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Staying active pays off

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I never dreamed, as I was training for the marathon just before my 60th birthday, that it would ultimately save my life.

Looking back, it may have been my passion for skiing (which brought me to Vail), my avid cycling, my running, or just my bi-weekly visits to the Y.

In any event, at the age of 68, I have just recovered from surgery for prostate cancer ” and given a life expectancy of 90. I think that my fitness was ” and is ” a big component of my survival, good recovery and excellent prognosis.



In January of this year, I was informed that my prostate biopsy for cancer was positive. It was graded as a T-1 and Gleason 7 (on a scale of 1 to 10, with the higher the number indicating a more aggressive tumor).

Because my father and brother died from the disease I had my PSA checked every six months, and the last test went to 5.5 from the prior test of 3.5. This is a huge percentage jump, and always a bad indicator.



Nonetheless, the news still came as a shock. I guess because of all my biking, my thoughts went to Lance Armstrong, and his book “It’s Not About the Bike.” I went out and bought it, and read the whole book that day.

For the next two months I consulted a number of highly-rated urologists in New York City. After much talk and consideration it came down to choosing surgery over the other four or five treatments ” because surgery is the only cure, notwithstanding the more serious side effects and the surgery risk.

I made my surgery date and left for 10 days of skiing in Vail.



The chief of the urology department at a major New York medical center performed my surgery, a radical pubic prostectomy, this April. I left the hospital three days later, and the following day celebrated my 68th birthday at home.

Within two weeks I was 75 percent continent, and 100 percent by the end of the following month. I walked a mile the first week after surgery; and from then on, I’ve walked at least 3 miles a day.

I’m back on the bike, and now riding 25 miles three times a week. So big deal, what’s the point of the story?

In general, as we know, the Vail area has a large percentage of physically fit people, which is one of the reasons I have owned a home in the Valley for the last 20 years.

I am 5-foot-10, weigh 160 pounds, and have low body fat, low blood pressure, and low pulse, and not on any prescription or over-the-counter medications. All of this without being an exercise “nut.”

For my 50th birthday I heli-skied at Blue River, for my 60th I ran the New York marathon in five hours, for my 65th I biked from Dowd Junction over Vail Pass to Copper Mountain (round-trip without a stop), and for my 70th I’m considering another marathon ” after I pay the last installment on my surgeon’s bill.

These are not unique achievements, especially around here, but the point is that if you don’t stay fit as you age you automatically close off many of your health-care options at just the time you need them most.

It’s a fact that many of the best surgeons are reluctant to operate on older, overweight, heavily medicated, sick individuals. My surgeon, one of the best in the U.S., has an average age for his prostate surgical patients of 55, for a disease that usually affects men 65 and older. Do you get the picture?

Maybe the problem is the surgeons’ worry about malpractice cases; maybe it’s because states are keeping lists of surgical complications; or maybe it’s just the danger of damaging a reputation. Whatever the reason, many doctors are choosing to operate only on healthy patients.

No matter what the medical procedure, four hours under general anesthesia for patients over the age of 65 is a risk.

When I asked my doctor why he would do my surgery at 68 ” when his average age was 55 ” he told he seldom sees patients around my age who are in my state of (good) health.

For others, he recommends different treatments. All three surgeons I consulted gave me an average life expectancy of 90 after their extensive medical questionnaires and examinations.

As I watch a beautiful half moon rise over the Gore Range, I urge all senior (or soon to be) citizens not to live with only half their health care options. Stay fit.

Joe Murphy, who had a 40-year career as a Wall Street bond trader, is a new Jersey resident, an owner in the Valley for 20 years and a regular visitor since 1967.

Vail, Colorado


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