Prostate Cancer Patients Find Common Ground

Walk through Mercy Springfield’s cancer center on a Tuesday morning and you’ll likely hear a chuckle or two. It’s the sound of healing, and it’s coming from a weekly support group for men who’ve seen firsthand the effects of prostate cancer.

“You go through shock at first,” said Paul Kihlmire, 70, who was diagnosed in 2013. He endured surgery and radiation before turning to hormone therapy last winter. “By talking with people, it really helps to understand what you’re going through. It’s much healthier than keeping your problems to yourself.”

Kihlmire and about a dozen men of all walks of life converge at Mercy's C.H. “Chub” O’Reilly Cancer Center each Tuesday for an hour-long conversation over refreshments. Formed nearly two decades ago, it was Missouri’s first prostate cancer support group.

“Traditionally, men aren’t as open as women patients, in terms of discussing their problems and concerns,” said Dr. Mark J. Walterskirchen, urologist. “This allows them to grab some coffee, sit down and learn about what’s available to them when it comes to diagnosis and follow-up care.”

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men. Last year, 230,000 men were diagnosed and approximately 29,000 died from it — but that number could’ve been much lower. “Ninety percent of my patients have no symptoms whatsoever,” Dr. Walterskirchen added. “That’s why it’s so important to get screened, no matter what form of cancer it is."

“The screening is what helped me,” said Kay Kinyon, 68, who has been meeting with the support group in Springfield almost as long as it’s been around. “I’ve been living with this for about 15 years, and during that time I had a recurrence.”

Dr. Walterskirchen says 20 to 30 percent of patients treated for prostate cancer will see it come back. “We here at Mercy are comparable to the national average and in the last five years, newer treatments have become available for the treatment of recurrent prostate cancer. We also have a weekly, multidisciplinary tumor board that reviews each case in detail.”

One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. It’s recommended that men between the ages of 55 and 70 get screened — or sooner if there’s a family history. “It’s important to discuss with your primary care physician or urologist to see you fit in that category,” added Dr. Walterskirchen.

“Sure, I’m weaker than I used to be, but I make a point to walk three miles each night, and I still go fishing,” said Kihlmire.  “My doctor said I’d die with this cancer — not from it.”

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 2.5 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive today. “The future is looking bright,” added Dr. Walterskirchen. “Our medical oncology group here at Mercy is currently doing clinical trials. We’re up there with MD Anderson and other places, testing those drugs that a lot of facilities don’t have access to.”

To join the discussion at Mercy’s weekly group meetings, call (417) 820-2588.

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