Andrew Edwards was shocked when his doctor told him a routine test had detected elevated levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in his blood, the first hint that he might have prostate cancer.
It was 2011 and the 60-year-old founder and owner of the Anaheim Hills Saddle Club had spent the previous 32 years transforming the 15-acre property into a full-service equestrian center and welcoming home to horse lovers throughout Orange County.
His doctor wasn't particularly concerned, but Edwards was. He asked what his next steps should be. “I’m not a gambler and I didn’t want to run the risk of the disease getting out of control,” he explained.
He was referred to UCI Health urologic cancer surgeon Dr. Thomas Ahlering, a highly regarded expert in prostate cancer, particularly in developing a procedure called minimally invasive radical prostatectomy.
UCI Medical Center in Orange, Calif., was among the first institutions to offer robot-assisted prostatectomy using the da Vinci Surgical System®, and Ahlering was the first to perform the procedure in Southern California.
Common cancer, often ignored
“Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. men, behind only lung cancer,” said Ahlering. About one in 41 men will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
“It is a cancer that is very common, but because it is a slow-growing cancer, it is frequently ignored,” said the surgeon, who has performed more than 1,500 robot-assisted prostatectomies, including the very first surgeries in Australia, Canada and Denmark.
Edwards was determined to take all measures necessary to ensure that he could keep managing his beloved saddle club and spend time there. After consulting with Ahlering, he decided to move forward with surgery.
“The UCI Health urology team was very supportive throughout my entire experience: pre-surgery, surgery, post-surgery,” he recalled. “You’re just overwhelmed by how well-organized it is there.”
Ahlering explained that the patient's health and safety is first and foremost for the urology team. “You have to keep the outcome of the physical patient in mind," he said. "We want to make the experience for the patient safer and better.”
Within a few weeks after surgery, the horse rider was back in the saddle and worry-free.
Importance of prostate cancer awareness
More than a decade after his surgery, Edwards continues to get regular checkups and follow-up care at the UCI Health Center for Urological Care. He urges men to be proactive about their health and praises UCI Health for its world-class care.
“Don’t stick your head in the sand; listen to your options,” he said. “UCI Health is the place to go because they are serious about cancer — how to control it and how to make your life normal again.”
At the end of each day on the ranch, communing with his horses and cattle, Edwards is grateful to be able to live the life he loves.
He can be found at the saddle club most Sundays, when they hold free community events, including riding competitions, rodeos, cattle sorting and more. Sometimes the Ahlering family takes part or goes horseback riding with Edwards, a measure of the bond that has grown over the last decade between patient and physician.
“Tom shared early on that he and his wife enjoy riding horses, so I invited them to the ranch,” Edwards said. “We’ve become very close. We will always be close. When he retires, I told Tom that he will be spending more time on the ranch with us.”
Research advocate to be honored
A steadfast supporter of cancer research, Edwards will be honored along with Ahlering at the sixth annual UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge on Saturday, Oct. 8, at UC Irvine's Aldrich Park.
The UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge is a community movement created to raise awareness and funds for critical cancer research at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 53 elite National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers and the only one based in Orange County.
Participants can choose to run, ride or walk and 100% of every dollar they raise goes toward cancer research. Through a partnership with Children’s Health of Orange County (CHOC), a portion of the funds also is directed to pediatric cancer research.
Join Edwards in supporting cancer research and awareness at the 2022 UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge. Visit anti-cancerchallenge.org today to learn how you can make a direct impact on cancer.