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Prostate cancer counseling a personal cause for Baltimore City Council aide

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Roland Park residents know Robert Ginyard as an aide to City Councilwoman Sharon Greene Middleton, who represents the community. Ginyard is Middleton's point man and a regular at meetings of the Roland Park Civic League, a listening ear for complaints and problems so that he can brief his boss.

But on his own time, Ginyard, a survivor of prostate cancer, is becoming nationally known as an advocate for research money and as a listening ear for men and their families who must deal with a disease that he said strikes nearly 250,000 men a year, especially African-Americans like him.

"This is more my life's work now," said Ginyard, 49, of Reservoir Hill. "I have a new lease on life. I want to be more social-minded."

On Wednesday, June 6, Ginyard was scheduled to testify before Congress, sharing his personal story and asking the House Appropriations Committee to increase federal funding for prostate cancer research.

On June 12, he is scheduled to speak at the new Miracle Wellness Center at the Inn at the Colonnade, in the Guilford-Charles Village area.

In between, he will speak at the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life at Essex Community College on June 8 and to the African-American Men's Health Conference at Coppin State University on June 9.

Ginyard has been featured on ABC News' website and on national radio shows such as "The Michael Eric Dyson Show". He said men in their 60s call him from around the country, often in tears, to seek his advice.

A church called him last week, asking him to speak at an event. But he said he had to call them back because he was off to an interview with the Messenger.

He's also finishing a book he's writing about his personal experiences with prostate cancer.

And he is a board member and spokesman for ZERO — The Project to End Prostate Cancer. The national nonprofit organization, based in Alexandria, Va., says prostate cancer is the fourth most common cause of death in African-American men and was the focus of $337 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health in 2012, about half as much as for breast cancer.

ZERO is thrilled to have Ginyard as a national face to help raise awareness, because, "He's a young, dynamic survivor and he's African-American," said press secretary Melissa Kadish. "That group is at an increased risk for the disease."

Also eager to have him speak is Bobby Blackwell, director of the Miracle Wellness Center, 4 W. University Parkway, and senior vice president of its parent organization, the nonprofit Marathon of Miracles. The center opened in May and offers wellness lectures and classes on topics ranging from cancer to yoga, as well as therapy and massage treatment sessions.

"To bring (Ginyard's) message of wellness is very important," Blackwell said. "It's a success story. He's a survivor. I want people to hear it from him.(so that) it can inspire other men."

'How long do I have?'

Ginyard said he had no symptoms of prostate cancer when he was diagnosed in February 2010 during an annual health examination. But he was diagnosed early, thanks to a promise he had made to himself to get a checkup — including for prostate cancer — every year after he turned 40. His father, Dave, was a prostate cancer survivor, too, but died of lung cancer.

Although Robert Ginyard's prostate cancer was caught early, it unnerved him.

"I was devastated," he said. "You hear the word cancer and you think, 'How long do I have?'"

Although less invasive treatment options were available to shrink his tumors, Ginyard decided to have a radical prostatectomy to remove the prostate gland, which secretes one of the several fluids that comprise semen.

"I just wanted it gone," he said.

As a result, Ginyard said, he can still have sex but can no longer father children. He and his wife, Karen, are already the parents of two young girls, Kennedy, 6 and Lauren, 5.

He thinks of his life before and after the diagnosis as "the pre-Robert cancer and the post-Robert cancer."

The pre-cancer Ginyard was nurturing an online business to sell a tote bag that he designed called the Shusokumb (short for a shoes, socks and umbrella bag), described on his business website, http://www.shusokumb.com, as "a compartmentalized tote for women who make the switch from their sneakers or other comfortable casual shoes for a more workplace appropriate shoe once they arrive to the office."

But the business has taken a back seat, said the post-cancer Ginyard.

"It's taken a dip because I've been focusing so much on the prostate cancer," he said.

Taking off

In February 2011, he announced a partnership with ZERO to donate a portion of sales of the bag to the organization.

"It is my hope that by making a contribution to ZERO, we increase awareness and support an organization that has zero tolerance for prostate cancer and is committed to improving the lives of men and their families," Ginyard said in a press release issued by ZERO at the time.

Now, Ginyard is on the cusp of national prominence.

"Things are starting to take off," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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