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United in the fight

Cancer survivor credits program linking him with another man diagnosed with disease

LOS BANOS, Calif. – Curtis Fournier said receiving news from a doctor that you have cancer can send you into a whirlwind of emotions. He ought to know – he heard the news twice on the same day.

“I asked that question basically every cancer patient asks when they hear ‘stage four,’ ” the 50-year-old said. “Am I going to die?”

Fournier said a Relay for Life program, Man to Man, gave him solace and played a role in his recovery. The American Cancer Society hooked Fournier up with a fellow survivor, who showed him the ropes. Relay for Life organizers said there are a slew of programs for those dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

The swimming pool contractor said he first felt some abdominal pain in 2010 and, like many men, he ignored it for a few months until he passed blood in his urine. His urologist ordered a CT scan; he had a 4-inch, cigar-shaped tumor on his kidney.

“They said, just because of the size and location, we’re going to remove it,” Fournier said. “We’re not even going to try to treat it.”

The same day, his lab work came back with a high prostate-specific antigen count. The screening test, which would read normal between 1 and 4, showed he was at 259. Fournier had to undergo more testing to confirm the diagnosis unrelated to the cancer in his kidney.

“We had probably the four longest days of our lives to find out the answer,” Fournier said. “They told us that I had stage-four prostate cancer that had metastasized and gone into my lymph nodes.”

Doctors gave him three years to live, he said, adding he second-guessed his chances of ever seeing a grandchild from one of his three sons.

The Man to Man program, he said, was a way to ask all the candid questions he was hesitant to ask his mostly female oncologists. “I’ve been married to my wife – we’re working on 32 years next month,” Fournier said. “It’s hard for me to ask questions like, ‘What about my sex life?’ ”

It was easy to ask a man who has had all of the experiences, he said. His confidante was also a good source for what side effects to expect from medication.

He credited Cancer Society programs, family support and the work of doctors with his progress. The best part of the American Cancer Society’s programs is that they are all free, he said.

“It won’t cost you a dime. That’s why we relay,” he said, referring to the Los Banos Relay for Life event that raised more than $100,000 for cancer research and programs last year.

Programs are available for women, too. Reach to Recovery is a support program for women facing any stage of breast cancer.

Survivors who want access to any of the American Cancer Society’s free programs, call the 24-hour hotline at (800) ACS-2345.

Fournier is coming up on three years of treatment, has a 20-month-old granddaughter named Abby and twin grandchildren on the way. He’s serving as a “Hero of Hope,” a survivor recruited by the Cancer Society for speaking engagements.

It’s not all rainbows and waterfalls for Fournier, who said he heard in February the tumor on his kidney has returned. Doctors can’t surgically remove any more, he said, so he’ll be moving to a chemical treatment.

Fournier said he’s an unusual case, because of the two types of unrelated cancer. He’s on a relatively new drug. He described his approach to dealing with his health in a commonly used Relay for Life saying.

“Celebrate life, remember the ones we’ve lost, and fight back,” Fournier said. “I’m always in the fight back mode.”


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