A father and son’s journey through prostate cancer

By: Sanford Health News .

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BEMIDJI, Minn. — The father and son duo of Ray and Mark Ricci has been informing and entertaining people from their perch behind a radio station console for a combined 80 years. Ray Ricci retired following a 50-year career on the airwaves after working in many different locations.

Mark Ricci followed in his father’s footsteps. Bemidji area listeners of RP Broadcasting may not know Mark Ricci’s face, but they will recognize his voice as the versatile radio personality who has been bringing the news and playing music for everyone within earshot.

“In August, I celebrated my 30th year as a radio broadcaster. I started at 16 at a station in Wyoming,” said Mark Ricci , who is the operations manager for RP Broadcasting in Bemidji. “To this day, I still get excited, and get butterflies in my stomach when I turn on the microphone.”

The father and son are professionally linked by their presence on the airwaves but also have something else in common. Like most 43-year-old men, Mark Ricci was not thinking about prostate cancer when he visited William Muller, M.D., a family medicine physician, for his annual physical at Sanford Bemidji in 2013. Fortunately, however, his wife, Trista Ricci, was.

About 10 years ago, Ray Ricci had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that episode prompted Trista Ricci to have Dr. Muller check Mark Ricci’s prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels.

“With a PSA of 0.7 or less at 40 years of age, your risk of prostate cancer is pretty small,” said Sanford Bemidji urologist John Kosko. “But when the PSA is 1.8 to 2.0 at age 40, I recommend a biopsy.”

In March of 2013, Mark Ricci’s PSA level was 3.10, and the next time it was checked, it had risen to 3.52.

“At 43 years of age, I was pretty young to have PSA numbers that high,” Mark Ricci said. “We decided to initially treat it with antibiotics, but my number was still high – at 3.44 – after the treatment, so we did a biopsy. On the day before my birthday in June, the doctors told me one of my 12 biopsies had cancer, and Dr. Kosko recommended surgery.”

Prostate cancer strikes 1 in 8 American men and kills about 20,000 each year. It is most often present in men in their 70s and 80s, and as the population ages, more and more prostate cancer cases are being diagnosed.

Although uncommon in men as young as Mark Ricci, prostate cancer in his family history made him a likely candidate to become one of the 220,000 men in the United States diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013.

“It is pretty unusual for someone as young as Mark to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, but there is a 1 in 3 chance of that happening if a family member has been diagnosed,” Dr. Kosko said.

Mark Ricci’s victory over prostate cancer can be traced to the early detection of the disease. Without the diagnosis and the surgery, Dr. Kosko believes Mark Ricci’s future would not have been bright.

“Early screening for prostate cancer leads to successful treatment,” Dr. Kosko said. “In Mark’s case, if he had never been treated, the cancer might have killed him when he was in his 50s.

“There is no doubt that screening saves lives. In the early 1990s, the death rate for prostate cancer was 40,000 a year. But now, in the screening era, the rate has dropped as low as 20,000 per year,” Dr. Kosko said. “I think prostate cancer screening definitely saves lives, but we need to get better at implementing it. There is no question that screening saved Mark’s life.”

A visit to the physician also saved Ray Ricci’s life.

“I actually have to thank Dr. Brian Livermore (a retired family medicine physician) for saving my life,” Ray Ricci said. “Ten years ago, he did a prostate exam, and he found no bumps, no lumps and nothing that would point to prostate cancer. But he did find that one-half of the prostate felt leathery, and wanted that checked.”

The results showed Ray Ricci also had prostate cancer.

Although father and son had the same disease, their treatments differed. Mark Ricci’s cancer was attacked with surgery, while Ray Ricci had an initial treatment of female hormones to lower his testosterone levels.

“No one size fits all in terms of treating prostate cancer,” Dr. Kosko said. “It’s a complicated decision. Each patient is 100 percent individualized as far as treatment is concerned.”

Fortunately, both treatments proved successful, and both men have resumed their normal lives.

“I was very fortunate that people cared,” Mark Ricci said. “I am very lucky that Trista asked Dr. Muller to check my PSA. I’m in my 40s, and it is tough to picture the horrible death I might have had. And now, to sit home and find out that my PSA is zero, is very good news.”

Posted In Cancer, Health Information