Checking for Prostate Cancer
One in six men in the United States is diagnosed with prostate cancer, said Lawrence radiation oncologist Darren Klish. And of the 200,000 men who are diagnosed with the disease each year, 40 percent are considered to be medium- to high-risk cases. Still, Klish said the importance of checking for prostate cancer hasn’t gained the awareness among men that breast cancer has for women. New guidelines being issued today by the American Urological Association recommend that men should be offered a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test at age 40, and have follow-ups at intervals based on each man’s situation. The new guidelines bring the group more in line with advice from other experts, who say annual tests are leading to unnecessary biopsies and treatment with little proof that it saves lives. African-Americans and men who have a father, brother or son with the disease have a higher risk for prostate cancer than others. Gardner, who was diagnosed with an advanced stage of prostate cancer, urges everyone to get checked. “Don’t put it off,” he said. “It takes a few hours to go see your doctor, but it’s worth it.”
For years Don “Red Dog” Gardner has used his Red Dog’s Dog Days workouts to advocate for the causes of others.
In between the stretches, sprints and sit-ups, Gardner spreads the word about those in the community with leukemia, lung cancer or other serious illnesses. He promotes their fundraisers and benefit runs or just asks the group to keep them in their thoughts and prayers.
But on an early morning in late February, it was Gardner who was sick.
The day before, the doctors diagnosed him with an advanced stage of prostate cancer.
Those in the close-knit circle that meets at 6 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday already were talking about Gardner’s health. A man who has hated rumors since childhood, Gardner wanted to set the record straight.
“I felt they should know upfront,” he said.
And so the relationship changed. Gardner was the one with a cause. A fund was set up. Entire church congregations started praying for him, and green bracelets inscribed with “Red Dog” on one side and “Make Cancer a ‘Has Been’” on the other were printed.
“It’s really overwhelming,” Gardner said.
Recognized by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as a Hometown Health Hero and attracting crowds in the hundreds during his Summer Dog Days workouts at Memorial Stadium, Gardner and his wife, Beverly, who helps organize the programs, are beloved figures in Lawrence.
Gardner, a retired police officer, and Jim O’Connell started Dog Days just over 25 years ago to keep Lawrence High School football players in shape. It has since blossomed into a free, communitywide fitness program that welcomes everyone from the overweight and out-of-shape to young moms who bring children in strollers.
And many of them have given their support to Gardner.
On the day that Gardner told the group he had cancer, a round of applause went out, said Laura Klotz, as the group decided they were going to help him beat it.
“Now he is the cause, and he’s not very comfortable in that position,” said Klotz, who describes the group as a second family.
The first thing Gardner will tell you about his fight with cancer is that there are people far worse off than he is.
Gardner, who is 70, discovered he had prostate cancer after visiting a doctor for stomach problems and an annual checkup.
About 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States each year; about 30,000 of them die, said Darren Klish, a radiation oncologist who’s treating Gardner.
The two treatment options for prostate cancer are surgery or radiation. Gardner went with radiation.
Right now he is in the middle of radiation treatment, with about 30 more treatments to go.
The disease hasn’t stopped him from leading workouts. And on Thursday morning in a gym in KU’s Robinson Center, he was putting a group of around 85 people through a series of jumps, squats, sit-ups, push-ups and sprints.
Life has slowed down somewhat for Gardner. He has missed several morning workouts, tires easily and is forced to take naps.
“It’s a shock, but I’m probably having more trouble with it now than I was five weeks ago,” he said.
But come this June, when crowds are expected to start gathering outside of Memorial Stadium for the Summer Dog Days, Gardner fully intends to be leading the pack.
“We got to fight it,” he said.