeks before surgery, Gianunzio mentally prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. He made sure all his files and lists of stuff were in order. He went to an auction and bought six antique, tube radios and five transistor radios for his collection. He went to an outdoor concert with his wife. And he took long rides on his motorcycles.
When it came time for surgery, Gianunzio’s doctor told him it would take six hours and that he would be out of the hospital less than 24 hours later. Recovery would be four weeks. He would gain back bladder control in about a month with the help of some physical therapy, and all his sexual functions in about six months.
When Gianunzio arrived at the hospital, he was surprised. It looked more like a nice luxury hotel. Also a surprise: He wasn’t afraid.
“I had passed all the pre-surgery blood tests and took all the medicine. Now it was time to get this over with and move on to the next stage,” Gianunzio says. When he woke up, the surgeon told him everything had gone as planned. He cried with relief.
Now, all Gianunzio had to do was heal. The doctor told him that he had removed a dozen or more lymph nodes close to the prostate, and none of them had cancer cells in them, which was good because the cancer was more aggressive than the biopsy initially showed. They’d take another blood test in two months to see if there was any evidence of cancer left.
A couple days after taking his blood test, Gianunzio got his results. He pulled them up on his iPad at the local In-N-Out Burger as soon as he learned they were available. Good news: He was way under his doctor’s recommended threshold. He sat there in his car and cried again — this time they were tears of joy.
“I felt like I got my life back,” Gianunzio says.
Dr. Yee confirmed the good news and recommended another test every three months, then every year after that. No need for radiation if it stayed under control, he said. Gianunzio sent a very happy e-mail to his 77 friends and family members.
“My view of life has changed a bit. Life is even more wonderful than I recognized. It is so fragile, and goes so fast. We never wasted any time in doing the things Jackie and I wanted to do, but now every day seems very special to me,” Gianunzio says. He and Jackie are currently planning a three-week trip to Tuscany with three other couples.
Gianunzio continues to be grateful for all the support he received during his ordeal — from friends and family and from Drs. Padilla and Yee.
“Now, I am on a mission to tell every 50-and-over male I know that they need to have an annual PSA test. They also get an abbreviated version of my story,” Gianunzio says. “My doctor said there are 230,000 new prostate cancer cases every year in America, and one of every six men alive today will get it. That needs to change.”