Fishing guide gets back on the water after his prostate cancer is caught early

Gary Shultz
After a recent physical exam, Gary Shultz was surprised to learn he had prostate cancer. The expert bass fisherman had experienced no symptoms. After treatment at MU Health Care’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, Shultz is cancer-free and back on the water.

Gary Shultz has been hooked on fishing since his grandfather took him out on the Gasconade River. Now, at 66, he’s living his best life as a fishing guide on the Lake of the Ozarks.

“I’m not trying to make a living — just supporting my habit,” Shultz said.

Shultz started guiding after working 30 years at Waynesville High School teaching at-risk students and coaching football, cross country and girls track. Shultz feels fortunate even to be alive to fulfill his dream after facing one of the biggest challenges in his life.

“It’s like you stepped off the street, and the car just missed you,” he said. “It’s sort of the same thing.”

After reluctantly agreeing to have a physical exam, Shultz was astonished to learn he had prostate cancer.

“I had no symptoms,” he said. “I felt fine. I was coaching and fishing. I was living an active lifestyle. Nothing was bothering me. And, bam, I’ve got it.”

 

Shultz was referred to urologic oncologist Katie Murray, DO, at MU Health Care’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. Murray said it’s common for men to have no symptoms, which means most don't know they have prostate cancer until it’s discovered during a medical exam or screening. She said it often isn’t until the advanced stages of cancer when men experience problems, such as feeling like they need to urinate often throughout the day and night.

Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate gland, which is a reproductive organ below a man’s bladder, grow abnormally and out of control. The cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body. Although the exact cause isn't known, age plays a role.

“Prostate cancer is unfortunately common in men between the ages of 55 and 69,” Murray said.

Family history is also a contributing factor. A man’s risk doubles if his father or brother had prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is also more common among African-American men than men of other races, and they have a higher chance of having higher-risk cancer.

Though some factors increase the chances for prostate cancer, many men who get the disease don’t have any risk factors.

For localized prostate cancer, the two main treatment options are radiation and surgery. After discussing it with Murray, Shultz elected to undergo robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy.

“We have the busiest robotic urology program in the mid-Missouri area, and there are many advantages for patients such as Gary to undergo operations with the da Vinci robotic system,” said Naveen Pokala, MD, director of robotic urology at MU Health Care.

“The robot makes minimally invasive surgery easier. It has tenfold magnification and also has 360 degrees of freedom, in that you’re able to do a lot of reconstructive surgery better with the robot than with laparoscopic surgery.”

The da Vinci also allows surgeons to use smaller incisions, which can mean less bleeding and pain for patients.

Although the thought of surgery was unnerving, Shultz’s fears were eased after Murray carefully described the procedure.

“She sat me down and told me what we were going to do — step by step,” he said.

After having his prostate removed, Shultz is cancer-free and feeling fortunate to be alive.

“Dr. Murray told me if you’re a man and you live long enough, you’re probably going to have prostate problems, but most of the time it doesn’t kill you,” he said. “But in my case, it could have killed me.”

Because there are often no symptoms, prostate cancer screenings are crucial.

“There are good treatment options for prostate cancer with the opportunity for a lifetime cure,” Murray said.

The American Urological Association recommends that men should discuss prostate cancer screenings with their physician starting at age 55. Screenings may be done every other year for those in lower-risk categories.

Since genetics play a role in the disease, Shultz has warned his three brothers, two sons and two grandsons they could be at risk one day.

“When you get to be 50 years old, start looking at this thing,” he said. “Go to your doctor. It’s a simple test. It’s an easy test. It’s nothing to be afraid of, and it could save your life.”

With renewed passion, Shultz has returned to his favorite activities — cruising on the water and fishing.

“It’s just like you’ve got a new lease on life,” he said. “I’m going to get to enjoy, I hope, several years of retirement.”

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