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Patient in the Spotlight: Jim Martelotti, Prostate Cancer Survivor and Photographer

Jim Martelloti

He woke up to the flapping of his tent around his face on the mountain summit. His tent pole had worn through the material and wouldn’t hold. So, at 3:30 AM on December 31, 2005, Jim slowly began to work his way back down the mountain. He sat, partially descended from the summit, fresh-made hot chocolate from his stove in hand and watched the last sunrise of 2005 as the lone witness on the mountain. Jim Martelloti was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001. He called his diagnosis a “wake up call” that prompted him to wonder. He wondered what he wanted to accomplish and what he wanted to do with the time that he had remaining. And that is where his journey truly began.

Jim is a kind man of few words but many stories. He loves coffee (which he makes by hand on the stove in a Bialetti coffee pot every morning) and searching out beautiful places to share with people through his photography. Jim was always interested in photography. When he was a pre-teen, he saved up his money to buy a little Kodak camera. In college, he took a photography class and got to develop his own pictures, and in 2004, he got his first point-and-shoot digital camera. His first “good” camera came much later in 2012, and now he shoots with two Nikon D810 cameras and a Nikon D5. Jim is conservative with his spending but says that he will put money into cameras because he “doesn’t want any regrets”. Jim did not purchase his first “good” camera until he had missed a moment. He had sponsored a child in Bangladesh and had the chance to go to visit. He only had a little point and shoot camera, and in that moment, he realized that he may never have that kind of a chance again.

Before his diagnosis, he worked locally, but five years after his initial diagnosis and prostatectomy, he had a reoccurrence. He created a position for himself at his company in which he had the opportunity to travel to sister companies to assist and teach. Jim didn’t realize it at the time, but he later reflected that his diagnosis might have been the catalyst in his switching of job role and his push towards travel. Now retired, Jim enjoys traveling on his own. He explained that when going with a companion, you spend time communicating with your companion, but when you go alone, your companion is the mountain. He believes that he sees more when he is more attuned to the mountain. When Jim takes photos, he likes to remove himself from the situation and focus on the collection of things that are occurring to find what he calls “wall pictures” or photos that someone else might want to display. He doesn’t sell his photos; he makes sure that they are all available for everyone to enjoy. Jim has now traveled to several different countries, gone on 2 Nikon sponsored photography trips, 4 National Geographic trips, and a couple of trips on his own including backpacking trips through the Sierras.

Jim has 2 children of his own (44 and 46) and 2 grandchildren (14 and 16). He recalled that his diagnosis was more concerning to his family than to him. Jim put it as “when things happen to you, sometimes it’s easy to accept it because you don’t have a choice”. Jim’s unique perspective is that a diagnosis means you know more statistically about your longevity than other people. He felt that it gave him more time to plan and kept him from putting off things that he might want to do. His advice is to pose this question to yourself: how many things on your bucket list are skipped or put off until later? He reminded me, as a young adult, not to wait while we “feel that we have all time in the world”. Jim viewed his diagnosis and a re-evaluation point at which he gave himself full license to pursue his passion. Now, full of stories and many more photos to share, Jim is happy to have had that chance to spread the beauty of the world to others.

Chinyere Amobi, community editor for the Center for Health Journalism, and Amie Hwang, assistant professor of clinical preventative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, talk about cancer trends among young adults.