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Arnold De-Mystifies Prostate Cancer

At last year's Best of Reston awards dinner, urologist Janice Arnold had to leave halfway into the evening.

Arnold drove from the dinner, at the Reston Hyatt, to The Improv comedy club in Washington, D.C. There she led a discussion on prostate cancer awareness.

"There I am in this fancy evening gown," Arnold said. "I’m sure they were wondering, ‘Who is this lady?’"

And although she had to duck out early last year, Arnold plans on staying all night for this year’s Best of Reston ceremony. Although she first learned about the Best of Reston awards just last year, Arnold is one of seven volunteers to win a 2002 Best of Reston award.

"At that point [last year] I never could have imagined I’d be winning this year," Arnold said.

And Arnold is winning the award because of speeches like the one she gave at The Improv. She regularly visits local churches and businesses to talk with men and their loved ones about prostate cancer prevention.

"I may be a guest speaker for an hour and a half then, if they also ask for screening, I’ll do rectal exams and I’ll get some helpers to do blood tests," Arnold said.

WHITE MEN are supposed to get checked for prostate cancer every year from age 50 on. Black men, because they are at higher risk, should start the annual check-ups at age 45. Black men are one and a half times more likely than white or Asian men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. And black men are twice as likely to die from the disease, Arnold said. She said no one knows exactly why black men are at higher risk for prostate cancer, but she did say diet may play a part.

"A diet that is low in animal fat and high in fiber seems to protect you from getting more clinically aggressive prostate cancer," Arnold said. "But, on the other hand, diet is hard to measure. What people think they take in, and what they actually do can be different."

Theodore Nell, who is one of Arnold’s current patients, met her at a men’s prayer breakfast at the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria. After hearing Arnold speak, Nell started getting himself checked for prostate cancer more regularly. And when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last November he remembered Arnold and scheduled a visit.

"One of the reasons I selected her is that she is extremely personable," Nell said. "She takes the time to respond and address all my concerns."

In January Arnold performed radical prostatectomy surgery on Nell. Now he is recovering from the disease.

"I’m over the worst, but I could be among the number of men who didn’t make it," Nell said.

Sherry Browett, division director for cancer sites with the American Cancer Society, said Arnold has "the ultimate bedside manner." Although prostate cancer can be a delicate subject, Browett said Arnold makes men comfortable talking about it.

"Men are very at ease," Browett said. "There is something in her personality that says, ‘I am just an ordinary person like you. I am just trying to help you.’"

BROWETT MET Arnold in 1997 when the doctor became a member of the Board of Directors of the Loudoun County Division of the American Cancer Society. She joined the board after giving a talk that was supposed to take one and a half hours, but ended up lasting four and a half hours.

"They had so many questions, it was so wonderful," Arnold said.

Attending the speech was a representative from the American Cancer Society, who asked Arnold to organize an annual prostate cancer symposium in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area. The first of these symposiums came in June 1998 and former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole was the keynote speaker.

"It was just a matter of sending him a letter," Arnold said.

She has organized a symposium every year since 1998, and in June 2000 she brought the symposium to Reston Hospital Center where Arnold, an Oakton resident, runs a practice. This year the symposium will be on June 22 at the Physicians Education Center at Fairfax Hospital.

And although Arnold speaks with men’s groups most of the time, she also targets women when publicizing the symposium.

"I advertise a great deal among women’s organizations because often women are the ones who get the men into the office," Arnold said. "Many of my male patients are here because their wives insist they come."

SHE SAID MOST MEN don’t like to go to the doctor unless they are "really ill."

"Women, from the moment they are of child-bearing age, regularly see doctors," Arnold said. "For men, it’s different."

When she graduated from medical school at the University of Chicago and began her residency, there were only seven female urologists in the country. She said she enjoyed both the technical and personal aspects of urology. She liked working with older male patients and she would spend hours watching procedures on the urology floor even when it wasn’t required for class.

But even so, she was hesitant to go into urology.

"Often, when women go into medicine, people think they should be pediatricians," Arnold said. "Some women have had unfortunate experiences in their urology residencies. At that time women were not always accepted by their peers as one of the group. They tended to be excluded."

If not for some of the attending physicians at the University of Chicago, Arnold may have never gone into urology.

"I told them I didn’t feel like pioneering new territory," Arnold said.

But Dr. Harry Schoenberg, the attending physician at the school, made sure Arnold was accepted by her peers. She also had the support of her mother and her eight brothers and sisters. Her father died when Arnold was 12.

"You don’t want to let them down," Arnold said. "But, more than that, you feel as if you can’t fail. You almost feel invincible."