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Spotlight on Walden // Jun 13, 2013

Spreading the Message of Early Screening

Luis Lacourt knew his risk of developing prostate cancer was high. His father, grandfather, and uncle were all diagnosed with the disease. Yet it was still a shock to learn last year at age 42 that he, too, had prostate cancer. The day before his diagnosis, he’d run a full marathon with his wife.

Waiting for the biopsy results, Lacourt had many reasons to hope he wouldn’t hear he had cancer: a wife and five children, a career as a school counselor in Ohio, a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision program at Walden University to complete. He’d listened to his father’s urging to go for a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test starting at age 35. At the same time, Lacourt suspected the truth of his doctor’s earlier warning: Given his family history, it was a matter of “when” rather than “if” prostate cancer would come into his life.

“You think, how am I going to respond? You rehearse how you’re going to feel and how you’re going to react,” says Lacourt, who turned to his wife, his friends, and even his Walden family for comfort and support once his cancer was confirmed. “The students and faculty during my residency were unbelievable. I was able to look into their eyes and see their compassion and love. It was a powerful experience.”

He also found inspiration in his Walden coursework. Diagnosed two weeks into a class called Social Change, Leadership, and Advocacy for Counseling Professionals, Lacourt decided to turn adversity into an opportunity to help other people. With encouragement from Walden faculty, he wrote about social action in response to prostate cancer. Recently, a professional journal expressed interest in publishing one of his papers.

Lacourt also organized a prostate cancer awareness event, expanded this into a nonprofit organization, Prostate Awareness and Cancer Support of Ohio (PACS), and started a support group for men with prostate cancer. He says, “As a coping mechanism, I thought I’d do something in my community. I had a lot of anxious energy. This was a way to channel it.”

Three thousand people were in the stands as Lacourt stood at the 50-yard line with 24 other survivors during halftime of a football game between the high school where he works and the high school in his nearby hometown, telling his story and educating his audience about prostate cancer. The event also raised funds for prostate cancer screening, and since then, Lacourt says, “I’ve been told that more men have started to think about prostate cancer, take the matter more seriously, and get screened.”

That’s real progress, especially given the personal nature of the disease and common male behavior. “You’re dealing with the prostate gland and men’s sexual organs, and guys don’t generally like to go to the doctor,” Lacourt explains. “We’re tough and strong. If we get a bump or bruise, we say we’ll get over it, or we don’t even mention it until weeks later.”

While PACS provides support and resources to all men, Lacourt says the higher rate of prostate cancer among African-American men makes him feel a particular obligation to reach this population.

“My reality is that 43 men in Stark County, Ohio, die every year from prostate cancer. I hope to eliminate these deaths from prostate cancer through early screening,” Lacourt says. “By raising awareness, educating, and removing obstacles to screening in my community, I hope to help men make informed healthcare decisions that will lead to longer, healthier lives.”

Meanwhile, Lacourt has received good news about his own health. Surgery to remove his prostate gland last August was successful, and the cancer hadn’t spread. Thus far he has received clear blood work results without any chemotherapy or radiation and hopes to get a “cancer-free” determination after five years of clear results.

Lacourt’s positive outcome reinforces his message to other men. He tells them, “Get screened, and get screened early. By getting screened and discovering prostate cancer early, you can overcome it.”