Rich Eliot and his wife, Cheryl
Photo provided by Rich Eliot.
Rich Eliot had a long and active career as a firefighter, peace officer, and forester for the state of California with CAL FIRE. He found his career both rewarding and enjoyable, never leaving him without a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day and able to meet the many challenges this work has to offer. A career not only very diverse, but significant for protecting the people and natural resources of the state, part of which allowed him many exciting times rushing into a fire or disaster while ensuring everyone got out safely.
While in the midst of doing this work that he loved, which had led to his recent promotion to Division Chief, everything changed when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007.
After his initial diagnosis, Mr. Eliot underwent a radical prostatectomy at the urge of his urologist. This procedure has been successful at stopping his cancer so far, but unfortunately has left him with rare, debilitating side effects that still impact his quality of life nine years later. Prior to surgery, discussions with his surgeon led him to believe he would be able to return to his job, but unfortunately treatment-related side effects and several additional surgeries to try and fix them finally led to his disability retirement in 2009.
With his CAL FIRE career ending, Mr. Eliot became an active participant in prostate cancer advocacy starting with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and mentoring prostate cancer patients for several other organizations. He started a local chapter of ACS’s Man to Man prostate cancer education and support group helping both newly diagnosed and men with advance disease navigate their own decision making process. Being part of this support group, he was not only able to speak to men about his own very negative treatment experience, but also bring in other speakers and encourage open discussions about some positive outcomes and potential risks for negative side effects possible from most treatments available today. Hearing first-hand from fellow survivors or their caregivers can provide a more balanced perspective to help these men make the difficult choices on what may be best for them and which doctors may be the best to see. For men with low risk or indolent disease, he believes choosing to pursue active surveillance in place of other treatment options needs to be considered, an option he wishes his physician had discussed with him.
Mr. Eliot's mentoring also lead him to the Firefighters Cancer Support Network, where he speaks to firefighters about their occupational risks, such as exposure to several carcinogens including those from diesel fumes, which increases their risks of contracting many cancers, including prostate cancer. He hopes by telling his story, new firefighters will take these risks seriously and follow all safety measures to reduce these exposures. Furthermore, he strongly encourages these and all men to start PSA screening early to detect aggressive disease before it becomes metastatic and more difficult to treat.
In 2011, encouraged by his co-facilitator at Man to Man, Mr. Eliot became a consumer peer reviewer for the Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP). He describes his participation as an enlightening experience learning how complicated the research process is. He is a big supporter of the goals of the PCRP, particularly the program’s overarching challenge of distinguishing aggressive from indolent disease in men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, feeling the program challenges greatly align with his perceived gaps in the field. Mr. Eliot feels meeting this challenge is particularly critical, since early detection of prostate cancer, coupled with the ability to accurately identify if and when a man needs treatment, could ultimately negate the need for programs like the PCRP to invest in research for treating metastatic prostate cancer and instead focus on prevention of this disease.
Mr. Eliot believes that his voice and the voices of the other consumer reviewers often open the eyes of the scientific reviewers, who really listen to their concerns and needs, and that his opinions can greatly impact the projects that get funded. As with his firefighting career, his new mission as a prostate cancer advocate and PCRP consumer reviewer has been challenging at times, but overall a rewarding experience, seeing more men choose active surveillance today. Despite regrets about his own treatment journey, he hopes by telling his story and what he is able to bring home from his participation in this program will help educate others so they might avoid negative treatment outcomes.
Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022