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Chicagoan recalls battle with cancer
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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Rick Kasprzak has been on an emotional two-year roller-coaster that, not a minute too soon, is finally slowing down.

The saga started during the summer of 2011 when the 55-year-old Chicago resident saw his primary care physician for an annual physical exam, including a blood test for prostate cancer—and those results, he learned, were higher than normal. However, the situation was not critical, just something that needed to be monitored.

Flash-forward to the summer of 2012, and Kasprzak was back at his doctor's office for his annual exam, naturally with a careful medical eye on his prostate-cancer scare. This time, he was told it was "somewhat of a concern," and Kasprzak was told to see a urologist for further evaluation.

Last November, when the concern still had not been cornered, it was suggested that Kasprzak have a biopsy, which he did in mid-December.

Then on Dec. 21, when Kasprzak and his partner of 31 years, Jim Lawless, a retired court reporter, were preparing for an evening Christmas party, he received a voice-mail message from the Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Kasprzak was told he had, in fact, tested positive for prostate cancer.

"It was one of those events in your life where everything just kind of stops," said Kasprzak, who lives in Chicago's Old Irving Park neighborhood and works in the financial services industry. He is originally from Milwaukee and has lived in Chicago for the past 32 years.

"I had no symptoms; nothing felt different at all. … I just had a lot of unanswered questions."

Days later, Kasprzak went to a specialist who offered a few suggestions, including surgery and radiation. Since it was not at the critical phase, Kasprzak sought additional input and ideas, especially from non-medical personnel; he wanted to talk to a gay men who had endured the same scenario, and sought out support groups at the Center on Halsted and elsewhere.

"I wanted to talk to another man who has had this," he said.

Kasprzak found a resource outlet through Gilda's Club, which offers a monthly meeting for prostate cancer survivors. But the first time he met members of that group, "The initial observation that I had was, all of the people who were there were much older than me, so I suspected their concerns were different from mine."

Still, he talked about treatment options with several and learned about potential after-effects, including impotence.

"I went [to the first meeting through Gilda's Club] and was hoping I would get a lot of answers to my questions; I walked away having a million more questions," he said.

For several weeks after that pre-Christmas cancer call, Kasprzak and Lawless kept the news private, not even sharing it with their families—because they didn't have the treatment plan, yet.

Kasprzak was suggested to consider female hormone therapy, which would last for eight months, and side-affects would be similar to a women in menopause, including hot flashes, weight gain, tender breasts, mood swings, and more.

"I'm listening [to this treatment option] and just shot [Lawless] one of these glances that said, 'No way,'" Kasprzak.

"I thought my options sucked."

So they slowly started sharing the news about his cancer, hoping someone might know someone or something that they could cling to.

Ironically, in mid-January Kasprzak received an instant message from someone whom he had met six months earlier in the real-estate business. The message to Kasprzak was: "Happy New Year, hope things are well with you. If there's anything I can do for you, let me know."

"I guess [that message] hit me at a weak moment," said Kasprzak, who replied, "Unfortunately, it's kind of a shitty year, 2013. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the end of 2012. In your circle of friends, do you know anyone else who has been diagnosed with it too, and has gone through treatment?"

The message from Alan, who also is gay, shocked Kasprzak. Alan said, "Yes, I do."

And he connected the two.

"The person, amazingly, had a longtime partner, like me; is 51 years old. … And here's the real shocking thing: He lives three blocks away," Kasprzak said.

The two met and he informed Kasprzak about his proton radiation therapy and a treatment center in Warrenville, one of only 10 such centers in the U.S.

Kasprzak ultimately picked that plan—and he started the 44-day treatment at the end of March.

"It's hard to hear the word 'cancer' used with you. But after hearing cancer, it never was about poor-me, or, oh-my-God, it was all just, here is a new journey that you're faced with, grab the bulls by the horn, take control and get rid of it," Kasprzak said.

He finished his treatment in May, and had his first three-month, post-treatment exam on Aug. 19. He's improving.

"I don't think I could be any more pleased with the outcome than I am right now. Is it fate? Absolutely!" Kasprzak said.

Kasprzak said he is willing and interested in serving as a resource and advocate for others in need, with questions. And Christmas 2013, "will be a lot different," he said, smiling.

"I want to be an advocate for gay men with prostate cancer."

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