—Steve Fleischmann, patient and cyclist
AT FORTY-SEVEN, STEVE FLEISCHMANN WAS IN GREAT HEALTH AND FELT TERRIFIC. But during an annual physical in 2003, Steve’s doctor felt an unusual nodule. The doctor suggested a biopsy, and a week later told Steve he had prostate cancer.
Steve was initially reluctant to talk about his condition. “The most emphatic thing I had said to my wife was I wanted no one in Seattle to know that I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Steve recalled.
His wife, Patty, convinced him otherwise.
She persuaded Steve to be open with family and friends about his illness. “I pushed him, because I think holding it in is bad,” Patty said. “But he really made it easy for people to be there for him.”
After talking with friends and doing some research, Steve sought the care of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s Prostate Oncology Center specialist Paul Lange, MD, professor of urology at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine and director of the Institute for Prostate Cancer Research.
Dr. Lange treated Steve’s cancer with an operation called a nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy. There were other treatment choices Steve could have made, but he felt surgery was right for him.
I had a family and a business to run with a lot of employees to take care of. But what was most important for me was to feel psychologically and emotionally that my cancer was gone.”
Steve’s surgery was a success, and Dana Malick, one of Steve’s oncology nurses, was on hand to help Steve’s recovery. He spent the next few years cancer free.
But in March 2007, nearly four years later, Steve’s cancer was back. He had a Gleason score of seven and his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level was rising fast.
With two small children, Steve was naturally worried about his family. “Knowing my cancer came back, the primary things I wondered were, ‘Am I going to be able to see my kids grow up? Will I even see them get to go to college?’ I was extremely concerned about my family’s future.”
Steve went back to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for thirty-six days of radiation treatment in June 2007 under the care of Kenneth J. Russell, MD, professor of radiation oncology at the UW School of Medicine.
Coming in for radiation thirty-six days in a row is scary,” said Steve. “You don’t know what to expect. But every time I came in, the people were kind, caring, and compassionate.”
Steve’s radiation treatment was successful, and it sparked a desire to be even more adventuresome in life. In 2011, he and his family decided to move to Florence, Italy. While living abroad, Dr. Lange arranged for Steve to continuously monitor his PSA levels.
While living in Florence, Steve’s cancer came back once again. This time, it was found in lymph nodes in the lower pelvic area. He had already planned to move back to Seattle in August 2012 but this recurrence gave him more urgency.
In September 2012, Steve underwent a salvage pelvic and retroperitoneal lymphadenectomy operation to remove the cancerous lymph nodes. The surgery was performed by Dr. Lange and Daniel W. Lin, MD, chief of urologic oncology and professor of urology at the UW School of Medicine.
It was considered an experimental procedure. “I think I was the second person to have this surgery at UW Medical Center,” Steve said. “I had a 25 percent chance of a cure, and I took those odds.”
Four years later, Steve’s PSA began rising again. The cancer had returned. For this third cancer recurrence, Steve began proton radiation and hormone therapy at the SCCA Proton Therapy Center. He started treatment in fall 2016, which will include 36 days of proton therapy and ongoing hormone treatment.
“This was the hardest diagnosis yet,” Steve says. “But I keep a positive attitude. I’ve been doing yoga seven days a week.” He attributes his yoga regimen to helping with having virtually no side effects to treatment.
Dr. Lange has been treating patients for more than thirty-five years, specializing in urologic surgery. A prostate cancer survivor himself, Dr. Lange has performed two of Steve’s three surgeries and has monitored Steve’s condition over the years. His interest in new approaches and imaging techniques were instrumental in helping pinpoint Steve’s cancer when it recurred. “We have a tremendous amalgamation of scientists and clinical researchers. That collaboration is what makes Seattle Cancer Care Alliance so wonderful.”
One of Steve’s nurses at UW Medical Center, Dana made sure Steve felt comfortable during a challenging post-op period. Working with oncology patients, Dana says, is particularly rewarding. “You get to step into a sacred space with them and their families where you can bring a sense of normalcy to their life. It’s a privileged position to be in.”
Kerry helps patients like Steve during all phases of treatment. This includes determining what foods are safe to eat while undergoing treatment, correcting digestive disorders, and recommending a healthy diet that patients can follow for the rest of their lives. “For a lot of patients, food is part of family and community. So things like getting back to eating normally, having an appetite, and being able to taste great food are very important.”
"We all work here because we know we’re on the cutting edge in terms of many different disciplines. It’s a great place to be."
"Coordinated care at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance means the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, and many other people are working together. And the patient is at the center. Always."
"It’s the individual patients and their stories, like Steve’s, that stay with you forever."
“THEY MADE ME FEEL LIKE I WAS THEIR ONLY PATIENT.”
When Ali was diagnosed with cancer, she was determined to keep her lifestyle. At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, she received conventional treatments and an innovative clinical trial.
“I’VE BEEN THREE YEARS CANCER-FREE, AND GOING ON FOUR.”
Jenna was nine years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Jenna’s mother Julie remembers asking the doctor, “Do we need to think ‘scary’ or not?”