Prostate cancer throws former firefighter a curveball

I’ve been getting physicals annually since I was 23. Even with my long career as a firefighter, there was never any cause for concern until my June 2016 visit, when my PSA was a little high. I went back a week or two later to get it retested as a precaution, and it was still high, so I ended up at a urologist for a biopsy.

I’m no Debbie Downer, but I had an internal feeling that it was cancer; I just knew. There is a lot of cancer in my family, like a lot of families. I was mentally preparing for the worst-case scenario, but you’re still never expecting to get the call that you have prostate cancer.

My now-wife, Leanne, and I discussed the options and possible side effects, and I decided to have surgery to remove my prostate. During the procedure, they removed some lymph nodes too and expected that it might have spread. That’s when I got connected with Dana-Farber and saw Dr. Chris Sweeney for a consultation. I can’t say enough about him. He told me: “You’re going to have to live with cancer; you are not dying from it.” I signed up for a trial he was leading at the time and never looked back. Now, that treatment is the standard of care for metastatic prostate cancer.

When I was diagnosed, I was a divorced dad of two kids and had just recently reconnected with Leanne, who I had known for 30 years, and who also had four kids. I assured all of the kids that I was going to be okay; like with the diagnosis, I just had a feeling that it would be true. Luckily, since then, we’ve had a graduation, proms, weddings—the whole nine yards—and I have been able to support them, which means the world to me.

Treatment was fantastic. I know that sounds ridiculous, but Dana-Farber is awesome, and I had no complaints in the world. Leanne and my brothers came with me for some treatments and my daughter Bridget came with me for the last one. My daughter Danielle was even part of the 2020 Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Team to fundraise for the Institute!

Leanne and I ended up getting married shortly after my treatment, just in our living room, and life is grand now, it really is. Earlier this year, we went on a horse riding trip to Florida with my daughter, and Leanne got hooked. Now we have two horses on a farm, and a brood of three parrots, who were a big comfort during my treatment—a complete 180 from the retirement I originally thought!

Because of my wife and my upbringing, I stayed positive throughout my treatment. When you go through something like this, there’s so much you don’t have control over; all you have is your attitude. There are going to be times when it’s hard and you’ll wonder why it’s happening to you, and it’s okay to have those thoughts, but don’t let them take over. Cancer is a curveball, but it’s not just you going through it: your family, friends, community, they are all there to support you and they are affected by it, too. My wife was fantastic. She jokes without her I wouldn’t have made it, but honestly, she was my rock. Today, I am doing great thanks to Dr. Sweeney, and looking forward to enjoying a long retirement with my family—and to finally mastering riding a horse!

Kenny Gardiner
Dana-Farber patient