When Peter Rich was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer at age 59, he asked a tough question for one very distinct reason.
“I said, ‘Doc, am I going to die from this?’ When she said yes, I asked how long. I want to talk in terms of that so I can prove you wrong,” Rich says.
He has. Despite the 30-month average survival time for metastatic prostate cancer, he’s now been living with cancer for six years.
Rich has been through a number of different treatments – radiation, chemotherapy, abiraterone, PARP inhibitor, and numerous clinical trials, all under the care of Kathleen Cooney, M.D., his oncologist at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. He currently takes Xtandi (enzalutamide), which is designed to interfere with the hormone androgen. It’s four pills a day, and it makes him tired so he takes two naps each day.
“If the only concession I have to make to this disease is two naps a day, that’s not so bad,” Rich says. “It slows me down a bit. But I’m a fighter.”
“I think your attitude has had a lot to do with how well you’ve done,” says his wife, Carol. “It’s been an intense six years because it’s there all the time.” You can put it in a box, put the box in the closet and close the door, they explained, but now and then the door creeps open and it all comes tumbling down.
The Riches, who have been married for 37 years, are both retired school social workers, having spent their careers working with kids who have severe emotional and behavioral problems. When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Peter Rich spent a year undergoing chemotherapy during which time he kept working. But it proved to be too much, especially since the kids he worked with faced so many challenges of their own. He retired four years ago.
Now: “I play outside all the time,” says Rich, 65.
The Riches live on an orchard in Green Oaks Twp. with 15½ acres, in a house they have built up over time by hand – a wraparound covered porch, the kitchen backsplash with limestone pulled from the river, cabinets built from three cherry trees that Rich cut down, cured and milled himself.
“I live a robust lifestyle. They have to put limits on me – ‘Come in now Peter,’” he says, with an affectionate look at his wife and granddaughter.
In the orchard, peaches, apples and cherries grow. In the garden, they grow corn, peppers, tomatoes, peapods, lettuces, asparagus and rhubarb. This spring, Rich walked the garden with his 3-year-old granddaughter, Sage, planting peapods.
“One of my favorite memories with my children was picking peapods off the vine,” Rich recalls.
The family also has peacocks, golden pheasants, exotic ducks, rabbits and “too many dogs.”
Since his diagnosis, Rich says his family and friends have become closer than ever.
“It’s made me realize how loved I am. You don’t want to wait for a cancer diagnosis to know how much you’re loved, but that’s one of the wonderful things that’s happened,” he says.
“What we both said when we got the diagnosis was, well, that’s not acceptable,” Rich says of himself and Carol. “Dr. Cooney’s job is to get as much quality and quantity of life for me. And she’s doing a good job.”
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What does cancer look like? In this series of stories we explore the Face of Cancer – the patients, survivors, caregivers and health care providers who are redefining what cancer looks like. These stories celebrate the ways in which people continue to live their life, find purpose and stay true to themselves throughout cancer treatment.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.