Make Prostate Cancer Awareness a Priority This Father’s Day, Survivor Urges

June 14, 2017 7:00 AM

After his own treatment for prostate cancer, one father and husband encourages all men to learn more about the disease.

A diagnosis of stage 4 prostate cancer in 2014 brought life to a halt for Jeff Smith and his childhood sweetheart, Lisa Vallee-Smith.

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The metro Detroit spouses had been managing work, sports and schoolwork with their two teenage sons. Rather than plan for the future, the couple prepared to shift gears and focus on Smith’s immediate need for treatment.  

“My wife and I had all kinds of thoughts and ideas of our life together,” says Smith, now 56. “The reality was we had to deal with the cancer or there would be no future.”

He wasn’t alone: One in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. It is the No. 1 cancer diagnosed in men in the United States.

After researching options for the best places for prostate cancer care, Smith decided on the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Despite the challenges that came with his diagnosis, Smith found comfort in the many resources provided for incoming Cancer Center patients.

“There were counselors to help us know what to expect, materials to read, musical CDs to help reduce stress and people for our children to talk to,” Smith says. “They told us about nutritionists to help with diet.

“It was a beautiful preparation process, all before I entered chemo.”

Supporting a worthy cause

While in treatment, Smith learned about U-M’s Blue Boxer Fund, an effort established by a former patient who in 2006 opted to wear boxer shorts instead of a hospital gown as a way to empower himself during treatment for prostate cancer.

SEE ALSO: Should You Have PSA Screening for Prostate Cancer?

Blue is the color representing prostate cancer awareness. And the men’s boxer undergarments, true to their name, symbolize the ongoing fight to cure the disease.

In advance of Father’s Day on June 18, Smith and others are urging people to “bare their blues” and support the Blue Boxer Fund for prostate cancer research.

“Father’s Day is the perfect holiday where you can turn to the men in your life and remind them about the prevalence of prostate cancer,” Smith says.

Funds raised go toward research teams at the Cancer Center working on prostate cancer with the sole goal of eliminating suffering from the disease.

In the last few years we have seen major improvements in the care of men with prostate cancer,” says David C. Smith, M.D., Smith’s oncologist at the Cancer Center. “New treatments are helping men live longer with better quality of life.

“Despite that, there are still too many men dying of this disease and suffering complications due to it. We need to focus on early treatment of those men who need it, while continuing to develop new therapies for men with advanced disease.”

Sharing a message

Having prostate cancer prompted Smith to ask: Am I willing to do everything possible to take care of myself? The answer was a resounding yes.

With Lisa and their two sons to live for, being there for his family became his greater purpose.

“I was a very active father and coached them in hockey, soccer, tennis and other sports, he says. “It was really easy to know that my purpose was to be the best father I could be.”

That positive attitude guided Smith’s treatment.

He began six rounds of chemotherapy that took place at three-week intervals. His prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, which peaked at 110 before treatment, dropped to undetectable.

(PSA is a substance released into the body by a man’s prostate gland that could indicate the likelihood of cancer; no PSA level is considered “normal” but doctors often recommend biopsy when the level is higher than 4).

Smith has no evidence of disease since February 2015.

His hope for Father’s Day: that people will take the opportunity to have the difficult but necessary conversation about prostate cancer. He wants people to know that awareness leads to prevention, and support of research will lead to a cure.

“Men don’t go to doctors, and they don’t share their feelings. I want to create awareness to encourage men to get checkups on a regular basis,” he says.

Meanwhile, he’d like to see the symbolic underwear get even more exposure.

“I have a vision in my mind of doctors and interns and young medical students baring their blue boxers for one big awareness day,” Smith says. “I hope it will grow into that.”

Help U-M take on prostate cancer and donate to the Blue Boxer Fund.