What are the chances? Father-son same rare cancer more than two decades apart

There are fewer than 20,000 cases in the United States each year, but this father and son were both diagnosed with testicular cancer.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

The way Daniel Gabriel “Gabe” Ganser sees it he can thank his dad.

“Dad always said, ‘if you ever have a problem, check it out.’ I’ve always been on top of it because of my dad,” said Ganser, 23. So when he felt pain in his testicle, he called his parents George and Stephanie Ganser.

It was 1995 when George Ganser was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He was treated with radiation at IU Health and has been cancer free ever since. Gabe is the first child born after George Ganser’s treatment. The couple is also the parents to Samantha, 27 and Louis, 29. Mary, 20, was also born after George Ganser’s diagnosis.

“I was told I probably wouldn’t have any more children after my treatment. That’s how he got his middle name ‘Gabriel,’” said George Ganser. What are the odds the father and son would both be diagnosed with testicular cancer? Slim. The American Cancer Society estimates about 9,610 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed in 2020. The average age at diagnosis is about 33 but about six percent of the cases can occur in teens and young men. More than 90 percent of the cases of testicular cancer start as germ cell tumors.

Gabe Ganser came to IU Health Simon Cancer Center where he is in the care of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn – known for his successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors – using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

“The incidence of testis cancer is one in 400 American men and thus it is by definition, a rare cancer. However, since it is a young man’s disease, it is the most common cancer in males between the ages of 15 and 35,” said Dr. Einhorn. “If you have a first degree relative (brother or father) with testis cancer, your chance of testis cancer significantly increases, but still only one in 300.”

It was September 6 when Gabe Ganser was diagnosed. Five days later he underwent an orchiectomy. He began chemotherapy in early December.

“I have my ups and downs – some nausea and fatigue but overall I’m doing pretty good,” said Ganser, a senior communications major at the University of Dayton. He hopes to return to campus this semester and graduate with his peers in May.

One of the biggest adjustments has been learning to slow down.

A 2016 graduate of St. Theodore Guerin High School – where he won the “St. Augustine Medal” for volunteerism – Ganser is known for his school and community involvement. In high school he played football and golf, was president of the Catholic Life Committee and a founding member of Eagles’ Wings. The club focuses on providing service to those in need such as meals, homemade blankets or spiritual jars for the sick. Club members have shown up at funerals to provide emotional support to family. In college Ganser helped lead a Catholic retreat for youth, served as a seventh grade basketball coach, a campus RA and University fellow, and a church Eucharist minister and reader.

The idea of service is something Ganser learned early in life from his parents. “It’s overwhelming seeing it come full circle in what others are doing to support us,” said Ganser.

It’s also a little overwhelming for his family to again return to IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

“When we moved from South Bend in 1990 we knew we wouldn’t be close to the lakes in Michigan but if we ever got sick, we’d be close to a great hospital. I was treated here, three of our children were born at IU Health, and now we’re back,” said George Ganser.

“I think I’m blessed to have Dr. Einhorn as a doctor,” said Gabe. “He’s deliberate with his wording and confident that I’ll be cured and healed from this disease. He’s made me feel that confidence since the first time I talked to him.”