Cancer-Free and Giving Back

prostate cancer
Donald and Susan Sturm: Through their
philanthropy, quietly committed to helping in
the fight against prostate cancer.

For a lot of men, if all goes as it should — if prostate cancer is diagnosed early, when it is most curable, if it is treated effectively, and if the cancer never returns — prostate cancer is just an interlude. An unpleasant and scary one, to be sure, but something finite, to be remembered when it’s time to get that yearly follow-up PSA test; it’s a speed bump in the road, or, as surgeon Patrick C. Walsh, M.D., calls it, a “blip on the radar screen of your life.” A lot of men are cured of prostate cancer and then do their best to forget it ever happened. Life goes back to normal.

Then there are other men, equally cured, equally back to normal, who don’t forget. The Brady Institute has been blessed with more than its share of men like these, who want to do something to help fight this disease. Don Sturm is one of them. It’s been 10 years since he has been cancer-free. Sturm was not a stranger to prostate cancer; ever since his father had died of it, he says, “I was always aware of the risk that I could get it.” When he developed the disease at age 67, he came to Hopkins to see Walsh, underwent a radical prostatectomy, “came through it in good shape,” and went back to his life in Colorado, where the former tax attorney oversees many business interests.

He did not tell many people about his bout with prostate cancer. But he and his wife, Susan, members of the Founders’ Circle, quietly committed themselves to helping find a cure.

Among the projects he has funded is research, led by Angelo De Marzo, M.D., Ph.D., and William Nelson, M.D., Ph.D. — both pioneers in discovering the root causes and tissue changes involved in prostate cancer’s earliest stages. With an award from the Sturm Foundation several years ago, these scientists studied a compound called PhIP; it appears when meat is cooked at very high temperatures, and this can cause cancer to begin, and to develop, in rats. “In this study,” says De Marzo, “we also found that PhIP causes inflammatory cells to enter into the prostate.” This work was among the first to show how diet, long suspected as a cause of prostate cancer, may work — by affecting inflammation in the prostate, which can make it more susceptible to developing cancer. These exciting findings resulted in several publications, new avenues of research to pursue, and a big grant from the Department of Defense for further study of PhIP and inflammation in prostate cancer. “The support from the Donald and Susan Sturm family allowed us to pursue several different research avenues, all related to the ultimate goal of preventing prostate cancer,” says Nelson.

Sturm, whose philanthropy also includes major support of the School of Law (which bears his name) at the University of Denver, believes he’s doing what he ought to do. “My wife and I feel that we need to give back to the society that gave us all the blessings that we have had and enjoy,” he says. He hopes that with sufficient funding, scientists will not only find a cure, but even better, that they will figure out a way in which “surgery may not be necessary,” where risks and genetic problems can be identified early on, and — perhaps through dietary changes, or medications — cancer can be warded off. “As far as prostate cancer is concerned, I think women have done a much better job in making people aware of breast cancer, and I think men need to do a better job in raising awareness of prostate cancer, because it’s just as prevalent.”

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