Support Through Adversity
- Alabama’s lead singer Randy Owen, 73, fought early-stage prostate cancer, and the band’s guitarist and fiddle player Jeff Cook battled Parkinson’s disease (which he passed away from in November 2022).
- The country music band members of Alabama, which is considered the most successful band in country music history, stuck by each other’s sides throughout the years, even though their health battles.
- Owen underwent high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), a treatment that uses high-energy sound waves to destroy cancer cells.
- There are many ways to treat prostate cancer that may not include aggressive therapy, so patients are encouraged to have a comprehensive conversation with their doctor about all potential options so they feel confident about the path they take.
- If you or someone you know is battling a type of cancer or Parkinson's disease, it's important to know that you are not alone. You can always find someone out there for you to be vulnerable with, if you'd like, and connecting with others while battling a disease can help you cope.
The band members, admired for their edgy music, clean-cut appearance, and having been dubbed the most successful band in country music history, stuck by each other’s sides throughout the years, even though their health battles.Read More
He ultimately underwent a high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), a treatment that uses high-energy sound waves to destroy cancer cells.
“I felt like that was the right thing for me. I don't want to get into telling men what to do, but men are so awful about not getting their checks,” Owen said.
“Prostate cancer to so many people is something you don't talk about. There are options out there, and the biggest thing is to get the PSA test regularly and don't be ashamed to talk about it. We're all just human, and we all get sick.”
Owen also spoke with Coping Magazine after his diagnosis, saying that he now strives to do things that make him happy after cancer.
“There aren't many problems that are big anymore. I just wish that everybody around me could see through my eyes, could just see that this little thing is not really a problem,” Owen said.
“I'll tell you what a problem is. It's somebody telling you that you have cancer. That's a problem! All this other stuff is not serious; it's just stuff that people get irritated about.”
Resources on Prostate Cancer Treatment
- Second (& Third) Opinions Matter When Deciding Between Surgery or Radiation
- Laparoscopic Surgery vs. Traditional Open Surgery: What’s the Best Choice for Prostate Cancer?
- CyberKnife Targets Radiation with the Same Effectiveness as Traditional Treatments
- When Is High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound Used in Prostate Cancer Treatment?
- People With Low-Risk Prostate Cancer Can Rely on Monitoring the Disease Without Increasing Risk of Death in 15 Years How to Make the Important Decision for Treatment
The band faced other health issues when Cook revealed in 2017, that he was diagnosed in 2014 with Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable movements.
Cook wasn’t able to tour with his band at first as he needed to undergo stem cell treatment. However, additional treatments enabled him to move his hand with more control and play at concerts in 2018.
Owen and Gentry were always in support of Cook, even setting up his musical equipment before each concert just in case he felt up to playing that day.
Cook told The Tennessean during the 2019 interview, approximately three years before he passed away at age 73, “After I got the Parkinson's diagnosis, people would quote the song [‘No bad days’ from their Southern Drawl album] to me and say, ‘No bad days.’
“They write me letters, notes and emails and they sign ‘No Bad Days.’ I know the support is there. They join me.
“People I don't know come up to me and say, ‘How ya feeling?’ You just got to live it every day and take it as it comes. Prayer does work. And I know there was a lot of praying going on.”
When Cook passed, Owen said in a statement that he was “hurt in a way I can’t describe.”
“I’m thankful we got to create music together for over 50 years. Wish we could play ‘My Home’s in Alabama’ one more time,” he added.
“Closer than brothers, we lived together more than with our immediate families,” Gentry said in a statement.
Support Is Critical During Cancer Treatment
It's scary to tell your friends and family that you have cancer, but by letting them know, they are often your biggest support system. Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, and Teddy Gentry were great examples of a good support system through health challenges.
Some people may think they can take on treatment by themselves, but survivors have shared how important loved ones were during treatment.
This was the case for cervical cancer survivor Tracy White, who had to slow down her fast-paced lifestyle after her diagnosis.
White shared with SurvivorNet that the experience was the first time she ever asked for help, and even though it was difficult to do, it helped her tremendously emotionally, physically, and even financially.
"All of the medical costs as well as the alternative treatments I was doing were piling up because I was very proud and independent, and I didn't ever want to ask for money,” White said in an earlier interview.
“My support group at work was astonishing. The management team rallied around me, my team rallied around me, bosses rallied around me,” she continued.
“They even started a GoFundMe because they didn't know what to do and they wanted to help. Having that kind of social support from every front of my life just made me feel loved, and supported, and really helped with the healing.”
And in the case of actress and writer Jill Kargman, who battled melanoma, found out she was at risk for developing breast cancer, and decided to get a prophylactic mastectomy, her support system mattered.
Not everyone has a famous friend, but Jill said the support of her inner circle like her ex-sister-in-law Drew Barrymore made her experience with the disease bearable.
“The summer when I had my surgery she was really, really there for me,” Kargman told SurvivorNet.
“Even when she had to go to LA, she'd send flowers everyday, and text me, and check in on me. Those types of relationships â€¦ they just kept checking in on me. And it made me feel so taken care of.”
If you or someone you know is battling a type of Parkinson's disease or cancer, it's important to know that you are not alone.
You can always find someone out there for you to be vulnerable with, if you'd like, and connecting with others while battling a disease can be life-changing.
It's completely normal to feel upset about how your life has changed after getting a diagnosis.
Dr. Scott Irwin, a psychiatrist and Director of Supportive Care Services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet, “Grief comes in waves. They're grieving the change in their life, the future they had imagined is now different.”
Some days may be harder than others, but Dr. Irwin insists talk therapy is incredibly helpful so it's important to reach out to your doctor, to a therapist or to support groups in your community.
How Do You Treat Early Prostate Cancer?
Treatment for early-stage prostate cancer, like Randy Owen had, can vary greatly from person to person. And some people might not even need measures like prostate removal or radiation.
Men with early-stage prostate cancer that has a low risk of spreading may decide with their doctors not to undergo aggressive treatment at first and instead monitor the disease for changes. There are two methods that may be used:
- Watchful waiting (or observation) is when a patient's condition is closely monitored and no treatment is given until signs or symptoms appear or change.
- Active surveillance is a similar option but includes more routine testing and follow-up than watchful waiting. This involves the close monitoring of a patient's condition without giving any treatment unless there are changes in test results. With this option, patients undergo regular PSA tests and rectal exams, and possibly biopsies and imaging scans.
"The concept of active surveillance is you're watching a man, and if something changes while the cancer is still in the prostate, you treat it then," Chief of urologic oncology at Stanford Medicine Dr. James Brooks said.
“An ideal man for active surveillance might be a man, for instance, in his late 60s who has a barely elevated PSA, let's say just above 4, who undergoes a biopsy and is found to have one of the 12 biopsy cores with a small percent of low grade, what we call, Gleason grade 3 plus 3 prostate cancer. That man has a very low probability, it's certainly less than 1% chance, of dying of prostate cancer in 10 years.”
Active surveillance usually involves:
- A PSA test every six months
- Repeat digital rectal examinations no more frequently than once a year
- Repeat biopsies no more frequently than once a year.
With active surveillance, the biggest plus is that you get to preserve your normal functioning.
"You don't have to suffer some of those potential side effects" of surgery, like "sexual dysfunction or urinary dysfunction," Dr. Brooks said.
Still, people who start with active surveillance might need treatment later on. According to Dr. Brooks, about 50% of men will have changes within five years that necessitate active treatment.
Also, recent research supported that men who managed their low-risk disease through monitoring did not have an increase in their risk of death in 15 years, highlighting that radical intervention such as prostate removal or radiation and the side effects of those treatments may not be immediately needed.
When early-stage prostate cancers do require treatment, local options like surgery and radiation may have a curative effect.
Robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy (RALP), or robotic surgery, is a newer option where surgeons are able to make small incisions more precisely.
Surgery for prostate cancer may cause side effects, so it's important to talk to your doctor about those before making a decision. Most men will have temporary leakage or erectile dysfunction, but the vast majority will regain nearly normal function in both areas with time.
In addition, men undergoing surgery for prostate cancer should know that shrinking of the penis is also a potential for side effect for some.
Your doctor may be able o recommend treatments or methods to help manage these side effects.
Radiation is another treatment option that can be done via:
- External beam radiation: a non-invasive form of radiation meaning no tools are needed to break the skin or physically enter the body where high doses of radiation are administered to the tumor.
- Brachytherapy: an internal form of radiation that requires small radioactive seeds to be placed in the prostate either temporarily at a high dose or permanently at a low dose.
“Over the last ten to fifteen years, we have done remarkable things with our technology that allows us to aim much more carefully, reduce the amount of radiation that nearby critical structures get, and thereby get a higher dose in a quicker period of time,” Dr. Patrick Swift, a radiation oncologist and a Clinical Professor of Radiation Oncology at Stanford, told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview.
In addition to the above options, there are also other treatments for early-stage prostate cancer that are either new or currently being tested. That's why you should always have a comprehensive conversation with your doctor about all potential options so you feel confident about whichever one you choose.
What Is Parkinson's Disease?
Jeff Cook lost his battle last year with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic illness that affects the nervous system.
Symptoms, according to the National Institute on Aging, may include:
- Tremors in your hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
- Muscle stiffness
- Slow movements
- Trouble with balance or coordination
The disease can also lead to difficult swallowing or chewing, as well as urinary issues or constipation.
For anyone battling this disease, more symptoms begin to show up in the body as time passes. Although there is currently no cure for this degenerative disease, researchers like those at The Michael J. Fox Foundation are trying to change that.
Medications can be taken to reduce and control some symptoms of Parkinson's. Some of these medications include dopamine promoters, antidepressants, cognition-enhancing medication, and anti-tremor medication.
For those dealing with a disease like Parkinson's on a daily basis, actor Michael J. Fox who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's in 1991 when he was just 29 years old previously shared some advice during an interview with AARP magazine.
"Have an active life and do not let yourself get isolated and marginalized. You can live with it,” he said.
“People sometimes say that a relative or a parent or a friend died of Parkinson's. You don't die ofâ€Š Parkinson's. You die with Parkinson's, because once you have it, you have it for life until we can remedy that, and we're working hard at it.”
“So, to live with it, you need to exercise and be in shape and to eat well,” Fox says. “If you can't drive, find a way to get around. Maintain friendships. Don't say, 'Oh, I don't have anything to say to Bob.' Bob might have something to say to you. Just make the call.”
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff