Cancer Survivor, Squared

When his doctor diagnosed him with prostate cancer, Gordon Cole’s reaction was not what one would have expected. He didn’t think, I’m going to beat this. And he didn’t think, I wish I’d climbed Everest. Sitting in his doctor’s office, he thought, Oh, no! Now there’s another area I’ll have to research!

In August 2003, three years before being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Gordon Cole was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. Cole became his own advocate as he pored over books, pamphlets and Web sites, learning as much as he could about all the treatment options available to him. He even explored clinical trials to take advantage of new medicines not yet on the market.

But all the knowledge in the world couldn’t keep the cancer from spreading to his liver and lungs. The outlook was grim, but Cole wouldn’t give up hope that he would beat it. Then the news came that the prostate cancer diagnosis was in fact a new cancer — not a new site of the metastisized colorectal cancer.

“While it was a shock, it wasn’t as numbing or debilitating as the first (diagnosis) was,” Cole recalls. He went into analytical mode immediately, asking himself, What stage is it? How advanced?

“My father and his brother both had prostate cancer,” Cole notes. He knew to get a baseline PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test early in his life. “I had been following it for years. I always had it checked.” Then one day, after a routine PSA test, his doctor called and said there was a problem.

“The doctor said it may well be caused by pre-operative radiation when they were treating the colon cancer,” Cole says plainly. “The radiation might have held down the prostate cancer or it could have caused it. That’s the big question mark. You just don’t know.”

Now Gordon Cole takes cancer prevention seriously. He immediately reduced his intake of red meat, fried food and alcohol. And he’s making an effort to eat more fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. “I’ve been careful to eat a balanced diet and exercise,” Cole says.

After years of learning as much about cancer as possible — his life depended on it — no one knows better than Cole that one important way to fight cancer is through funding research. So that’s what he is doing with the help of a nonprofit organization called Golfers Against Cancer. Cole encourages more nonprofits to follow the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s lead and support scientists early in their prevention research careers. Some of the most innovative approaches to fighting cancer develop in these inital stages, often when large research grants are hard to come by. “Researchers need seed money for new projects,” Cole explains. “The money enables projects to get going. It enables researchers to apply for federal funding for larger trials.”

“Somebody’s gotta do it!” says Cole, one cancer survivor who surely oughta know.