Thursday, January 25, 2007


NOTE: The following article was in the Ocean County Observer (NJ) on November 14, 2006.

Beachwood cancer survivor embodies spirit of LIVESTRONG Summit


BEACHWOOD — It has been said that the true measure of a human being is how he or she reacts when faced with a challenge. A life crisis is the great leveler of all mankind, and the compass that determines the direction of one's own life.

When faced with a testicular cancer diagnosis, Brian Dowd of Beachwood immediately catapulted himself into action, learning all that he could about the disease and his treatment options.

Inherently self-disciplined and organized, Dowd set about creating an action plan that would offer him the best odds of recovery and longterm survival.

Dowd remembers the exact date he received his diagnosis — June 2, 2006. Within a week, he had received a second opinion and had undergone surgery.

"It was very quick," he said. "There was no time to sulk. I thought to myself, "Okay, what do I have to do? What are my options?' "

Dowd, 32, said the diagnosis was tough on his family. After all, here was someone so young, just starting a family, faced with cancer. Dowd kept both his mind and spirit fully engaged to fight with every ounce of his being.

"I wasn't frightened," he said. "I was mad. Not just that I had cancer, but that this type of cancer had never been mentioned. Sure, I'd heard that Lance Armstrong, Tom Green and Scott Hamilton had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, but no one had ever told me that for males between the ages of 15 and 35, it's the most common form of cancer. There was no mention of it in an educational pamphlet or in high school health class, so it took me by complete surprise. And every male I've talked to with this disease has said the same thing."

The National Cancer Institute confirms Dowd's findings, and also reports that testicular cancer detected and treated in Stage 1 is 95-100 percent curable. In Stage 2, it is 90-plus percent curable. At Stage 3, the cure rate drops to 70 percent.

Following his surgery, Dowd underwent daily radiation for four weeks in July, something he scheduled for every day after returning home to Beachwood from his telecommunications job in Princeton. The cumulative effect of radiation treatment left Dowd tired, but unrelenting in his quest to beat the disease.

Throughout his treatment, Dowd remained an ardent student, searching the Internet and other educational resources that would assist him in his recovery.

"In my head, I immediately thought of Lance Armstrong and how he beat testicular cancer," Dowd said. "And I thought the Lance Armstrong Foundation would be a great starting point in terms of education."

It was through the Lance Armstrong Foundation Web site that Dowd learned about the three-day LIVESTRONG Summit, held in October in Austin. A new concept, the summit was designed as a brainstorming session to help people with all forms of cancer overcome obstacles they face when diagnosed.

Although a little reluctant at first, Dowd decided to attend.

"I had pretty low expectations at first," Dowd said. "This was the first time the summit had been held and I didn't know what to expect.

"The first thing they told me was that we weren't just there to be educated — we were there to work. We worked in regional groups and our goal was to address the unmet needs for cancer survivors."

The LIVESTRONG Summit — which was held from Oct. 27 to 29 — drew about 800 participants, Dowd said, and featured 15 guest speakers, including Lance Armstrong; Mitch Stoller, president and CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation; Sen. John Kerry, a cancer survivor; Elizabeth Edwards, a breast cancer survivor diagnosed while her husband, Sen. John Edwards, was on the presidential campaign trail in 2004, and Steve Case, founder of AOL, and co-founder and chairman of ABC2, the Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure initiative.

Also appearing at the event were Michael Milken, chairman of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Institute, for prostate research; Dr. Antonia Novella, the first female and first Hispanic U.S. surgeon general, and Jim Collins, author of the best seller "Good to Great."
The stated goals of the LIVESTRONG Summit were to "identify challenges, brainstorm possible solutions and develop personal action plans to broaden awareness and impact the unmet physical, emotional and practical needs of people living with cancer."

For Dowd, the summit proved to be a life-altering event.

"I still remember the speech given by Jim Collins," Dowd said. "He talked about Who — Who is going to step up and take disciplined action that will bring change into our own communities? His speech was so inspirational in terms of taking personal responsibility for our actions."

Dowd said the task for his group, which included cancer survivors and caretakers, was to develop an action plan to bring back to the community.

"We identified the most prevalent obstacles (for cancer patients), and then identified what we thought could be done to make our own cancer experience more successful," he said. "Then we brainstormed to come up with ideas that would remove those obstacles. Finally, we were asked to bring those solutions back to the summit."

The obstacles Dowd and his peers identified included poor or outdated resource material.
"Cancer patients want to be educated," Dowd said. "But many Web sites have outdated or incorrect information. Also, health care teams for cancer patients are not always accessible. I was lucky that I had a very knowledgeable and supportive doctor, but I was shocked to learn the (low) percentage of patients who actually seek a second opinion. We also wanted to improve navigation through the treatment process, where patients are often juggled around from doctor to doctor, and communication sometimes suffers."

Upon his return from the summit, Dowd immediately put his proposed plan into action.

"My goal is to get the word out — especially to young people who are at risk for certain cancers and may not even know it. I want to educate kids, adults and doctors on types of cancer, early detection methods, obstacles survivors face and practical realities of cancer diagnosis. That's why I want people to know what was discussed at the LIVESTRONG Summit, and create presentations for schools, colleges, libraries and hospitals, along with educational handouts for doctors' offices, so people know what they're facing and what options they have."

Dowd's other stated goals include the creation of a nonprofit organization, as well as fundraisers and retreats in support of cancer patients.

There is indeed a silver lining to Dowd's story. He and his wife, Kristy, are expecting their second child in March.

"I really believe in the words of the LIVESTRONG Foundation," he said. "Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything. LIVESTRONG! There's a lot to do, and it's a shame that it took cancer to make me think about all that needs to be done. But now it's in my mind on a daily basis.

"Something great happened in Austin and I want that message to be heard."