A former high school shot put champ, college football player, coach and
Army lieutenant, Jimmy Barrilleaux had always been strong and healthy
– until a routine visit to his primary care doctor showed his PSA
levels were high.
A PSA test, the most common screening tool for prostate cancer, measures
a protein in the blood called prostate specific antigen. A high PSA level
can be the first sign of prostate cancer.
Barrilleaux’s doctor, internist
Charles Ducombs, discovered during an annual wellness visit that his PSA level was high
and referred him to urologists at
Northshore Urological Associates.
Stephen M. Graham and
Brad M. Lake, along with Nurse Practitioner
Kimberly L. Marcel, specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of male and female urinary
tract disorders and the male reproductive system, including prostate cancer.
The prostate is a small walnut-shaped gland in men that produces the seminal
fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. In its early stages, prostate
cancer usually has no symptoms. When it’s more advanced, signs and
symptoms may include trouble urinating, decreased force in the stream
of urine, blood in semen, discomfort in the pelvic area, bone pain and
About one man in nine will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime,
making it the most common cancer in men, other than skin cancer. This
year, about 174,650 new cases will be diagnosed and more than 31,600 deaths
will be due to prostate cancer. But caught early, most will not die from
it. In fact, there are 2.9 million prostate cancer survivors in the United
In general, screening is recommended for men beginning at age 50. Those
with risk factors, like family history, obesity, age and race (African-Americans
are at higher risk), are usually advised to begin testing earlier than
this. Both Barrilleaux’s father and brother had prostate cancer.
After 12 biopsies displayed cancer, Dr. Graham discussed both surgery and
radiation as accepted therapies for prostate cancer treatment. Barrilleaux
and Bonnie, his wife of 44 years, agreed to attack the cancer with the
same tenacity he exhibited as an athlete and soldier.
“I said, ‘Let’s get it done. I’m ready now,’” he notes.
His wife adds, “They told me how serious it could be. I knew he had
a problem and we were going to face it and take care of it right away.
And we prayed.”
The da Vinci robotic surgery was performed by Dr. Lake, who is trained
in the da Vinci Surgical System, and he was assisted by Dr. Graham.
“Mr. Jimmy’s surgery was a little tougher than most due to
the size of his prostate,” Dr. Lake explains. “But we took
our time and were able to deliver him a great surgery with a speedy recovery.”
The Barrilleauxs were pleased with the results.
“One of Dr. Lake’s greatest assets is that he’s very
personable and I think he really cares about his patients. You’re
not just a number,” Mrs. Barrilleaux imparts. “North Oaks
is so fortunate to have him, someone who does robotic surgery. We (the
community) used to have to go to Baton Rouge or New Orleans for this type
Following two days in the hospital, a resilient Barrilleaux returned to
his part-time job at Ross Downing Cadillac two weeks later. Today, he
has beat cancer and has regular six-month check-ups with Dr. Lake. He
spends much of his time with Bonnie and his four children, 12 grandchildren
and four great-grandchildren.
Last year, Barrilleaux, 71, was recognized as honorary captain in the Southeastern
Louisiana University and Louisiana State University football game in Baton
Rouge, where he played offensive guard in the 1960s. The occasion was
even more special with his family in attendance.
“Mr. Jimmy is doing fantastic and is cancer free. He is enjoying
life knowing his cancer has been taken care of,” Dr. Lake observes.
“He has no side effects from surgery and tells me every visit how
pleased they have been through the entire process.”
Both Barrilleauxs agree that the support of family and friends was vital
in helping him through the dark days. A cancer diagnosis also affects
family members and friends so understanding the lifestyle changes and
treatment is part of the healing process.
“She (Bonnie) was there with me, every step of the way,” he
recalls, adding how she “swept me off my feet” when they met
in Amite where they both were teaching.
“I was proud of him in how he responded,” she remarks. “Men
don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. But, he did not
hesitate when we were told the news.”
Because of the family history, the Barrilleauxs have encouraged their son
to get regular check-ups. They agree that “staying on top of it”
and awareness are the keys to early detection.
“I would agree that following the recommended screening protocols
lead to early detection of prostate cancer,” he notes. “Early
detection leads to early intervention and excellent survival rates with
What advice would Barrilleaux give to others facing the same condition?
“Make that first appointment and make sure you get a guy like Dr.
Lake. He’s ‘A No. 1,’” Barrilleaux recommends.
“He pays attention to everything you say, and it’s a good
thing to have a doctor who really cares about you.”
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