By Cameron Teague Robinson, Louisville Courier Journal
Al Gold’s entire life changed on his 65th birthday.
To that point in his life, Gold hadn’t had any major health problems, but a checkup at the doctor was followed by a biopsy and then the official news. It was prostate cancer.
The New Jersey native, and long-time horse lover, didn’t have any symptoms, he said.
Immediately his mind began racing.
Was his life over? How bad would the treatments be? How bad would this be for his family?
But 16 months later, as the 148th Kentucky Derby nears on May 7, Gold is preparing to fly to Louisville to watch his first qualifier run in the prestigious race. His horse, Cyberknife, named after the procedure he had just after being diagnosed with cancer, is running and led by Louisville-native trainer Brad Cox.
As Gold approaches the Derby, now in remission, he’s hoping not only that Cyberknife can win the Run for the Roses, but can bring awareness to prostate cancer as a whole.
“I am using this to get the word out that when you have prostate cancer you are afraid but this is a form of cancer that is treatable,” Gold said.
A ‘painless’ procedure
When Gold was told about his diagnosis on Dec. 7, 2020, he was with his wife and daughter. He had friends and family come to meet him at 6 a.m. on the day of his biopsy, as well.
His support system meant the world to him, but that didn’t stop him from being scared of what was coming next.
As Gold was given his options, he was told about a treatment called Cyberknife. The radiation procedure is five treatments, 18 minutes each, which he described as painless.
“They told me that you lie down, a machine moves around you, and you are listening to music. You just sit there strapped in comfortably and it’s 18 minutes of listening to whatever you want and it’s over,” he said. “It wasn’t a scary thing after the first procedure.”
The treatment itself was simple for Gold. Though named “cyberknife” the procedure itself doesn’t involve a knife or an incision.
The machine, which moved around Gold throughout his 18-minute procedure, is designed to send radiation with precise accuracy. The purpose is to kill the cancer cells without damaging the other healthy tissue or cells in the body.
Often for patients they listen to music, Gold said he chose the Beatles, some Led Zepplin, and even Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and before he knew it his treatment for the day was done.
He checked out of the hospital six months ago and he knew the name Cyberknife was perfect for what he describes as the best horse he’s ever had.
“A lot of the famous horses in history are one-word names. I figured it was a good name too aside from the fact of getting the name out there,” he said.
A teenager fascinated by horseracing
Gold didn’t grow up around horses, but he quickly fell in love with horse racing as a teenager.
The first race he attended was in Monticello, New York, and he thought it was fascinating.
“The place was packed and it really excites you,” he said.
More than 50 years later, and Cyberknife is his best horse. The colt’s reviews were good even before he started racing.
“I heard from way back that the horse was going to be special. That it was training well so I was excited for a long time about it,” Gold said.
The traits in workouts that trainers and Gold have raved about has also turned into success on the race track. His most recent race, the Arkansas Derby, ended in the first Graded Stakes win. It solidified a Kentucky Derby qualification, as well.
That was a special moment, Gold said.
The Kentucky Derby will be another highlight in Cyberknife’s career, but also Gold’s.
He’s never had a horse in the Kentucky Derby. He’s been told about how amazing the experience is, but has never lived it. He’s excited to participate on May 7.
“I just want the experience,” he said. “Everybody who has gone told me it would be a great experience. I had a horse run the first race 15 years ago and now we’re going for the big time.”
But he also wants to make sure people know the story behind his horse and that people who are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the future don’t have to be scared.
“If this changes one person’s life where they aren’t as nervous when they are told they have prostate cancer then it’s worth it,” Gold said.
Photo: Moni Hawkins waits to lead Kentucky Derby hopeful Cyberknife to the track at Churchill Downs for a morning gallop. By Pat McDonogh/Courier Journal.