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Waukesha judge is a beacon of hope

By: Jane Pribek//March 19, 2013//

Waukesha judge is a beacon of hope

By: Jane Pribek//March 19, 2013//

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Judge Bill Domina stands in the atrium of the Waukesha County Courthouse. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

January was a monumental occasion for Waukesha County Judge Bill Domina.

At that time, he was declared five years cancer free.

Domina was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 47 in 2007. At the time, he was working at the Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel office.

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer among men in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute. Having a brother or father affected by the disease only increases one’s chances of being affected.

Domina was no stranger to the disease. His father, Donald, died of prostate cancer in 1975, when Domina was 14.

“It was very scary,” Domina said, “because I’d watched my father go through a horrible death, and suddenly, I was he. It’s really unusual to be diagnosed that young.”

Domina proceeded to research the treatment options, which included chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal treatments, open surgery and minimally invasive surgery. Because he was diagnosed at stage one, he was a strong candidate for surgery.

On Nov. 8, 2007, Dr. Brian Butler performed the surgery laparoscopically at Waukesha Memorial Hospital using da Vinci Robotic technology. One of the benefits of the technology, Domina said, is a briefer recovery period.

In Domina’s case that came in especially handy because one week later, he had an interview for a seat on the District II Court of Appeals. Domina was a finalist for the job, but ultimately didn’t get it –- a disappointment that easily was kept in perspective after beating cancer, he said. Domina was appointed to the Waukesha trial court bench in 2010.

Several months after the operation, hospital reps approached Domina to ask whether he’d be interesting in telling his story in a commercial. He said yes and talked his son, Joe, then 14, into joining him.

“I really appreciated it,” Domina said. “I thought it was a great way to remember my father, and to send the message that this is about doing better for the next generation.”

Filming the 50-second, unscripted spot took 11 hours, with footage shot in Domina’s living room, at Miss Katie’s Diner in Milwaukee and on the bridge spanning the Milwaukee River downtown on Wisconsin Avenue.

The ad ran for at least a year, and still can be seen on YouTube.

The brief foray into the spotlight made Domina a source of comfort to others dealing with prostate cancer. He said he receives calls from total strangers who seek his advice on how to cope and what to expect when dealing with the disease.

“The cancer thing was so personal to me,” Domina said, “that anytime I get a call from anyone going through this, I’m tickled. It’s so rewarding to be able to help.”

He’s also a frequent public speaker on the topic. And in 2009 he was one of three honorary chairmen for the Waukesha County Relay for Life.

Although he’s now cancer free, Domina remains dedicated to cancer awareness and said he never will forget his experiences dealing with the illness.

“I was happy about [being diagnosed cancer free], because it’s always in the back of your mind, and it always will be,” he said. “But it’s good to have that affirmation.”

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