Marine Corps veteran co-leads prostate cancer education group

While serving in Da Nang, South Vietnam, Marine Corps veteran Joe Gallo was exposed to Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used by the military at the time. VA recognizes certain cancers and other health conditions, including prostate cancer, as suspected illnesses related to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides.

Shortly after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, Gallo became involved with AnCan, a peer support healthcare network. The group coordinates virtual meetings for patients with conditions such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, brain cancer or multiple sclerosis.

Gallo realized that AnCan offered no small group support groups for prostate cancer patients like him under active surveillance.

Navy Veteran Joe Gallo

Active surveillance is a watch-and-wait approach for men with low-risk prostate cancer. It requires regular PSA tests and biopsies to monitor the condition of the cancer and ensure that it does not become aggressive.

He collaborated with two other prostate cancer patients from AnCan on Active Surveillance – Howard Wolinsky and Mark Lichty – to create a virtual support group dedicated to Active Surveillance. They shared the idea with AnCan founder Rick Davis and the group became a reality.

“We all thought prostate cancer patients needed help figuring out which way to go,” Gallo said. “We started having monthly meetings and invited everyone from newbies to people under active supervision for 20 years.”

“You better take a look.

Today, Gallo and Wolinsky lead the discussion group. They host virtual peer-to-peer meetings every Wednesday evening which are sometimes attended by hundreds of men under active surveillance, including many from other countries. Participants ask questions and offer support to other men with low-risk prostate cancer.

In addition, a urologist, oncologist or other doctor speaks to the group once a month and then answers questions. The goal is to educate patients who at the same time do their homework by learning as much as possible about the disease.

Gallo and Wolinsky avoid giving medical advice. But they insist on certain fundamental points. The first is that a PSA score of at least 4.0, usually the mark that tells someone they should see a urologist for a checkup, does not mean a patient has prostate cancer. Men who attend meetings typically have a PSA score of 4.0 to 6.0, Gallo said.

“A PSA above 4.0 indicates something is wrong and you better take a look at it,” he said. “When your dashboard light comes on, you’re not saying I won’t care. You take it to a mechanic to have it checked out. Have someone else watch it. Find out what’s going on and get answers. Then you can determine which direction you are going to go.

The second opinion is essential

Often in medicine, getting a second opinion is a way for a patient to make the most informed healthcare decision. Men from AnCan’s active surveillance support group are encouraged to do the same. As for why they choose active surveillance over treatment like surgery or radiation, “we’ve seen the full gamut,” Gallo noted. “It depends on each doctor. Some of them are really good. They say, “Active surveillance is the best option if you have a low or very low risk form of prostate cancer. There are others, depending on their skills and in some cases probably for financial reasons, who say: “No, I think you should go through the process”.

“Anxious Watching”

Do men on active surveillance find living with prostate cancer uncomfortable?

“We call it anxious monitoring, either by the patient or sometimes by a family member,” Gallo said. “Our sessions are also open to spouses. We saw it when the woman said, “It’s cancerous. You need to remove the prostate right away. We try to encourage them to take deep breaths and get multiple entries.

“If you feel like you really, really need to get it out, okay, here are some of the criteria you should use to decide between surgery and radiation, and either way, where you’re going to find a good doctor. Prostate cancer grows slowly, depending on where it is, and the fact that you have it tells you what procedure is needed and how fast you need to move.

“We try to say, ‘Don’t panic. If your biopsy says you’re a Gleason six, low volume, then you have time to find out. You can stay that way for the rest of your life.

To join AnCan’s Active Monitoring Support Group, email Gallo at [email protected]