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I knew getting prostate cancer at 48 would change me. I had no idea how much
Podcast episode summaries
What is the prostate?
Behind the Prostate Cancer Foundation
Prostate cancer in Black men
Stephen Fry: A man willing to talk about it
Masculinity and prostate cancer
Men who had prostate cancer
Prostate cancer: a reading list
A who’s who of podcast guests
These are my friends, guys I’ve known since we were kids. In high school, we called ourselves Geebs. It’s a nonsense word that suited us. We were misfits. Now we’re professionals in our 50s — a few musicians, a couple of teachers, an actor, a graphic designer, a developer, an anaesthesiologist, and an architect. The Geebs gather every summer on Cape Cod for a week of music and merriment. Last time, I asked them to talk about their prostates, and they were, like, “Our what?”
When I was considering writing about my experience with prostate cancer, I stumbled upon Stephen Fry’s YouTube video about his own ordeal with the disease. It was a revelation. Fry is an actor, director, screenwriter, author, playwright, comedian, and all-round British national treasure. He’s perhaps best known for his Golden Globe-nominated performance as Oscar Wilde in the film Wilde, and as one-half of the celebrated comedy duo Fry and Laurie, with his friend Hugh Laurie. (A few of Fry’s other film credits include Peter’s Friends, Gosford Park, V for Vendetta, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and The Hobbit.) Fry has written four novels and three volumes of autobiography. He has also written and presented several documentary series, and is the voice of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter audio books.
Dr. Anthony Zietman, Professor of Genitourinary Oncology, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital
I was referred to Dr. Zietman by someone who called him a “straight-shooter,” which I took to mean he’d tell me the truth, good or bad, and he did. Zietman received his undergraduate training at Oxford University and went to medical school at the Middlesex Hospital, London University, from which he graduated in 1983. After residencies in internal medicine and clinical oncology, he moved to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for a fellowship in radiation biology. Since joining the staff, he’s authored more than 100 original articles and reviews on aspects of genitourinary cancer. His particular research interests are the roles of active surveillance, brachytherapy, hormone therapy, and proton beam therapy in the treatment of prostate cancer. He also has a longstanding interest in the organ-sparing management of bladder cancer. He’s currently the Jenot and William Shipley Professor of Radiation Oncology at Harvard Medical School, and a trustee of the American Board of Radiology.
Dr. Mark Pomerantz, Medical oncologist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
When my original oncologist left Boston to take a job at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, I got nervous. Would my new oncologist, Dr. Mark Pomerantz, get up to speed on my situation? He did. Instantly. Pomerantz received his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his medical degree from Stanford University. He trained in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Dr. Pomerantz received his postdoctoral training in cancer genetics with Dr. Matthew Freedman at Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. He’s on faculty at Dana-Farber in the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, and he’s a big Celtics fan.
Dr. James Morrill, Massachusetts General Hospital
Dr. James Morrill is my primary care physician and the Medical Director at the Massachusetts General Hospital Charlestown HealthCare Center. He’s also a clinician educator in the Medicine/Primary Care Residency Program at MGH and is a core faculty member within the MGH Substance Use Disorders Initiative. He’s understanding and easy-going, even when I send him messages about my latest ailment, real or perceived. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 2001.
Michelle McGonagle, my wife, grew up in Denver, where her father was a gastroenterologist and her mother is a sculptor. Michelle received her undergraduate degree from Bates College in Maine, which is where we met and watched many sunrises together. Michelle got a master’s degree in social work from Boston College, and is currently the director of mental health services at The Guild for Human Services, a Concord-based agency that serves students diagnosed with intellectual disabilities. In addition to being an unflappable parent and a talented potter, Michelle is an excellent skier and, as you’ll learn, an insatiable reader.
My daughter, Julia Shanahan, is 19 and a student at Sarah Lawrence College. (Pandemic allowing, she’ll spend this year at the University of Oxford in England.) Julia’s interests include reading, writing (she’s working on a screenplay based on James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room), and humor (she’s a fan of John Mulaney, Issa Rae, and Kate McKinnon). Although kind of a nerd, Julia was captain of her high school hockey and cross-country teams. She grew up in a hurry when I got sick, but she’s doing fine.
Meredith Goldstein is an advice columnist, podcast host, and entertainment reporter for The Boston Globe. She and I have a close relationship that reminds some of David and Maddie on Moonlighting, without the sexual tension. Meredith’s advice column, Love Letters, is a daily dispatch of wisdom for the lovelorn that’s been running online and in the paper since 2009. The first season of the Love Letters podcast launched in 2018. Meredith’s books include her memoir, Can’t Help Myself: Lessons and Confessions From a Modern Advice Columnist (Grand Central/Hachette); Chemistry Lessons (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a young adult novel about a young woman who uses science to manipulate her love life; and The Singles, a novel about a group of dateless guests at a wedding. Meredith has been interviewed by – and written for – The Washington Post, Bustle, Elite Daily, Apartment Therapy, Shondaland, and Real Simple.
Dr. Drew Pinksy
Dr. Drew Pinsky, better known as Dr. Drew, was treated for prostate cancer in 2013. I found that out after I was diagnosed and frantically Googled “men who had prostate cancer.” His name showed up alongside Colin Powell, Mandy Patinkin, and Robert DeNiro’s. Pinsky is an internist and addiction medicine specialist who hosted the syndicated radio show Loveline. He also hosted the TV talk shows Dr. Drew On Call and the daytime series Lifechangers, and VH1′s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and its spinoffs Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew and Celebrity Rehab Presents Sober House. Pinsky currently hosts a couple of podcasts, including Dr. Drew After Dark and, with his former Loveline co-host Adam Carolla, The Adam and Drew Show.
Pinsky is a former staff member at the Department of Chemical Dependency Services at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, California, and Huntington Memorial Hospital. He currently has a private internal medicine practice in South Pasadena.
Edward Shanahan is my dad. He’s 84 years old and lives in Western Massachusetts with my mom. (They’ve been married for 60 years.) After graduating from Harvard University, my father became a journalist, to the great chagrin of his politically conservative father-in-law. He worked as a reporter at The Berkshire Eagle and The Detroit Free Press before becoming editor of the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton in 1971. During his tenure, the Gazette became one of the country’s finest daily newspapers, exposing corruption and holding politicians and the powerful accountable. He later opened a bookstore, Bookends, in Northampton. When he was 70, my father was treated for prostate cancer, but, like most men, he doesn’t like to talk about that.
Dr. Adam Kibel, Chief, Division of Urology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center; Elliott Carr Cutler Professor of Surgery in Urology, Harvard Medical School Urology
I can’t recall who recommended I talk to Dr. Kibel, the chief of urology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, but I’m glad they did. Michelle and I liked Dr. Kibel, and he’d done a lot of prostatectomies, which is what you want when the procedure is as involved and exacting as a prostatectomy. There was a lot at stake. Kibel is the Elliott Carr Culter Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the Harvard Urology Residency Program. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Cornell University, completed his urology residency at the Harvard Urology Program, and his fellowship at the Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Sharon Bober, Director, Sexual Health Program, Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; assistant professor, Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
In the months after surgery, I was all mixed up. I felt emasculated. My surgeon had successfully spared the nerves that control sexual function, but the recovery was slow. Would I ever be me again? I went to see Dr. Sharon Bober, who’s a psychologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and an assistant professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Bober specializes in psycho-oncology, with a focus on sexual function after cancer and psychological adjustment for women at high risk for breast cancer and cancer survivorship. Bober is also interested in the broader issues related to cancer genetics (BRCA1/2) and sexual function after cancer risk-reducing surgery.
Dr. Patrick Walsh, University Distinguished Service Professor of Urology and Professor of Urology, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and former director of the Brady Urological Institute.
Spend any time reading about prostate cancer and you’ll hear about Dr. Patrick Walsh. He pioneered the nerve-sparing surgery, an anatomic approach to the radical prostatectomy that reduces the probability of impotence and incontinence. Walsh served as director of the renowned Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins for 30 years.
Walsh received his undergraduate and medical training at Case Western Reserve University, and continued his studies at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, The Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston, and at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine.
He joined the faculty of Johns Hopkins in 1974. Walsh has authored or coauthored more than 600 articles and three books, including a best-seller titled The Prostate: A Guide for Men and the Women Who Love Them. He is on the editorial board of the New England Journal of Medicine and has served as president of both the American Association of Genitourinary Surgeons and the Clinical Society of Genitourinary Surgeons.
Dr. Adam Kibel
Dr. Jonathan Simons, President and CEO, Prostate Cancer Foundation
Dr. Jonathan Simons is a physician-scientist, oncologist, and investigator in translational prostate cancer research. Prior to joining PCF in 2007, he was Distinguished Service Professor of Hematology and Oncology at the Emory University School of Medicine and Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Materials Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Simons is the founding director of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University and co-director of the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at Emory and Georgia Tech.
Thomas Farrington, Founder, Prostate Health Education Network
I went to a couple of prostate cancer support groups while working on this podcast, and I was struck by how few Black men I met, considering how prevalent prostate cancer is among men of African descent. That prompted me to ask questions — questions to which Thomas Farrington, a retired IT executive, has some answers. In 2000, Farrington, who’s African-American, was treated for prostate cancer and, not long after, he created the Prostate Health Education Network. PHEN is widely recognized as the leading education and advocacy organization for Black men diagnosed with prostate cancer.
At the time of his diagnosis, Farrington knew little about prostate cancer even though his father and both grandfathers died of the disease. He researched prostate cancer and realized that his experience could help others, which led him to write Battling The Killer Within, published in 2001. The book is an insightful look at the challenges faced by men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States.
Farrington, who lives outside Boston, is a trustee of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s Prostate Cancer Treatment Guidelines Panel and Early Detection Guidelines Panel.
Dr. Drew Pinsky
Bill Tinney, prostate cancer survivor
Bill Tinney was a teacher in Quincy, Mass., for nearly 40 years. He was 57 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had a radical prostatectomy the following year. The procedure succeeded in getting rid of the cancer, but it left him with diminished sexual function. Frustrated, in 2001, Tinney opted to get a penile implant, and it changed his life. “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul,” he says, quoting Invictus. “If you can’t be master of your fate, if you can’t be the captain of your soul, then I don’t know what there is for you.”
Tinney has spoken at the Massachusetts Prostate Cancer Coalition’s annual symposium and to prostate cancer support groups around New England.
Cindy is Bill’s wife. They’ve been married for 55 years. Cindy was a buyer at Jordan Marsh before becoming a teacher. The couple, who live on the South Shore, have two daughters and three grandchildren.
Kory Hamel, Director for Research and Development at Boston Scientific Corp.
Kory Hamel is an alumnus of the University of Notre Dame and Clemson University. He’s worked for over 20 years in the field of medical devices, spanning multiple clinical categories, including the cardiovascular, orthopedic, dental, urology and gynecology fields. His current focus is prosthetic urology and women’s health.
Brette Goldstein is a casting agent in New York and the sister of Meredith Goldstein. (Brette has appeared on Meredith’s Love Letters podcast.) Her work with actors has enabled her to teach people — innovators, executives, and salespeople — how to embody and celebrate their authentic selves. Brette has cast five television series, over 50 independent films, 300 commercials, and 100 plays, and was the resident casting director at Washington, DC’s Folger Elizabethan Theatre for 10 seasons.
Dr. Anthony Zietman
Dr. Drew Pinsky
My son Beckett is a 16-year-old high school sophomore, so he’s not really into talking about, you know, feelings and, like, body parts. Beck is kind and generous like his mom and a bit of a goofball like me. He’s also a very talented soccer player. Beck was just 9 when I was diagnosed, so his grasp of exactly what was happening is/was limited, but he knows prostate cancer isn’t something he ever wants to deal with, and he’s worried he might have to.
Dr. Drew Pinsky
Dr. Adam Kibel
Dr. Mark Pomerantz
Senior audio producer Kelly Horan contributed to this article.
Mark Shanahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.