Doug Kroc taught social studies for 40 years, but these days the retiree is more interested in making history than teaching it. Not the kind of events found in textbooks, but simple moments spent swimming and kayaking with his family or riding his bike along the backroads of Vermont.
So when Kroc, 70, developed a respiratory ailment in fall 2021 that threatened to curtain his active lifestyle, he quickly went in for an evaluation. A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test revealed a highly elevated PSA level, often an indication of prostate cancer. Further tests confirmed that Kroc in fact had metastatic prostate cancer that had spread to his bones.
Doctors told Kroc and his wife of 48 years, Ann, that the cancer was incurable, and his mind immediately turned to one thing: Camp Kroc for Kids. This is what he calls the full slate of activities he and Ann enjoy each summer with their five young grandchildren, including fishing, hiking, and nights spent around a roaring fire. There is even a bunkhouse especially for the kids that they built in the backyard of their own home, which sits on three wooded acres in Dummerston, Vermont.
“It was the first thing I thought of — whether there would be a Camp Kroc for Kids the next year,” says Kroc, and then he smiles. “Thankfully, there was, and we had another unforgettable summer.”
Kroc credits this to his care team, led by oncologist Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, of the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology and also medical director of the Adult Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center. While he’s had to go through two different chemo regimens in less than two years, and a progression of the cancer into his sternum, Kroc is still feeling good — and adding new chapters to his family’s history.
PSA leads the way
One in five men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States during their lifetimes — making it the country’s second most-common cancer in men (after skin cancer). Although few under 50 get it, the risk increases as a man ages. Those with a family history of prostate cancer are also at higher risk, as are Black American men. Morgans recommends that these two groups in particular begin PSA screening as early as age 40.
“The biggest risk factor for prostate cancer is getting older, so it’s important that all men get a PSA test by age 45 or 50,” says Morgans. “A PSA screening is a simple blood draw in the clinic with your primary care doctor, and it is the best way to diagnose prostate cancer early and hopefully cure it — or at least start treating it earlier.”
Kroc, like many people, postponed in-person physicals during the first year-plus of the COVID-19 pandemic. He went a long time between PSA tests, and when he learned of his elevated PSA and prostate cancer in November 2021, he knew he wanted to go to Dana-Farber Brigham. He and Ann first met with Morgans less than a week later, the day before Thanksgiving.
From that first interaction, they were thankful for the decision.
“Dr. Morgans is amazingly knowledgeable and personable,” says Kroc. “She explained that metastatic bone cancer can’t be cured, but she was very sure that she could help prolong my life — and my quality of life — with a good treatment plan. And the nurse practitioners and everybody on the team is wonderful.”
Adds Ann: “Our doctor in Vermont gave Doug a life expectancy of two years, but Dr. Morgans was very hopeful that we would have a longer life together.”
Chemo, then camp
The treatment that Doug began shortly after Thanksgiving — a combination of a hormonal treatment known as Zytiga in conjunction with chemotherapy — was one that Morgans and her Lank Center colleagues had started using after extensive research indicated its promise. The combination worked, and by spring 2022 the cancer had stopped advancing. Doug felt good enough to host Camp Kroc for Kids that summer, work on his golf game, and help Ann in her garden.
In fall 2022, however, Doug’s PSA crept up again. It wasn’t an alarming amount, but Morgans insisted he get scans done. There was a new cancer in his sternum.
“Dr. Morgans knew to take a look, not just wait it out,” says Doug. “That’s why we love Dana-Farber Brigham. Even though we could get some of our check-ups and routine care closer to home, we have all of it done there. ”
Now Doug is back on another chemotherapy regimen, making the drive down to Dana-Farber with Ann each three weeks. In between, he takes daily walks and rides his new e-bike. And, of course, he’s looking forward to another summer with his five favorite campers.
“We are so grateful to have the chance to continue to partner with Doug and Ann in his care, and to do everything we can to help him control his cancer to live longer and feel well,” says Morgans. “He is living proof that even when we can’t cure cancer, we will still do everything we can to give patients the time they need to be with the people they love.”