James Girand has the strong, sinewy body of an award-winning triathlete. He's earned dozens of medals for his sporting accomplishments at the international level. A wrestler at Duke, the California engineer has long prided himself on his physical fitness. So when he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his prostate in 2006, Girand was initially taken aback.
"I took Omega-3s, drank pomegranate juice, exercised—all the things you're supposed to do for a healthy lifestyle," he says. "At the same time, I knew my PSA levels had started to rise, so I'd been getting screened twice a year instead of once a year." (Elevated prostate-specific antigen levels can indicate cancer.)
His physician showed Girand a grainy black-and-white scan of the tumor and delivered a grim prognosis: Radiation might slow the tumor's progress, but eventually, with either radiation or surgery, Girand would face incontinence and impotence. "I went home and talked to my wife [Juanita Jones Girand '59], and within twenty-four hours we were convinced there had to be a better option." Girand compiled a list of the country's leading urologic cancer specialists and visited each one before selecting Peter Carroll, chair of the urology department at the University of California at San Francisco.
In October 2006, Girand underwent surgery to remove his prostate. Within a few weeks he was running again, and in less than a year, he was back in fine competitive form, winning the silver medal in his age group at the World Long Course Duathlon Championship. And thanks to the surgical techniques his physician used, the negative side effects his original doctor warned about did not come to pass.
But Girand wasn't content to view his bout with cancer as a closed chapter of his life. Using the knowledge he had acquired during his quest for information and treatment options, he created the Prostate Cancer Patients Network and a website, www.prostatecancerpatients.org, "to give a person concerned about prostate cancer knowledge to ask his doctor serious questions and take charge of his treatment."
"By my nature I'm a marketing and sales strategist, so with anything I do I like to step back from day-to-day details, analyze and integrate different factors that might come into play, and then determine the best path forward," says Girand, chair of Technology Strategies & Investments, a consulting and investment firm.
"Famous, high-profile cancer survivors can pick up the phone, call their friends, and raise millions of dollars for research. I realized I could best use my experience as a survivor to provide information to help other men."
Because prostate health relates to issues of sexuality, many men are reluctant to discuss their concerns or to schedule regular screenings, says Girand. That's why he takes every opportunity to encourage wives and families to make certain the men in their lives get regular prostate exams, and to seek out the best care available if treatment is warranted.
"Prostate cancer progresses slowly, so early detection is important." He encourages people diagnosed with prostate cancer to "ask their doctors lots of questions, and if they aren't satisfied with the answers, find another doctor."
Girand has stayed connected to Duke since his undergraduate days. He and his wife are Duke parents—daughter Lisa Girand Lawson graduated in 1989—and he was named Distinguished Engineering Alumnus of the year in 1996 for his role as cofounder of the $41 million Design Automation Technology Center. In April, he will return to campus to celebrate his 50th class reunion. Not surprisingly, he will use the opportunity to lead a panel discussion on prostate health as part of the Duke Alumni Association's arts and academics programming.
James Girand, B.S.E.E. '59
Promoting prostate health
April 1, 2009