Leon Malmed isn’t the kind of guy to let a little thing like prostate cancer get him down. Five years ago, when his doctor told him he had prostate cancer and wanted to operate the following week, Leon didn’t know what to think.
Since he has an oncologist friend at Stanford University Medical Center, Leon reached out to her and she referred him to physicians in Stanford’s urology department.
“They looked at my Gleason score, which was 3 +2, and my PSA score, which was 4.6, and recommended that I go on an active surveillance program,” he adds.
The measurements he mentions are numbers physicians monitor to see how far prostate cancer has advanced. Leon’s numbers indicated that his was still at Stage 1, the least dangerous category.
“The Stanford doctor prescribed checking my PSA score every three months and conducting a biopsy every year,” he remembers. “My PSA was stable for a year, then started to go up slowly.”
But last November, when his PSA score went up to 9.03 and his Gleason score rose to 7, his physician became concerned. “He gave me all the treatment options but proton,” Leon discloses. “He didn’t know enough about it.”
Leon first heard about proton therapy at Loma Linda University Health from a friend. One of his biking buddies, a retired fire captain from Berkeley, told Leon that two of his colleagues had been treated at Loma Linda. The captain also said, “You can take your bike there and go riding every day after your treatment.”
Leon thought that sounded a lot better than surgery—which may have required him to wear a diaper beneath his already tight bicycle shorts—so he investigated and chose proton therapy. He started treatment at the James M. Slater, MD, Proton Treatment and Research Center at Loma Linda University Health in mid-March, and is very glad he did.
Not only can he still ride his bike, but also Leon and Patricia, his beautiful wife of 35 years, are enjoying many of the beautiful sites of Southern California while the painless proton treatment progresses. They’ve explored several bike trails, visited Joshua Tree National Park, and tried a bunch of Inland Empire restaurants.
Patricia is so impressed with how well Leon is doing that she told her six brothers to get their prostates checked on a regular basis and to “go proton” if they need treatment.
Right now, life is very good for Leon in his 78th year. But it wasn’t always that way. He vividly remembers the events of Sunday, July 19, 1942, when there was a knock on the door at 5:30 in the morning. It was two gendarmes, French policemen from his hometown of Compiègne, France, who notified Leon’s parents, Srul and Chana, that they were wanted for questioning at the police station.
Over the protests of the parents and screams of the children, the officers insisted that Srul and Chana come with them. As they were leaving, Henri Ribouleau, a next-door neighbor, promised Srul and Chana that he and his wife, Suzanne, would look after the children until their return.
About an hour-and-a-half later, Srul and Chana returned to the house accompanied by the officers. But despite the children’s hopes, their parents had been placed under arrest and were only home to gather a few belongings. Their only crime: they were Jews and France had recently fallen under the control of German Nazis, who had decided that Jews and others were undesirable.
True to his word, Monsieur Ribouleau, whom the children would come to call Papa Henri, and “Maman” Suzanne, faithfully kept Leon and Rachel as their own children for the next three years until World War II finally ended. Keeping that promise was not without risk: the Ribouleau’s and their two sons could have been sent to prison, extermination camps, or death for harboring Jewish children during the war. In addition, they selflessly paid the rent on Srul and Chana’s apartment the entire time.
Tragically, the children would never see their parents again. After reviewing the records at Auschwitz made public six decades later, Leon concluded that his mother was likely tortured and then gassed to death on July 29, 1942, and that his father, who was forced to work at hard labor as a slave, died or was murdered a few months before the end of the war. Altogether, the Nazis killed more than 6,000,000 Jews, but Leon insists that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.
“I spoke in a Catholic Church about a month ago,” he reports, “and I asked if anyone knew what the Holocaust was all about. I waited about five seconds and a girl said, ‘The Nazis persecuted the Jews.’ I said, ‘Yes, but the Holocaust was the whole war. As a result of World War II, 72,000,000 people—soldiers and civilians on all sides—died. Without Hitler, the Japanese would never have taken the West to war. They thought our country could not fight on two fronts at the same time.”
Leon was silent for more than 60 years, but when he turned 70, he felt the time had come to share his story with the world. The book he wrote—“We Survived . . . At Last I Speak”—was published by Zea Books of Lincoln, Nebraska in 2013. In 213 fast-paced pages, Leon tells first-hand the heart-wrenching story of what it was like to lose his parents, to live through the Nazi occupation, and to ultimately conclude that, once more, good had triumphed over evil.
The story of how he and Patricia first met is singularly fascinating. Patricia says she fell in love with him over the phone because of his French accent and charming, gentlemanly ways, but Leon has a totally different take on the subject. This reviewer, however, will not disclose the unexpected incidents that transpired next. Instead, readers can listen to Leon narrating the book at Audible.com or order a paperback or electronic version of the book from Amazon.com.