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For decades, Bill Gephardt was a household name in Utah due to his popular news segment which helped viewers solve consumer problems. But recently, Gephardt faced one of the toughest challenges of his own life: a cancer diagnosis.
Doctors discovered Gephardt's prostate cancer in 2020. "It was quite a shock to be told I had cancer," says the 70-year old, who now runs a news website called Gephardt Daily.
Last year, a team of doctors at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U) collaborated through shared decision making to provide treatment.
What is shared decision making?
Shared decision making is a process where health care professionals work with a patient to help them decide the best plan and care. Gephardt's team included a radiation oncologist and a surgeon at Huntsman Cancer Institute.
"They gave me books and pamphlets," says Gephardt. "They talked with me about my choices and then asked me to make the decision. When I had questions, my doctors and nurse practitioners answered the phone immediately, and gave me answers very quickly. They wouldn't have let me do the wrong thing."
Shared decision making helps physicians personalize care. It can also alleviate some of the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis, according to experts.
"One of the underappreciated aspects is the fear and anxiety of being newly diagnosed with cancer," says Skyler Johnson, MD, radiation oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the U. Johnson was a part of Gephardt's care team. "It's helpful to give patients freedom and allow them to be an active participant in their care. It helps mitigate any regret a patient might have after a treatment because they were fully informed."
Christopher Dechet, MD, FACS, who holds the Richard Moonyeen Anderson Endowed Chair in Urologic Malignancies at Huntsman Cancer Institute, also helped guide Gephardt. "There are many treatments for prostate cancer," says Dechet, a professor in the Division of Urology at the U. "Patients need to feel comfortable with their treatment and be a part of the process. I might have a bias toward one or another, but I let them make the decision. A lot of it has to do with their lifestyle, medical history, stress, family issues, or schedule."
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer begins in the gland cells of the prostate. It is the second most common type of cancer in men, next to skin cancer. One in eight men will get prostate cancer sometime in their life, according to the American Cancer Society. Radiation and surgery are the two main treatments. The most common type of prostate cancer is typically slow growing and highly treatable. A more aggressive and less common form starts in the cells that line the ducts of the prostate gland.
According to the American Cancer Society, when faced with a cancer diagnosis, it's important to know these things:
- Learn as much as you can, including all treatment options.
- Talk about the details of each treatment option with your care team.
- Have a partner when making treatment decisions and planning your care.
Ultimately, Gephardt chose radiation therapy to treat his prostate cancer. This type of treatment uses beams of energy to kill cancer cells.
"Turns out, it was a good decision. I've been in for my third check-up and I'm cancer free," Gephardt says. Now, he has no lasting side effects and is happy doing what he loves most: giving Utahns their daily dose of news. "The cancer is gone, hopefully forever," he says. "It's fabulous. I feel like Superman."