'We're Here to Give Hope': Sheriff's Detective with Stage 4 Prostate Cancer Lives to Give Back

April 6, 2018 | by Samantha Bonar

Sheriff Mitch Speed | City of Hope Mitch Speed with a staff member at City of Hope | Antelope Valley
As a detective assigned to handle violent criminal cases for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Mitch Speed, 52, is a pretty tough guy, physically and mentally.

So the Lancaster, California, resident was surprised to find himself so fatigued when training for an annual law-enforcement relay run to Las Vegas two years ago.

“I’ve done it almost every year of my career,” he recalled. “Normally I train five or six days a week, and I was so tired I could only train about two days a week.”

Speed completed his 5.5-mile leg of the run, but was unusually exhausted afterward. When his fatigue persisted, he went to see his doctor in May 2016.

“They ran a PSA [prostate-specific antigen] level on me. It came back at 194,” he said. “When you hit a PSA level of 4, that’s when it’s red lights and sirens. That was May 13. May 19 was my first visit at City of Hope” in Antelope Valley.

A prostate biopsy was performed the following day. “It came back that my prostate was completely cancerous. I was diagnosed at Stage 4. It was in my bladder and lymph nodes,” Speed said.

Treatment Begins

Speed began chemotherapy that July. By the end of August, his PSA level had dropped to 2.9. But he still had two months of chemo to go.
 
Sheriff Mitch Speed Support | City of Hope Dozens of Sheriff's deputies gather at City of Hope to wish Mitch Speed well
Although Speed said the “side effects weren’t bad at all,” he left his job with L.A. County. In early 2017, he began hormonal treatment, since prostate cancer is fed by testosterone. But his PSA numbers started to creep up again, so last September he began nine weeks of daily radiation.

“That was tough. That kicked my butt pretty good,” he said. It put his cancer into remission, however.

Co-workers from Speed’s sheriffs’ station and the entire high school football team he used to coach showed up at City of Hope to support him while he was going through treatment. “How can I not stay positive? How can I not fight?” he said. “I’m a firm believer that once you make it through something tough, you’re just going to be stronger for the next time.”

In the midst of his treatment, Speed began writing a book, largely for his son Brody, 25. “I wanted to be the best role model I can for my son,” Speed said of finishing his memoir, "The Man Behind the Badge," which was published in October and has already sold more than 1,000 copies via Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Speed’s website.

A New Chapter

Scans taken last month, however, showed that Speed’s cancer had migrated to his bones, and his PSA had gone up to 198. He was put on new medication.

Despite the bad news, Speed said, “I’m not afraid. I know God’s got a reason and a purpose for this. We’re hoping that we’re all going to become stronger from this. My [26-year] marriage has never been stronger, even in the midst of all this. It’s been the most fruitful season of my life. I’m just going to keep going. I have faith in my doctors.”

When Speed first sat down with M. Houman Fekrazad, M.D., associate clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope’s Antelope Valley location, he asked him how much time he had left. “He said, ‘I refuse to do that. With modern medicine and God, anything is possible,’” Speed recalled.

Speed is also being treated by Donald Hannoun, M.D., assistant clinical professor, Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology. “When I see the look in Dr. Hannoun’s eyes, I know what this man has invested in me. How can I not fight for him, too?” Speed said. “I love my doctors. I see the time that they put in. They invest so much of their emotion and so much of themselves.”

Speed is so grateful for the care he has received at City of Hope, he said that “whatever time I have left, I’m dedicating my life to City of Hope. This is my home here. Dr. Hannoun and Dr. Fekrazad are two of the most incredible men I’ve ever met in my life.”
 
Hannoun was the one who told Speed his cancer had spread to his bones. “When you see tears in your doctor’s eyes, you know they don’t just care for you, they love you,” Speed recalled of that moment. “I want to give back the same way they’ve given to me.”

Speed and his wife frequently bring refreshments to patients undergoing chemotherapy at the Antelope Valley practice, and he’s planning to throw a “big barbecue” for patients and staff at the facility in April.

“This has been one of the most beautiful things in my life, because you really learn to appreciate everything,” he added. “One day at a time is the way we do everything now. I’m thankful for everything. What I’ve lost physically, mentally and spiritually, God has taken me to another whole place. When I go and hand out snacks in the infusion center, I tell people, ‘I know exactly where you’re coming from because I’ve been there.’ We’re here to give hope to each other, to lift each other up.”

“I’ve found what my true purpose is. I’m not upset. I’m not angry, I never will be. Whatever time I have left, I refuse to waste one second on being angry or upset,” he said. “When you look at the big picture, you realize it’s not so much about you, it’s about what you can do to help other people.” 
 
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