Anyone who knows Jack Hennessy understands his deep-rooted skepticism of modern health care.
“It was understood in my family, ‘Jack won’t do hospitals,’” he said. “The last place in the world I’d go for help was the medical profession.”
Hennessy, 77, had been that way most of his life. Even after his stage 4 prostate cancer diagnosis in 2013, Hennessy was reluctant to embrace contemporary treatment.
His doubts melted away in 2016 when he met oncologist Jacqueline Vuky, M.D., an associate professor in the OHSU School of Medicine.
“Within two seconds of meeting Dr. Vuky, that changed. She was warm, friendly, receptive. She saw it with a sense of humor, like, ‘Who refuses treatment if you have cancer?’” Hennessy said, pointing to himself. “I was.”
“I have abilities, and I can use them. My future is there to be created.”Jack Hennessy
Vuky worked with Hennessy, immediately and graciously coaxing him into accepting the cancer treatment he needed. At Vuky’s recommendation, Hennessy recently began treatment as part of a clinical trial. The results are, so far, successful.
A self-described child of the ’60s who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended the University of California, Berkeley, Hennessy preferred natural treatments for his ailments. He kept a macrobiotic diet, practiced yoga and saw naturopathic specialists, and aside from a bout of pneumonia as a child and a burst appendix in middle adulthood, Hennessy’s philosophy about health worked for him.
In 2011, Hennessy began going to a urology clinic for an enlarged prostate. After the results of a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test showed potential signs of cancer, he was urged to get a biopsy, which he initially refused for months. When Hennessy eventually went through with the procedure, the result was sobering.
He had stage 4 prostate cancer.
“That’s a pretty brutal reality adjustment,” Hennessy said. “It didn’t mean I was going to die tomorrow, but that’s what I thought it meant. I thought it was over. I remember going down to San Francisco and thinking, ‘This is the last time I’ll see the fog coming over the hills.’”
Hennessy’s urologist started him on Lupron, a hormone therapy that stymies the growth of cancer by lowering a person’s testosterone. After experiencing mild side effects, Hennessy ended the treatment. A short time later, he underwent transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) surgery, which shaves away a portion of the prostate that surrounds the urethra. While recovering the following day, Hennessy’s urologist told him his cancer was growing at an alarming rate and referred him to Vuky.
When Hennessy first met with Vuky, he told her he wasn’t taking Lupron.
“And she kind of chuckled,” he said. “We tend to laugh at things that are totally illogical. It wasn’t accusatory. She just saw the humor in it. And I got it. Her knowledge came across without having to assert it, and I got it.”
First thing was first: Hennessy restarted Lupron. Together, he and Vuky monitored his PSA levels. When it began rising, she recommended chemotherapy, and he trusted her. The treatments brought his PSA levels down, and he and Vuky watched as they remained around zero for about a year.
In 2020, Hennessy’s PSA levels began creeping back up. Not long after that, he noticed some pain in his hip. It wasn’t much, but he could feel it.
“She sprang into action and arranged for me to get radiation,” Hennessy said. “It took about 10 days to get in, but by that time, I was crawling on the floor. The pain was nothing I had experienced before.”
A cancer mass in Hennessy’s hip was beginning to squeeze a nerve. He was scheduled for five rounds of radiation. After the treatments, the pain abated and never returned.
In early 2022, Vuky suggested a clinical trial to treat Hennessy’s cancer. Based on genetic testing, Vuky recognized Hennessy as a strong candidate to participate. After the first few months of the trial, scans showed a slowing of Hennessy’s cancer progression. Subsequent scans showed cancer reduction.
The reports from the latest scan?
“Unremarkable,” Hennessy said, smiling. “Nothing there to report.”
For much of his life, Hennessy kept hospitals at arm’s length. Today, he relishes his visits at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Clinic, and he enjoys his biweekly check-ins with Vuky.
“It’s fun working with her,” he said. “She’s very positive and encouraging. I admire her tremendously.”
Nine years ago, Hennessy was reconciling with his diagnosis, resigning himself to a shortened future. Today, he is grateful to Vuky for giving it back, and he plans to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I have abilities, and I can use them,” he said. “My future is there to be created.”