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Thursday, May 23, 2024

One year after my prostate cancer diagnosis, I'm cancer free. Here's why

Just around this time last year I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That’s the bad news. The good news is this is a story that ends well because when it comes to your health, it pays to do the little things right. 

I listened to my wife who makes sure I don’t miss checkups. I do a ton of research into my health, whether it’s my high blood pressure or high PSA readings. I found great doctors and amazing people at NYU Langone. And — excuse the cliche — I listened to the science made possible because people who make a lot of money — many of them Wall Street types — helped fund the science that helped get me better.

Here’s a little background on me: I’m 61 now, but I had just turned 60 when the bad news came in. I’m pretty much a health nut. I like a good steak, but I also eat healthy. I never miss a workout. 

A few weeks before my diagnosis, like many New Yorkers, I caught COVID but had mild symptoms. I worked out every day. A day after my 10-day quarantine, I ran six miles. Pretty healthy right? 

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Yes and no. For the past year I had rising PSA levels indicating the possibility of prostate cancer. PSA is a blood enzyme that when elevated indicates the possibility of prostate cancer. I say possibility because my other lab tests and an MRI were fine. 

I remember being in a state of shock, half of me saying, “I’ll be OK,” the other half saying, “Welcome to the big casino,” as I stumbled through my Fox Business hit, with the diagnosis still ringing in my head. 

Here’s one of my lifesavers. My doctors at NYU Langone — Chris Kelly and his right-hand Nurse Practitioner Megan Markland — told me not to screw around. MRIs aren’t perfect. They ordered me up something called a 4-k test which takes the blood screening to another level, weighing various risk factors and spitting out a statistical diagnosis. 

The results: I had a 70% chance of being OK. But I’m not horrible at math or statistics so I said to my docs: “That means I have a 30 percent chance of having something growing down there, right?” …Should I get on a plane if I knew there was a 30 percent chance of it going down?”

Of course not. So, I got a biopsy. Maybe the most uncomfortable hour plus of my life. 

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A day later, things got worse. I was sitting in my office at Fox preparing to go on air to break some news. That’s when I received an automated message from Langone. The tests results were in and they came back with a diagnosis no one wants to hear: MALIGNANT PROSTATE CANCER.

I had all the reactions you can imagine reading a chart and seeing that out of 21 pieces of the prostate that were examined, three came back bad. I’m too healthy; I eat well. I had no symptoms, particularly those you would expect from that part of a man’s body. 

That was one part of my brain talking; the other part that did the research knew it doesn’t matter. Prostate cancer is a silent killer. 

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About one in six men will get it, and it’s the second-largest cause of cancer death in men. Many times, it’s diagnosed when it’s already spread beyond this annoying gland. There are often no obvious symptoms so people don’t take action when the bad test results come in. I actually have some personal experience with this. A friend let his bad PSA readings fester for years and then he became terminal. He passed away late last year. 

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I also remember being in a state of shock, half of me saying, “I’ll be OK,” the other half saying, “Welcome to the big casino,” as I stumbled through my Fox Business hit, with the diagnosis still ringing in my head. 

Charlie Gasparino

Fox Business Senior Correspondent Charlie Gasparino. Photo by Virginia Juliano 

As it turned out, it wasn’t really the casino I feared. My pal at Fox Neil Cavuto was one of the first who walked me back from the edge. 

Neil is, of course, an amazing broadcaster. He’s also a survivor who has been through plenty of health issues including cancer. He walked me through his story and the perspective it gave him. His counseling gave me hope. 

Others did as well. My wife is a breast cancer survivor and she reminded me how we got through that ordeal. My friend and colleague, Fox Business Network super-anchor Liz Claman told me her dad was a urologist and assured me I’d be OK. 

“Just like Warren Buffett,” she said. Liz is an amazing journalist and one of the people whom “The Oracle of Omaha” will confide in. So she knows his story well. Aside from his amazing investment record, Buffett is a prostate cancer survivor and is well into his 90s. Like me, he caught it early, and is still living his best life, Liz assured me.

Warren Buffett

FILE – Philanthropist Warren Buffett is joined onstage by 24 other philanthropist and influential business people featured on the Forbes list of 100 Greatest Business Minds during the Forbes Media Centennial Celebration at Pier 60 on September 19, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage)

My brother James Gasparino is chairman of medicine at Brooklyn Hospital Center. You can read about him in the New York Times for his team’s heroism running the hospital’s ICU during those early and devastating days when COVID first hit. 

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He’s not a urologist but his vast medical knowledge and a Ph.D. in chemistry means he can read any chart. He walked me through the Gleason scale — which weighs the severity of prostate cancer — and explained to me what my localized cancer meant.

Because I caught this early, all the options were largely on the table, and I wasn’t going anywhere for a while.

I was also lucky enough to have Herb Lepor in my corner. I was an amateur boxer in my day, so I like boxing analogies and there’s no better prostate cancer cut man than Dr. Lepor. 

What I appreciated about Herb was his appreciation not to overtreat, which you hear a lot about regarding prostate cancer. The initial impulse to “get this thing out of me” is natural but it also comes with risks in addition to the sexual downsides.

I have two friends who went the radical prostatectomy route and, based on their post-op complications, I wondered if they could have done something less invasive.

For the record if Herb had said, “you gotta take it out,” I would have done that in a New York minute. He put it on the table immediately after telling me it would be ill-advised to do nothing despite a recent study that said my cancer could be dealt with through active surveillance.

He also gave me other choices and explained the reasonableness of each. I chose something called “focal laser ablation” — basically a surgery where they freeze and kill the bad cells. 

I’m glad I did because one-size-doesn’t-fit all with this stuff and a less radical approach seemed to be best for me.

One year in, my medical charts say I’m fine; I won’t tempt the fates because cancer has a way of rearing its ugly head, but I’m here right now and feeling great.

I’m also feeling humbled about why I’m here and feeling so good. Yes, it’s because of brilliant doctors and scientists but also people in the finance business who will shake every money tree to fund cancer research. 

Around this time every year there’s a conference in L.A. sponsored by the Milken Institute — the think tank and philanthropic organization created by financier Michael Milken. 

I have always been an admirer of Michael Milken despite his run-ins with the law. Because of his financial innovations companies expanded and grew, hired and thrived. 

Did he make mistakes? Maybe we can debate that later, but he innovated as well.

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After my prostate cancer, I did some research on how he innovated around prostate cancer research because he, too, is a survivor. 

Money for research and development into this specific cancer came from Milken who famously once told a group of prostate cancer researchers, “Your job is to do the science; my job is to get the money.”

Likewise, you will notice that the letters at New York’s NYU medical center are followed by the name LANGONE, as in Ken Langone

The short bio for Ken is that he’s a world-class financier who helped the iconic Ross Perot make his fortune and then went on to create Home Depot. The longer version is that like Michael Milken he’s a world-class philanthropist. 

I interviewed him once and he said he needed to cut it short so he could “give some money away” and he meant it. 

He’s currently worth more than $1 billion; and by some estimates even more than that. More importantly, he’s raised and donated a lot more for various causes — everything from rebuilding St. Patrick’s Cathedral to making NYU Medical into a world class hospital.

By the way, Langone is not alone; on his board are people like Larry Fink of BlackRock, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan and Gary Cohn formerly of Goldman. They’re all in Ken’s Rolodex when he needs to raise money and I know they don’t give for the publicity. 

Like the rest of us, they’ve all been touched by cancer and illness. They donate their time and resources to health care because they know it’s the right thing to do. 

And I thank them for that. 

One more thing: All these guys are in my Rolodex. A phone call away, I guess you can say. But I didn’t pull one string when I received my diagnosis because I didn’t have to. 

Everyone at NYU Langone, from the doctors, the administrators, the woman who took my blood to the guy who removed my catheter were first rate. 

Dr. Lepor didn’t know who I was until the day of my surgery when he said, “Now I know who you are, you’re the guy who talks about stocks on Fox!”

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I recently ran into Ken Langone at a reception and relayed this specific story. He looked at me and smiled. 

He couldn’t have been happier to know his money is being well spent.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE FROM CHARLIE GASPARINO 

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