Ed Gillespie

Husband and Wife Cancer Survivors Consider Themselves Three-Time Winners

Summary: Residents of Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Ed and Jean Gillespie faced three life-threatening medical conditions over a six-year period. In each case, they found cutting-edge therapy and expert care just a 90-minute drive from home, at the University of Maryland Medical Center and University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore.

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Ed and Jean Gillespie

Life took an unexpected detour for Eastern Shore resident Edward Gillespie in late 1996. An elevated PSA (prostate specific antigen) reading detected during his annual physical exam led to a biopsy, which confirmed a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Instead of looking forward to a well-deserved retirement from his successful career as CEO of his own concrete products firm in Chestertown, he found himself facing a cancer diagnosis and all the attendant uncertainties and decisions. Gillespie remembers receiving the news on December 22 that year: “I got prostate cancer for Christmas,” he now jokingly recalls.

When he began to do his homework, some of the available treatment options did not sound appealing. “My family doctor told me that I would not be happy with the [prostate] removal operation,” he says. A friend in Chestertown heard the news and suggested that he talk with her brother in Boston, who had successfully undergone a minimally invasive procedure known as radioactive seed implants for prostate cancer. “His case was a success and so he was a real advocate for the treatment," says Gillespie.

The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center was the nearest hospital that offered the procedure, also known as prostate brachytherapy. Gillespie’s doctor recommended that he come and see Dr. Michael Naslund, a urologic surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"When I came to the University of Maryland, Dr. Naslund explained that I actually had three treatment options: external beam radiation, prostate seed implantation, and surgery to remove the prostate. He told me to go home and think about it,” Gillespie recalls. Hearing the range of options was refreshing, he notes, as two of the other places he had consulted wanted to proceed immediately with surgery. "In one case, I was told that it was urgent and that I should have a prostatectomy done right away."

Armed with books and articles from the Internet about prostate cancer, Gillespie headed to Barbados for a month with his wife to read up on the problem and think. He called Dr. Naslund long distance and told him that he had decided to have the radioactive seed implants.

A week later, he met with Dr. Pradip Amin, associate professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC). A pioneer in the field of prostate brachytherapy, Dr. Amin has performed over 2,000 prostate seed implants since starting the program at Maryland in 1985.

“Fortunately, Mr. Gillespie’s prognosis was very favorable,” says Dr. Amin. “Based on his stage and type of cancer, he had a 90 percent chance of success with seed implants.”

On the appointed day in June, Gillespie reported to the hospital at 6:00 a.m., had 73 radioactive seeds implanted into his prostate with 17 needles, and was released to go home at 11:00 a.m. the next morning.

He felt so good after the procedure that he attended a three-hour board meeting the following day. “You wouldn’t know anything had ever happened to me,” he says, amazed. His PSA score is now near zero.

While no cancer diagnosis is ever welcome, Ed Gillespie's prostate cancer experience turned out to have a silver lining. One of the diagnostic tests done as part of the pre-testing for his prostate brachytherapy revealed that he had an abdominal aortic aneurysm. This is a balloon-like enlargement in the main blood vessel that supplies blood to all organs. The condition often goes undetected because there are no symptoms unless the vessel ruptures. Ruptured aortic aneurysms are fatal in 80 percent of cases.

Gillespie’s aneurysm was small, so he was advised to have it checked every six months. When it began to enlarge in 2001, Dr. Naslund recommended that he consult with Dr. Marshall Benjamin, a vascular surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Benjamin told Gillespie and told he was a candidate for a new, minimally-invasive surgery, known as an endovascular repair. This new repair method required only two small incisions in each upper leg. It enabled Gillespie to leave the hospital the next day, and go back normal activities within a week, a big improvement from a surgical repair, which requires a large incision, a long hospital stay and about a month recovery period. He had the minimally invasive aneurysm repair in November, 2001.

In between Ed Gillespie's prostate cancer treatment and his abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, his wife Jean would have her own first-hand experience with cancer. On a routine chest X-ray in 1999, a spot was detected on Jean Gillespie's lung. Within three days, she had an appointment with the multidisciplinary Thoracic Oncology team at UMGCC. When the diagnosis of lung cancer was confirmed through a biopsy, the couple, who had smoked heavily for many years, both kicked the cigarette habit cold turkey. In November of 1999, she had surgery to remove half of her lung.

Today, both Ed and Jean are cancer-free, doing great and enjoying their retirement. They continue to visit the cancer center for periodic check-ups, 66-year-old Jean for CT-scans as part of her lung cancer check ups and Ed, now 75, for prostate cancer follow-up. They also have also chosen to share their good fortune for the benefit of future patients by contributing financially each year to the medical center.

They are advocates for early detection and for the excellent care and treatment they received at UMGCC. “It’s great to be able to tell you a real success story, but in our case, it's really three success stories in one,” Gillespie says.

For more information on these and other innovative treatments available at the UMGCC, call 800-888-8823.

If you would like to share your story about treatment for cancer at UMGCC, please e-mail us or call 410-328-8289.