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Loss fuels fight against silent killer

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This Sunday is Father’s Day and the aisles at Home Depot or Lowe’s, the men’s fragrance counter at the mall and sporting goods stores will be filled with kids of all ages trying to find the perfect gift to bring a smile to dear-old-dad’s face.

Father’s Day is also historically the day of the year when the most collect telephone calls have been placed. That means that when the kids call, dad’s get to give themselves a gift.

Well, June is also Men’s Health/Cancer Awareness Month and it’s the time when men can give their families and friends a gift—an annual men’s health check-up.

An example of how a health check-up can make a difference is that more than two million men in the U.S. count themselves as prostate cancer survivors. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men (after skin cancer), but it can often be found early by testing the amount of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) in a simple blood screening. If the PSA comes back between three and five, there’s a 25 percent chance of cancer.  If it comes back over 10, it is likely to be a metastasized prostate cancer.  

One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Early-stage prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms. It is usually diagnosed in men over 50 years old; therefore, in the past, many doctors didn’t even check for it until a man turns 50, unless there’s a genetic history in a family. The new directive, however, is for men 40 and older to get a routine PSA test done.

The family of John Allevato of Flower Mound has first-hand experience of how important it is to have all the puzzle-parts for a complete health picture. The missing part of John’s health puzzle was a complete family health history.

“John had annual physicals and our family practitioner checked his PSA annually from 40 years of age on,” said Linda Allevato. “In 2007, John’s PSA level was 5.5; but [the doctor] never said a word about why he was concerned … never uttered the words prostate cancer. He chalked it up to a groin-pull causing an infection. He was given a prescription for an antibiotic.”

A follow-up, second opinion from John’s urologist was that—since  John was only 45-years old and there was no evidence of prostate cancer in his family– most likely he had an infection which could be treated with antibiotics.

During the summer of 2008, the Allevato family moved from Flower Mound to Alpharetta, Ga., when John was promoted to vice president with his company, Rimco. In the last week of August 2008, John’s urologist discovered his PSA was a 38; it should’ve been zero.

Among the usual things a family does following a move to a new area, finding new medical providers was on the top of Linda’s list; including for the three children—Jordan, starting middle school at age 11, John starting Pre-K at age 4, and Jenna, age 3, still at home, but beginning a preschool program.

At the end of September, John had developed alarming symptoms, which brought him to the new family practitioner.  She ordered a CT-scan be done immediately and then a colonoscopy. 

“A large tumor was found …we now knew we were dealing with colon cancer, or still potentially prostate cancer that had metastasized to the colon,” said Linda. “The following week, on Oct. 14, 2008, they determined John had Stage-4 advanced prostate cancer with poorly-differentiated cells, which meant aggressive.  We did enough reading online to know that if it was in the bone, John’s life expectancy was two years, at best.”

The family’s first-course of action was to seek advice through University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“On Nov. 14, 2008, we received the entire picture of what John was up against,” said Linda. “The bone scan showed John’s skeleton lit-up like a Christmas tree, which was the bone metastasis.”

Over the next year, John traveled between Georgia and Houston for treatments. In November, 2009, Rimco made it possible to get the family back to Flower Mound, so they could be back home and close to their family support system. 

In March, 2010, family and friends celebrated John’s 47th birthday at a surprise party. He had shared his story and many men had gotten a PSA screening done, including three men in his company who caught their prostate cancer early, due to John’s story.

“On June 20, 2010, we were able to celebrate Father’s day with his parents coming over for a homemade brunch,” said Linda. “The next morning, I rushed John to the ER at 5:30 a.m., as he was having complications.  By Tuesday, I was told by Dr. Park at Texas Oncology that John wouldn’t be leaving the hospital. He died on Thursday, June 24, 2010, at 3:50 a.m., less than two years after he was first diagnosed.”

This will be the Allevato’s fourth Father’s Day without John. Although he is missed every day, Linda said that time has eased the pain.

“I share lots of stories about John and tell our ‘3 J’s’ how they remind me of him,” she said. “I thank Dr. Park and his amazing team for his exceptional care of John and the Warm Place in Fort Worth for allowing us to go through grief counseling with other kids and their parents that have experienced similar losses.  It helped my kids to know they weren’t the only ones that felt the pain of losing a parent. They also gained a voice and learned ways to handle their anger and sadness.”

The crucial, missing puzzle-part that was essential for John’s complete health profile was an accurate family health-history.

“We found out a year after John’s death that his late-grandfather had had prostate cancer,” said Linda. “However, no treatment was initiated, due to his health and elderly age.  Unfortunately for John, that diagnosis was shared too late.  It’s important to ensure if any male member of your family has been diagnosed that you do not keep this a secret.”

The Allevato family has been active in fundraising, especially through the Southeast Regional Relay For Life. In 2012, $247,000 was raised, with $60,000 to fund research for prostrate cancer.

She added that Tom Thumb matches donations from it patrons to the Prostate Cancer Foundation each June.

Linda’s sister-in-law, Maria Conley, became so involved with the fight against cancer that she now works at Texas Oncology in Flower Mound and is also the leader for Texas Oncology’s Team I Can at the Lewisville Relay For Life.

The family’s story is available at: www.caringbridge.org/visit/johnallevato/journal and on YouTube at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMus0qNTLXM.

For more information about prostate cancer, visit: www.cancer.org/cancer/prostatecancer.

 

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