By David Chesnick, Photos by Gary Yon
WHEN THIS FATHER AND SON HAD “THE TALK,” IT WASN’T ABOUT THE BIRDS AND BEES.
When we hear of a Dad having “the Talk” with his son, we assume it’s about “the birds and the bees.” For Joe Gruesu and his son Paul, the talk involved PSA numbers and Gleason scores.
The conversation – one every man should have with his doctor as well as his sons – began for Joe and Paul in 1992 when a blood screening program at Joe’s Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, Rotary Club revealed that his PSA count was 13.2, three times higher than “normal.” It was the beginning of a long journey for Joe and his wife, Bernice.
Joe visited a local urologist who did a biopsy that produced a negative result, despite the high PSA number. Unable to reconcile the disparity between his high PSA score and the negative biopsy result, Joe continued to have the biopsy procedure every year for the next seven years. And the results remained the same, until 1999. By then, Joe’s PSA had reached 21.53. This time the biopsy was positive and Joe’s Gleason score was reported to be six. Finally diagnosed with prostate cancer, his urologist recommended a radical prostatectomy.
The proposed solution didn’t satisfy the determined father of sons, but Joe knew he had to act. After doing extensive research, he sent his medical records to five of the top prostate clinics in the United States, including Dattoli Cancer Center. When he mentioned to a Virginia doctor that he was considering a clinic in Florida, the doctor asked, “Dattoli?”
“When I said yes, he said, ‘Go there. You’ll be properly taken care of.’ He should know, I thought, because he’d been treated there for his cancer.”
A deeply religious man, Joe told the Lord he was putting his life in his hands. Then he called Dr. Michael Dattoli and spoke with him at length. His questions answered, Joe made the decision to undergo treatment in Florida and, in November 1999, made the trip from Western Pennsylvania to Sarasota.
Joe’s road to recovery began with a two-day physical exam that was followed by 23 radiation treatments, each precisely targeting the cancerous tumors while leaving the healthy tissue intact. Happily, after 17 years his cancer had not spread.
“I went home for the holidays and then came back in February. Dr. Dattoli implanted 71 Palladium 103 seeds. In March, I returned for three more radiation treatments. Since then, I’ve been back once a year for 17 years. My PSA is now a barely detectable 0.008, and all my bodily functions are normal,” he reports, “with no incontinence or impotence.”
Time to Talk
In the years since, Joe has fielded calls from all over the world asking him about his experience. He also schedules his yearly follow-ups for Tuesdays, so he can attend the “Beamers” meetings for new Dattoli patients, to talk to them about his experience and the happy result.
“I always speak with both the husband and wife, so I can share information about my experience with both, because this is a disease that touches both,” Joe says.
It was a talk he would soon have with one of his three sons.
Like Father, Like Son
Now 81, the former metals industry executive still consults and works as a manufacturers' rep. But the years have not proved all that smooth. While oldest son, Stephen, has escaped cancer, middle son Donald passed away in 2013 after a five-year battle with colon cancer. Then came youngest son Paul’s diagnosis.
“It was scary to get the news about Dad,” says Paul, a Lutheran pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “When Dad was diagnosed, I was unfamiliar with the disease. But even though I was only 30 at the time, I started having my PSA checked as part of my yearly checkup.”
In 2017, at the age of 46, Paul’s PSA was elevated and a diagnosis of prostate cancer was delivered.
“After talking with Dad all those years about his experience, I knew without hesitation I was going to see Dr. Dattoli.”
Paul’s experience closely paralleled his father’s. Diagnosis at Thanksgiving, a New Year’s trip to Florida, two months of radiation, then seed implants and a trip in June for follow-up radiation. And like his Dad, there were no side effects for the married father of one daughter. He was able to carry on his pastoral duties even while being treated in Florida.
Of course, it helped that he was able to stay with his folks at their Central Florida home while undergoing treatment. “I would commute two hours each way every day. On the way home, I’d stop at Planet Fitness and exercise. In the evenings, I was on the phone doing pastoral work.” After the seeds had been implanted, Paul returned to his home in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to lead his congregation during Easter week.
“The message I want to pass on because of Dad and Don is that, with all the advancements in technology and treatment, early detection is the key to survival, particularly for prostate cancer,” Paul says. “Dattoli Cancer Center has a 3-D Color Flow Doppler Ultrasound machine that allows the doctors to see exactly where the cancerous tumors are, so they can target them with pinpoint accuracy without destroying healthy tissue.
“As a pastor, I have a lot of colleagues and parishioners, and by extension a larger community, that I serve. People hear from Pastor Paul, just as I heard from my father, to get a yearly checkup.
“The way I deliver the message is to say that if you’re not going to do it for yourself, then do it for your wife and children. Helping wives, children and grandparents have the man in their life around longer is going to improve the quality of their lives as well as your own. So, do it for the ones you love.”
It’s an important message – especially when delivered from father to son.