Six Years After Surgery, Louis Giamalva is Urban Off-Roading Cancer-Free

You’re never really fully prepared to hear “You have prostate cancer.” Even when you know it’s one of the leading killers of men. Even if you know you have a family history of the disease. Louis Giamalva’s grandfather died of prostate cancer, and his father was diagnosed in his 50s. Still, Louis was caught off guard when he was diagnosed at 51. “I thought it would happen a little bit later on,” he says. “It kind of surprised me.”

Louis had been diligent about screenings since his mid-40s. “For years, my PSA level was around 4, 4.3, 4.5, and my doctor kept treating me for BPH, saying, ‘You’re getting older and your prostate’s getting larger.’ I just thought it was part of my aging process. There was some discomfort there. Then my PSA level went up to 7, so he ordered a biopsy.”

On March 30, 2010, Louis learned three of his 12 cores were positive for prostate cancer. He admits he felt numb at first. “The doctor who performed the biopsy just told me the results, he didn’t tell me anything else, except go check out your treatment options,” Louis recalls. “Not knowing anything bothered me the most—wondering how bad is it?”

Fortunately, Louis had a powerful ally in his wife Adrienne.

“She’s a school teacher, and she’s really good at research,” he says. “She made a lot of phone calls and did internet research about different treatment options and doctors. I couldn’t have done it without her. We were looking at a couple of different options, but I really wasn’t interested in radiation seeds or cryosurgery. We decided on nerve-sparing robotic surgery, and then started looking for a surgeon.”

Louis’ neighbor and good friend, a medical sales rep, helped, too—asking colleagues and clients for surgeon recommendations. “He came over and said, ‘This is the doctor you need to go see.’ We were happy because we came up with the same name—Dr. Bevan-Thomas.”

Louis and Adrienne’s first meeting with Dr. Bevan-Thomas went well.

“The staff at USMD Prostate Cancer Center was happy and super friendly. They just made us feel real comfortable. It was a pretty impressive group of people in his office. They actually made me feel a little bit more positive about the experience,” remembers Louis.

“My first meeting with Dr. Bevan-Thomas pretty much relieved all my stress. He seemed very confident, made us feel very comfortable about how the procedure was going to go. The way he dealt with it in such a positive manner made everything so much easier. With him I got past that
I-don’t-know-what’s-going-to-happen feeling.

“When I was first diagnosed, it seemed like nobody wanted to look at me. It was kind of ‘Hi, here’s the test results. See you later.’ Being in a doctor’s office and having that happen was probably more disconcerting than anything. It really bothered me.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much Dr. Bevan-Thomas really changed everything—having somebody sit down and tell us, ‘Relax, we’re going to take care of this.’ After meeting with him and talking with his staff, Adrienne and I just felt more positive about the surgery. I remember I was walking out of his office and feeling a big sigh of relief. He’d taken all the stress out of the situation.”

Louis was eager to get the surgery behind him—especially after Dr. Bevan-Thomas, looking at Louis’ chart—estimated that Louis had probably had prostate cancer for about three years before it was diagnosed. “It couldn’t happen fast enough,” he says. “I was just ready to get it done.”

Unfortunately, his biopsy caused an infection and his prostate was swollen, so he had to wait until it cleared up before he could undergo surgery, but Louis and his wife appreciated their nurse navigator, Brenda May. “If we had any questions, we could call up Brenda. The staff just made the whole process easier than we’d hoped for.”

Louis was also proactive while waiting for his treatment.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Louis says. “I’m a pretty small person—just barely 5’7”. I had recently gained quite a bit of weight, and was probably at 180 pounds. Once I was diagnosed and chose surgery, we completely changed our diet. My wife started cooking for me—not that we really ever ate unhealthy, we just started focusing on making healthier choices,” he says. “I started exercising. I walked a lot. I wanted to be in the best shape I could be in for the surgery and so I could recover more quickly. I’ve kept it off. I’m probably about 140 pounds now, and I sleep better now, I feel better.”

Dr. Bevan-Thomas performed Louis’ robot-assisted radical prostatectomy on May 28, 2010.
 
“He did an excellent job with my surgery,” Louis says.

A post-surgery biopsy of Louis’ prostate revealed that there was more cancer than originally thought, and his Gleason 6 score was upgraded to Gleason 7.

“I was in the hospital a day and a half. There was a bit of pain for a while afterward. I think the first words out of my mouth after surgery were “ouch.” But I got back to work about a week after my surgery. I probably should have waited longer, but I’m a workaholic. I didn’t have any post-surgery issues with incontinence or sexual function. Dr. Bevan-Thomas told my wife and me we needed to have sex as much as possible. The staff loaded me up with Viagra, although I switched to Cialis after Viagra made everything look blue.”

While his post-surgery healing progressed nicely, it did take some time.

“I’m a motorcycle enthusiast, and a year after my surgery I decided to do a motorcycle trip to Austin. I realized about half way through the trip that that was a mistake. There was still some healing going on a year after the surgery,” he says.

But now Louis is back in riding form. As a certified motorcycle instructor, he spends Saturdays helping others learn how to ride—including a 67-year-old woman and 70-year-old man who were recent students. And he enjoys frequent “urban off-roading” adventures with friends through the back streets and alleys of Dallas or at a buddy’s ranch. He’s also become the “go-to” guy for friends and customers at his Lakewood Insurance Agency who became spooked by his cancer diagnosis.

“I can’t tell you how many friends pulled me aside and started asking me questions,” he says. All the sudden, I had guys asking me: How did you know? What about this? What about that? There were a lot of times I got pulled out of a room and into a corner because they didn’t want anyone to know they were asking me questions. Then the side-effect of us eating healthy inspired several friends to start eating healthy and losing weight, as well. Actually, one of my customers here at work changed his eating habits. So it was like a little domino effect all around us. Especially, some of the friends my age—it surprised them that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.”
Louis is happy to be an inspiration for other guys.

“I don’t understand people who are unhealthy and then look at the doctor and say, ‘Fix me.’ You have to do your part. Do what the doctor tells you to do, and do what you can to prepare yourself for the surgery and post-surgery. I think that’s an important part of it. If you cherish life, do everything you can to take care of yourself.”

Besides the healthy physical changes sparked by his cancer diagnosis, Louis has experienced a mind-shift, too.

“My dad passed away when he was 83, and I thought, Well, I guess 83 is a good time. He told me, ‘You won’t say that when you’re 83.’ I now know it’s never a good time to die. You could be 100 years old and it’s not long enough. When you go through something like this it gives you a reality check. You look at life differently,” he says. “For years and years, I was a workaholic and we never took vacations. After my surgery, some things have changed. I take time off now so Adrienne and I can do some of the things we like to do. Next month we’re going to swim with the whale sharks in Mexico. I bought myself my first and probably my last new motorcycle. When I was a kid my dad told me you need to do the things you want to do while you can do them. That comes back to me often.”

At 57, Louis is grateful to be able to enjoy life cancer-free. “It’s been six years since my surgery and my PSA is still zero,” he says.  

He still sees Dr. Bevan-Thomas every year for follow-up checks, and is an advocate for routine prostate cancer screenings. “I probably had cancer in my 40s—I’m big on screening, obviously, from a young age. I think a lot of men think, Hey, I’m not going to have prostate cancer until I’m old. That’s just not necessarily true.”

If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer and would like to know more about your treatment options, please contact USMD Prostate Cancer Center online or at 1-888-PROSTATE (1-888-776-7828).

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