Patient Testimonials

Turning Thirty…Turned Forty+

Like many of us or those we know, Tom Willner's life has been changed by cancer. Right after turning 30, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Tom and his wife Allyson had been struggling with the decision to start a family when suddenly the debate took on a new urgency. Aggressively trying to beat the disease, they also struggled to bring a new life into the world. During that difficult time, Tom wrote seventeen songs about the experience and turned it into a musical, Turning Thirty. "I've always been a musician. One of the ways that I dealt with the whole ordeal was to write it to music," said Willner, whose day job coincidentally was the director of web development for the American Cancer Society. Over the past five years, Turning Thirty, The Musical has played in various venues at various times for various charitable causes around town.

Tom, Allyson Klara, Elliot and MilesWillner tells his story "When my wife and I realized something was wrong and that I needed a urologist, we immediately called Emory Urology. It was there that I first met Dr. Issa, who not only diagnosed my testicular cancer and performed several operations, but also helped me navigate all of my cancer treatment through Emory. My experience with Emory Urology literally saved my life. I truly appreciated the kind, knowledgeable staff and the quality of care I received." Now at 44 and cancer-free, Willner remains a close friend of Emory Urology where he also received counseling and treatment to help him start a family. Tom and Allyson were subsequently blessed with three beautiful and healthy biological children, Klara (12), Elliot (10), and Miles (4). 

Several years after his treatment, Tom handed a CD of his musical Turning Thirty to his surgeon. "Curious about this, I decided to listen to it in the car on my way home… soon I was a mess… a 6ft­‐4 man, teary like a baby… I just could not stop," said Issa, whose character is Dr. Saxon. "The Wizard in Turning Thirty did not look anything like a Wizard in traffic that day!" Turning Thirty, The Musical is a journey of courage, love, hope, and family. With styles of music including rock, gospel, country, jazz, and swing, the musical takes you on an incredible ride that captures the couple's devotion in "I’m Here for You" as well as the surrealism of navigating cancer treatment in "The Battle" between his surgeon and cancer personified.

"People say, 'You’re singing about cancer, it will be a downer,'" said Willner. "And the whole time I’m thinking, it's testicular cancer. C'mon, folks, the jokes write themselves!"

Willner describes it as dramedy–part drama, part comedy: "The type of cancer I had—testicular—does lend itself to jokes. Humor played a big part for me dealing with cancer." Indeed, one particularly rollicking early ditty is the not so slyly named "Have a Ball." Willner starts and ends his musical with the same title songs: "Life is Good." The difference is: the first emphasizes "Good" and the last emphasizes "Life."

"My favorites are 'How Could This Be' and of course the one about a specific fertility treatment option that involves a cup (very funny)," Issa said. Seeing things differently is the guiding principle behind Turning Thirty, which attempts to do for cancer what the Tony Award-winning musicals Next to Normal and Rent did for bipolar disorder and people living with HIV, respectively. When asked about aspiration for his musical, Tom replied: "To be totally honest, I would like to be working on my Tony acceptance speech. Or attending the musical debut on Broadway or in London. I realize that there is a long path and a lot of hard work ahead."

HoLEP Procedure

Mr. Robert Wavro is one of the first patients to undergo HoLEP at Emory with Dr. Browne in November 2019. He had a long history of urinary symptoms including slow stream, urgent need to urinate and getting up multiple times at night. He had been treated with a minimally invasive treatment 20 years ago, which he says “was helpful at the time”, but after a few years later he developed persistent retention and had to start self-catheterizing.

His work-up revealed that he had a 170cc prostate (compared with 20cc normal size). He researched what options were available to him and found “because my prostate was so large, anything I found online was not going to help me because it was too large”. He went through several biopsies and medical therapies and ultimately felt “my doctors really gave up on me because they didn’t have any good options”.

He ultimately found his was to Emory Urology and was one of the first patients in the new HoLEP program. He is now six months out from surgery and he is very happy with how things have gone. “The day of surgery was exceptional, I received lots of attention from all the nurses, doctors and staff. Every question was answered. Now, after the surgery, I haven’t had this good of a stream in 30 years. I don’t need to catheterize anymore, I don’t have the urgency anymore, I only get up one time per night. Quite frankly it’s really kind of amazing how much better everything is. I didn’t think it would be as good as it was, I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t want to have this procedure.”

Prostate Cancer Patient Testimonial

Upon being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Mr. Kevin Burke immediately began his research on treatments and locations. In doing so, he prioritized cutting edge technology and a highly experienced surgeon. After listening to recommendations from family and friends, he ultimately selected Emory Urology, not because it was local, but because he felt it was the best possible location for his treatment. After exploring Emory Urology’s treatment offerings, Mr. Burke says he was “convinced that having treatment and/or surgery at Emory under Dr. Filson's care was my best course of action.”

Dr. Christopher Filson and Emily McDowell, PA discussed with Mr. Burke the variety of treatment options available at Emory for prostate cancer including active surveillance, radiation therapy, radioactive seed implants, and robotic prostatectomy. Ultimately based on his specific disease parameters and shared decision making between the patient and his medical team, the robotic prostatectomy was selected as his best option. 

“My highest priority was to limit the risk of spread subsequent to the surgery. I had several sports teammates and friends who had chosen radiation therapy and all had residual issues. Also, I heard stories of rising PSA's post-op following traditional nerve-sparing surgeries.  Considering these anecdotes and with the memory of my late brother dying of metastatic prostate cancer at age 65 still fresh, we all agreed that robotic prostatectomy was the best option.” said Mr. Burke. “We discussed the expected aftermath including incontinence and impotence.  Despite having full sexual function before the surgery, loss of sexual function was not a priority.  Also, I had confidence that the incontinence would be short-lived, as I have been very active athletically throughout my life and would be diligent in doing the requisite post-op Kegel exercises.”

Mr. Burke underwent robotic radical prostatectomy at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital. Recovery from surgery went according to the standard recovery pathway, spending one night in the hospital and his urinary catheter removed one week post-op. His urinary incontinence only lasted two weeks after catheter removal, which he credits to his exercise habits, healthy lifestyle choices and following recommended pelvic floor rehabilitation recommendations. “Within a month, I was back doing full workouts with no leakage, including abdominal weights, and I returned to playing baseball in my baseball league.”

When discussing this case, Dr. Christopher Filson said, “Mr. Burke’s experience is emblematic of what we offer patients at Emory Urology. We place an emphasis on shared decision making, which ensures that any treatment course aligns with a patient’s values and preferences, as well as what is required to cure their cancer. Emory offers multiple options to cure men with prostate cancer, and we have to ensure that men are aware of the upsides and downsides of each treatment. Our approach involves a multidisciplinary approach alongside our colleagues in radiation oncology, who offer other curative options with different pros and cons compared to surgery. Ultimately, I am grateful Mr. Burke got the treatment he desired to get cured and return to a peak quality of life.”

Overall, Mr. Burke describes his outcome as, “as good as it gets”, with no residual tumor and undetectable PSA now twenty months post-op. He characterizes his quality of life as high and is happy to do so without having to compromise an active lifestyle. “I owe much appreciation to Emily McDowell and I feel my outcome is due in the greatest part to the incredible surgical skill, judgement, experience, and knowledge of Dr. Filson.”