Wife made prostate cancer awareness her business
By Susie Vasquez
March 18th, 2000
[Photo: (l-r) Katherine Meade, Bob, Nikki and Meaghann Meloskie]
When a doctor told Nikki Meloskie that a loved one's prostate cancer was "none of her business," she made it her business.
Meloskie's passion for the cause began with the diagnosis of her husband, Bob, in July 1997. They weren't married at the time, and when she asked the attending physician some questions about the disease after diagnosis, she was told it was "none of her business."
"I realized then, that there must be other women in the same situation," she said. "Women who had no place to turn."
Meloskie said her options were simple: She could stay home and worry about the future, or she could try to do something about it. So she set out to learn as much about prostate cancer as possible, in order to make a difference.
Within the month she set up a Website and an 800 number for her fledgling organization, Family to Family, "American's for Prostate Cancer Awareness and Support." She went to a symposium on the disease in September 1997, and her group was incorporated by Oct. 15. Since then, the organization has spread to more than 50 states
Prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer in men. The most recent figures from the National Cancer Institute show it is responsible for 180,400 cases, or 29 percent of the cancer diagnosed yearly in this country.
Unlike other tumors, prostate cancers usually develop slowly. And while the disease occurs less frequently in younger men, it is often more aggressive. Because it is not seen as often, early diagnosis within this group is less likely, but more critical.
Detection was made simpler by the introduction of a PSA (prostatic specific antigen) blood test, developed in the 1980s. Early detection means everything, but the stigma that still surrounds the disease keeps men away, and makes the job more challenging.
"Men often feel that they are less of a provider, or that they won't be considered as much of a man in their wives' eyes," said Meloskie. "Sometimes they don't want the community to know, because they are afraid it might affect their job. They don't want to worry their wives, or they feel they can't be a husband any longer."
As executive director of the organization, Meloskie addresses these issues and more on a daily basis.
From her home office on Carson City's west side, she promotes awareness, provides counseling and crisis intervention, and locates resources for cancer victims and their families.
It wasn't until her husband's condition worsened that Meloskie finally took a year off.
For most men like her husband, patients in their 70s and 80s, the treatment consists of keeping a watchful eye to make sure the disease doesn't convert to a more aggressive type of cancer. But he had taken a turn for the worse.
When they were asked to make a decision about therapy alternatives, he asked his wife to decide.
The process was agonizing, she said, but with the help and support of Dr. Mack Roach of the University of San Francisco's oncology department she, and ultimately her husband, opted for radiation therapy.
The couple has since moved from California to Nevada, and Meloskie was drawn back into the organization in June 1999.
She speaks to support groups in both California and New York, at the same time striving to build a program in Nevada that will be a model for the rest of the country.
For her husband, there will be no clean bill of health, and Meloskie finds solace through the energy she expends fighting for her cause.
"I love what I'm doing," Meloskie said, noting that she finds almost all aspects of this work very rewarding. "Bob and I are working to say that life doesn't end with prostate cancer."
It was sometimes difficult to get the ball rolling in California, but Meloskie said there has been a lot of support for her organization in Nevada.
"People have welcomed us with open arms," Meloskie said. "When you have a need here, the community comes in and it's standing room only. ... We're going to build a program that will be a model for the whole country."
She has a good start.
Governor Kenny Guinn has proclaimed this year "Nevada's New Millennium Commitment to Prostate Cancer Awareness and Support." Events are scheduled monthly through September, which is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
Meloskie's collaboration with the Nevada Rural Health Center in their new Mammovan program will bring health screenings for to those who don't have access, or can't afford it.
Through a $500,000 federal grant secured by former Nevada congressman John Ensign, the nonprofit NRHC will be traveling throughout the state providing mammography, prostate screening, tests for osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension and cervical cancer, as well as lipid and cholesterol screens.
Screenings will cost about $75, but fees will be based on ability to pay, and no one will be turned away, according to Shirley Fehr of Nevada Rural Health Centers.
Meloskie has also spearheaded efforts to organize a symposium, "Prostate Cancer Knows No Age," which is sponsored by Carson Tahoe Hospital, Astra Zeneca, Pfizer and Tap Pharmaceuticals, The Nevada Appeal and others.
Designed with physicians, patients, and the public in mind, the event will be from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. April 8 at the Pinon Plaza. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Mack Roach III, an associate professor in the departments of radiation oncology, medical oncology, and urology at the University of California, San Francisco.
The symposium will include lectures and discussions concerning early detection, erectile dysfunction, co-partnership and intimate relationships. Radio talk-show personalities Rusty Humphreys and Chris Murphy will be masters of ceremony, and John Tyson provides entertainment at lunch.
[The Web site address is http://www.pcafamily.org.]