- Mike Castellano was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013.
- He couldn’t find a doctor to ease his worries — until he came to MSK.
- Mike underwent surgery at MSK and was still able to compete in that year’s New York City Marathon.
- When he faced a cancer recurrence, he received radiation treatments close to his Connecticut home at MSK Westchester in West Harrison.
- With his cancer in remission, Mike is now back to regular running — and his MSK family is never too far behind him.
When Mike Castellano was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he drew upon his years of marathon training to find strength.
Mike, 57, had always been athletic. The western Connecticut sales executive was an avid triathlete and marathon runner who had completed more than 100 races and several other grueling competitive events.
But in January 2013, he hit a roadblock. Mike had just seen his primary care doctor for his annual PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test, a routine assessment that screens for prostate cancer. When the blood test came back abnormal, the doctor sent him to a local urologist. The urologist performed a biopsy and informed Mike that he had stage II prostate cancer. He was shocked.
“It was an out-of-the-blue diagnosis,” he recalls. “I was in great health.”
So began an anxious quest to find the best medical care. Mike and his wife, Maureen, went from doctor to doctor, frustrated by what they kept hearing.
“There was no certainty,” he recalls. “It was kind of like, ‘You have to decide.’”
After a local radiation oncologist told Mike and Maureen that they would have to decide how to handle the quality-of-life issues associated with prostate cancer, Mike had a lightbulb moment.
“I don’t know what took me so long,” he says. “I was born and raised in New York City. I knew where I should go: MSK.”
“He Said, ‘Plan on Being There’”
Meeting medical oncologist Susan Slovin in April was “a night and day difference” from his previous experiences, Mike says. She calmed Mike’s initial fears and even got him a same-day appointment with urologist Jonathan Coleman. Dr. Coleman recommended Mike undergo a robotic radical prostatectomy to take out his prostate. He was grateful for the guidance, but had one lingering question: Would he be able to participate in that year’s New York City Marathon, which he already had a spot in?
“He said, ‘Plan on being there,’ and he sold me right there,” Mike remembers. “I wanted to make sure that part of my life was still intact. Other doctors would look at me like I was a Martian. Nobody understood the way I thought until I got to MSK.”
“I just felt immense gratitude for MSK and wanted to pay it back,” he says.
Mike ran his fastest-ever marathon on that brisk November day — a testament to the resilience he had been cultivating. He also began giving his time as an MSK patient-to-patient volunteer, helping other men in similar situations.
Coming to Westchester
Two years later, Mike was once again training for the New York City Marathon when he learned his PSA levels had spiked again. His medical team decided hormone therapy and radiation would be the next best steps. Mike started going to MSK Westchester in West Harrison, New York, so that he could receive his treatments closer to home.
“That, to me, was huge,” he says. “I didn’t have to take a day off from work to get there, I didn’t have to deal with mass transit, parking, any of that stuff. It was a no-brainer.”
When Mike met his radiation oncologist, Melissa Zinovoy, he posed the same question that he had had for Dr. Coleman: Could he participate in that year’s New York City Marathon? She was honest with him: Yes, he could still run, but he’d be slower, she said. “I remember thinking, I can work with that,” Mike says.
Although she remembers being “a bit surprised” by Mike’s marathon question, Dr. Zinovoy was struck by his ambition, enthusiasm, and optimism.
“There were signs very early on that Mike was not your average patient,” she remembers. “It was evident that his determination and positive attitude would be crucial in his success.”
Mike was in the middle of radiation treatment when marathon day came around again. Dr. Zinovoy was there to cheer him on. He finished a half-hour slower than the previous year, but he didn’t care — he was just happy to be there.
“That was my way of standing up to cancer,” he says.
Running the Windy City
Mike changed it up this year: He ran the Chicago Marathon in October, proudly donning his Fred’s Team shirt in memory of an MSK pediatric patient whose mother he had previously trained with. A feather in his cap: He shaved 11 minutes off of last year’s time.
“The Chicago Marathon was a really terrific race,” he says. “I was very happy with the result.”
Mike’s loved ones were there to support him, and so was his MSK family: Unbeknownst to him, members of Fred’s Team came out to Chicago to cheer him on. It was a “complete surprise,” he says. “Seeing them on the course left me with such a great feeling.”
And when Mike’s in a good mood, it tends to rub off on others, Dr. Zinovoy says.
“Mike’s attitude is infectious. He makes everyone around him better — his doctors, his nurses, his therapists, and most importantly, his fellow patients. It is patients like him who help clearly define our mission at MSK and keep all of us motivated to deliver the best cancer care possible.”
The admiration goes both ways, Mike says.
“Coming to MSK was just a whole different level of care,” he says. “I told my wife, ‘You make a series of decisions over your life, and coming to MSK ranks in my top ten.’ I came to MSK and it was a game changer.”