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Friends for Life - Facing Cancer Together: Patient Stories

Like most sports, water-skiing is more rewarding with a friend cheering you on. Avid water-skiers Scott Vanderflute of Lakewood and Kelly Bolender of Gig Harbor know this firsthand. They met 30 years ago, when Kelly’s middle school shop students used equipment from Scott’s sports equipment store to build water skis in class. The two bonded over their shared affinity for adventure, spending the next few decades boating and skiing together as active members of the local water sports community.

The pair faced another type of challenge last year, when 59-year-old Scott, a pilot for a private airline, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Scott selected Virginia Mason Franciscan Health urologist Daniel Willis, MD, for surgery. The choice was easy, Scott said. “My primary care doctor is the one who said that if it were him, he’d want Dr. Willis as his surgeon.”

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Within a few months of Scott’s surgery in January 2017, 60-year-old Kelly received his own prostate cancer diagnosis. Based on Scott’s recommendation, Kelly began treatment with Dr. Willis that spring, and his surgery took place in June 2017.

“Dr. Willis was fabulous. He is a rock star,” said Scott. “When I sent Kelly to him, I said ‘I’m sending a good friend to you,’ and he said, ‘we’ll take good care of him.’ I knew he would.”

The diagnosis was a setback, Kelly said, but he knew he was in good hands with Dr. Willis. “If I had it all to do over again, I’d do everything the same. I’m happy I moved forward with this.”

“Dr. Willis is a brilliant surgeon, but perhaps more important is how deeply he cares,” said Kelly. “He treated me like a good friend. He’s caring and easy to talk to, and his goal was 100 percent recovery. His belief in me and my recovery helped me believe.”

This summer, Scott and Kelly are back on the water, enjoying all that the Pacific Northwest summer has to offer. They both want other men to know that prostate cancer screening isn’t something to put off.

“I hope that people will be encouraged to seek information about prostate cancer, because there’s a fair amount of misinformation out there,” Scott said. “People think you can just ‘watch’ this cancer and that it’s slow-growing. In fact, Kelly and I were both pretty close to having this get away from us and having long-term problems.”

A prostate cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to impact your quality of life, Scott said. “There’s no reason to put off getting checked.”