If prostate cancer takes his life, Don Klein said he will die knowing he did everything he could to fight back against the disease.
"I won't have any regrets," Klein said. "Because I know I did everything I could."
Klein spent 17 years as assistant city engineer for the city of Brainerd before he was hired as public works director for the city of Staples two years ago. It was in March of 2008, not long after he started his new job, when he received a call from his doctor, informing him that his tests revealed he had prostate cancer. He was 42.
A short time later, he learned he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer that had metastasized into his spine, which led to the back pain he initially saw a doctor about. He had attributed it to a virus he caught around Christmas but then when he also began having problems urinating he went in for a checkup.
Don Klein was diagnosed two years ago with prostate cancer, which had metastasized into his spine, causing spinal fractures and a great deal of pain for the 44-year-old Lake Shore man. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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Men aren't routinely screened for prostate cancer until they're 50, and Klein had never had a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, screening, which is a blood test. He doesn't have a history of cancer or prostate problems in his family. He said he told his family, including his girlfriend of nearly 15 years and fiancee, Ann Thiery, that he would go in for a physical when he turned 40 but he put it off, feeling no sense of urgency since he's always been quite healthy and rarely sick.
Perhaps, he said, the cancer may have been caught sooner. Or maybe not. When a couple of his friends tried to get PSA screenings from their doctors after Klein was diagnosed, they were told they weren't over 50 and they weren't necessary. They had to find another clinic, one that would order the blood tests for them, he said.
Klein hopes his story will inspire others to become their own health advocates if they're facing a similar health crisis. One of his physicians at the Mayo Clinic told him shortly after his diagnosis that traditional FDA-approved therapies weren't going to help him, that he'd have to seek out other nonconventional therapies or enroll in clinical trials of experimental prostate cancer drugs. Klein said it was the best advice he could have received. The doctor also told him to always have his next move planned out, that if one treatment doesn't work out make sure to have a follow-up plan.
Don Klein and his fiancee, Ann Thiery, held one another Wednesday as they stood in Klein's parent's home north of Brainerd. A benefit is planned Saturday at the Brainerd American Legion to help Klein with his medical expenses as he battles prostate cancer. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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Klein did a lot of research, culling the clinicaltrials.gov Web site, an Internet listing of where thousands of drug trials and clinical studies are going on throughout the country. He meticulously researched his options, seeking out clinical studies of drugs that his doctors said held great promise in the treatment of prostate cancer. He only made the control group in a study at the Mayo Clinic but then started treatments at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, where he attempted to enter a clinical trial for the new drug, Abiraterone. Unfortunately he wasn't able to get into that clinical trial. His doctor at the Mayo Clinic, as well as many in the medical community, believe Abiraterone may be a breakthrough drug in treating prostate cancer. He got himself in an Abiraterone drug trial in San Antonio, Texas, but unfortunately his disease progressed and his cancer wasn't responding to the treatment so he was removed from that three-month study in October.
If you go
Friends and family of Don Klein will host a benefit Saturday for him and his family at the Brainerd American Legion, 507 Front St.
A sloppy Joe dinner will be served from 4-9 p.m. with a dance and music by a disc jockey beginning at 9 p.m. The event includes raffles, silent and live auctions and games.
Cost is $5.
The benefit will help raise funds to offset Klein's medical and travel expenses for treatment of prostate cancer.
Donations also may be made to the Don Klein Cancer Fund at any Wells Fargo Bank branch.
For more information or to make a donation, contact Bernell and Shep at 820-7143 or via e-mail at email@example.com or Amber and Tyrone at 820-5424 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Klein started chemotherapy again five weeks ago and often travels to Houston for treatment and medical appointments at the cancer center there. He hopes to enroll in another drug study in New Orleans once his chemotherapy is finished and if it has successfully stopped his cancer from progressing. He'll find out next week at another trip to Houston if it's working.
He's not giving up hope.
"If anyone is proactive, he is," said Vi Klein of her son. "He's done so much research."
Klein and Thiery, along with their 18-year-old son, Cole Stegora, have a home in Lake Shore. However, they had torn down the older home and were building a new home when Klein got sick. In the meantime, they're living with his parents, Vi and Don Klein Sr., north of Brainerd.
Klein said he tries to remain positive and it's helped to watch Cole play football for Brainerd High School this fall, all the way to the Metrodome. Klein only missed the homecoming game because he was ill but he's changed medical appointments to make sure he could see his son play.
He's in a lot of pain because of his cancer but the little things, like watching the stars on a dark night or feeling the warm sunshine in Houston, are what he's found himself appreciating more since his cancer diagnosis. He's still working for the city of Staples but has been working half-days because of the pain.
He said he periodically worries about whether his time is limited, whether he'll see Cole graduate from high school and go on to college but he tries to remain optimistic.
"I feel pretty fortunate because you don't have to look too far to see someone worse off than you are," said Klein. "It could always be worse."
Klein said he's grateful for his family and friends who are hosting a benefit for him on Saturday and for those who made donations for the event.
"I consider myself pretty wealthy with family and friends," said Klein.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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