Twins connected by cancer push for early detection

Twins connected by cancer push for early detection

There’s a special connection between brothers, and an even closer bond for Mark and Jon Hirsch, who are the spitting image of each other.  Mark lives in Platteville, Jon lives in Hartford; and while they may be separated by distance, their relationship has always remained strong.

“I would say we are best friends,” Mark Hirsch said. “We are essentially from the same egg. We are identical twins and there is that amazing connectivity,” he said.

It’s a connection so close, their experiences have been as identical as their appearance.

“He said, ‘You need to get tested,’ and he gave me the grim news,” Mark said.

Jon had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, a disease he was familiar with since his father had been diagnosed several years before. Mark immediately got tested.

“It had been three years since I had my test and I was complacent and, like most men, we all think we are invincible. If I hadn’t gotten that call from Jon, who knows where I would be today,” Mark said.

Mark received the same diagnosis just months after he had survived a near-fatal car accident. It was the second life-changing event for him that year.

“My first thought was, ‘Well, that doesn’t seem fair. You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I had gone through a challenge and then I was riding a wave of really good things and then to get that diagnosis, I was in disbelief,” he said

His diagnosis came in October 2013 while he was recovering from his car accident. As part of his recovery, he created the “That Tree” project, in which he documented a tree in a series of photos,with one picture a day for a year.

His photojournalism project made national headlines. After the cancer diagnosis, Mark turned to his own roots, to find comfort in sharing a hard experience with his twin brother.

“I think for us it probably made it a little bit easier because you had someone where you were going through something really difficult together,” Jon said.

Every year, 28,000 men die from prostate cancer but, luckily, the twins wouldn’t be included in that number, thanks to early detection. Both brothers decided to get a robotic prostatectomy.

Dr. David Jarrard at UW Hospital operated on Mark. Jarrard said early detection is key, but in recent years fewer men are taking the precaution of getting tested.

“Part of it has to do with fewer men being screened for prostate cancer. The disease is being detected later, when it’s creating more issues,” he said.

Both Mark and Jon have grown mustaches and are working with the Movember Foundation to raise awareness.  Although they are twins, Mark and Jon don’t agree on their new facial hair. Mark is ready to shave it off come Dec. 1, while Jon plans to keep his a little longer. But the message behind the mustaches is one the brothers hope doesn’t fade.

“For my son, for my brother, for my father, for anyone that can find themselves in this situation– men need to be aware that they need to be proactive about their own health,” Mark said.