Father and son create prostate cancer awareness event

One of the most commonly diagnosed diseases in men is prostate cancer. In Ohio, an estimated 6,500 men will be told they have prostate cancer this year. One local family has been working together for several years to raise awareness of this disease and save lives.

John Nerlinger of Washington Twp. was diagnosed with prostate cancer near the end of 2005.

“I had gone to my regular doctor and he tested me three times,” John said. “My PSA (prostate-specific antigen) was high and it never changed, so I kept asking him if he could take it again.”

John was referred to an urologist who gave him the definitive diagnosis.

“Back in those days, your only choices for treatment were either full body radiation or hormone therapy or surgery,” John said. “But the doctor said I was beyond the operation and the only thing that made sense was hormones.”

John was determined to begin fighting the disease immediately.

On the Monday before Christmas of that year, John told his wife, Marilyn, and sons Todd and Jay that he had cancer. “I said I knew I was going to research and get a second opinion,” John said.

John’s sister-in-law ended up helping him find Dr. Vipul Patel at the James Cancer Center in Columbus, who specialized in robotic and minimally invasive surgery. It turned out there were some major discrepancies between what the original doctor said and what Patel found.

“Based on Dad’s biopsy, his doctor said the cancer had spread outside the prostate,” said son Todd. “The initial diagnosis was very scary because it was so bleak. I was very angry at first but once we started looking at different options for my dad and we made the connection with Dr. Patel, I had real hope.”

John went to Columbus after the New Year and after an exam and testing, Patel gave him some surprising news.

“Dr. Patel said he doesn’t get to give good news to many people in his line of work,” John said. “But he was happy to say he thought the cancer hadn’t spread and that I was a candidate for surgery.”

Shortly after Valentine’s Day in 2006, John underwent a procedure that would save his life – a robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy, which involved removing the prostate and surrounding tissue. After the three and a half hour operation, John was in recovery with his family.

“Dr. Patel came in and said he was pretty sure he got everything,” John said. “I felt like I was in really good hands.”

John’s cancer diagnosis came when he was just 56 years old and because the disease mostly affects men older than 65, it was considered more serious. But Patel was so certain that he had eradicated the disease from John’s body that he told him if he died, it would not be from prostate cancer.

In 2010, Todd approached his dad about putting together a 5K run as a way to give back and raise awareness of prostate cancer.

“We have a community action committee where I work and you can get support from the company and your coworkers for a cause you are passionate about,” Todd said.

When Todd researched local prostate cancer research fundraising efforts, he found there wasn’t a race for this cause. The family hosted the first local run/walk in July of 2010.

“We had 85 people or so at the first walk,” Todd said. “My brother Jay made up brochures and we advertised mainly through word of mouth.”

The first four events were held at Centerville High School, but they didn’t experience much growth because there weren’t enough resources to market the event. In 2014, the walk was moved to the month of September (Prostate Cancer Awareness Month) and to Miami Valley South.

“Last year the biggest urology group in town, Dayton Physicians LLC, gave us a full-time staff person to help get the event growing,” Todd said. “We took 2015 off from the race so we could really get into planning and bring it back this year bigger and better than ever.”

The Nerlinger family event was merged into a national race series called the Zero Prostate Cancer Run and Walk. The first event branded with this new name, will take place Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Dayton Physicians Cancer Center in Kettering. Proceeds from the Dayton event and the nearly 40 other events like it across the nation go to support prostate cancer research, advocacy and patient education.

“As a survior, It means a lot to me to be available to tell people there is hope and to stay strong and fight,” John said. “I cherish every day that I’m here and I do this because when we lose even one person to cancer, it’s one too many.”

And for Todd, who was given the gift of having his father alive and in his life, supporting events like the Zero Run/Walk is a way he can be part of the solution. “This is something we can do to help other people,” Todd said. “We want to make things better.”

For more information about the Zero Prostate Cancer Run/Walk, log on to www.zerocancer.org

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