John P. Stein, M.D.

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The Faith in Our Lives



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The Faith in Our Lives  –  Dr. John Stein’s cancer ministry
July 13, 2007

As a urologic oncologist with a specialty in bladder reconstruction, Dr. John Stein has to tell people one of the hardest things they may ever hear – "You have cancer."

Some can be cured through surgery and aggressive treatment. Many go on to live quality lives with neo-bladders, a prosthetic bladder that performs the same functions as a healthy bladder and does away with an external bag. For others the diagnosis of cancer is a death sentence.

But for all of his patients, the diagnosis is a horrendous wake-up call.

"Being told you have a cancer is a huge life-changing event," reports Dr. Stein, sitting in his cramped seventh-story office in the urology department of the USC/ Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles. He looks a little weary in his white coat over green-blue surgical scrubs this late Thursday afternoon, some 10 hours through a 13-hour day. "I mean, many patients think they’re going to live forever and then they’re told they have cancer. A lot of patients will do very well, but still realize: ‘Hey, I’m mortal.’"

 At such crucial moments, the father of four and parishioner at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Pasadena, tries to connect with patients. And when he gets to know somebody under his care better, he has no qualms about sharing his beliefs and spiritual outlook on life and death if they ask.

 "I’ve found it to be really important to be able to connect with patients," he says. "I try to be humble and soft-spoken about it. I don’t try to bang that drum hard at all. But I have no problem telling someone ‘God bless you.’ I have no problem offering a prayer with a patient.

 "You get to know patients, and I’ll tell them I believe that there’s something more down the line, and that someone else is watching over everything. We may not have the answers to all of this, but I hope this being – whether you call it God or something else – does.

 "I think it’s OK to be spiritual and have that sort of an approach and share it with the patients," he adds. "It provides a sense of security for some people. And in the diseases that we deal with, if you’re told that you have cancer, it’s not uncommon that patients die from their malignancy."

After the diagnosis, the real battle begins, according to Dr. Stein. As a "very competitive guy," who thrived in school sports and volunteers as a coach at a basketball camp, he’ll do whatever it takes to win the war against cancer. That same steadfast determination extends to his own research efforts on bladder cancer as well as to teaching University of Southern California medical students and writing for major medical journals.

"This is a fight, and I enjoy that," he says. "I’ll do whatever I can to help you." 

When asked if the deadly struggle wears him down, he half-shrugs and only notes that some days are longer than others. But there are joys, too, like meeting and helping people – especially the elderly – along their life journey.

He gravitates toward older people because he’s curious about who’s been important in their lives and what were the keys to their success. Often he finds himself asking senior citizens, "What did you do to make you so happy and to live so long?"

He finds their stories fascinating, believing wisdom comes with age and not necessarily an M.D. or Ph.D. degree. He’s had some amazing conversations with patients with number tattoos on their forearms from being in World War II-era Nazi concentration camps.

But Dr. Stein readily admits he often loses the fight against cancer.

He talks about the "nicest man you’d ever meet"- a teacher and coach at a local Catholic high school who was diagnosed with severe prostate cancer. During the two years the educator was his patient, he never once complained or asked "Why me?" But after going through intense therapy, he still died, leaving a "beautiful" family with an incredibly strong mom at the helm.

"I think the hardest thing is especially when there’s a young family and they have kids," he says. "That’s the most challenging thing – parents who pass away with young children. But, unfortunately, that’s part of the job; it’s part of what I see.

"You keep on going, and keep on helping as many other people as you can. But you never really get over that. It’s very difficult not to become close to some of your patients – especially, unfortunately, if they die.

"It does take a lot out of you," he confides. "I try to stay in touch with these families as much as possible."

John Stein was always around medicine, growing up in Walnut Creek, Calif. His father, an anesthesiologist, would take him to the hospital and operating room where he worked. But he was always more interested in what was going on beyond the curtain, watching the surgeons operate, than he was in paying attention to what his dad was doing.

After attending public school, he went to the University of Notre Dame and then Loyola Medical School in Chicago, with the idea of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. But during a urology rotation he got to know and like the doctors there, and wound up doing a six-year residency and two-years of fellowship training in urologic oncology at USC. In 1997, he joined the faculty.

"I actually thought that being a doctor was a way that I could probably give back more," he recalls. "I think I picked oncology primarily because of the unique challenges as far as trying to take care of patients. I was primarily fascinated with reconstruction and bladder cancer. So that’s what kind of pushed me towards this."

The 44-year-old physician, in fact, was instrumental in developing a female version of the neo-bladder in the early 1990s.

That and other challenges have been met with a bedrock faith.

"It helps with patients; it helps with family; and it helps me," Dr. Stein explains. "It provides, hopefully, guidance and balance. This is my ministry. When you help people, you can help them physically, you can help them mentally and maybe there’s a spiritual component, too.

"If I can touch them that way, too, maybe I do help them a little bit in terms of global [holistic] healthcare," he adds. "This is how I conduct my ministry."

Used with permission; originally published: Friday, July 13, 2007,  The Faith in Our Lives – Dr. John Stein’s cancer ministry; The Tidings online magazine:


Dr. John P. Stein, USC professor, expert on urologic cancer, dies at age 45

By Elaine Woo; Los Angeles Times Staff Writerl April 17, 2008

Dr. John P. Stein, a professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine and an internationally known specialist in urologic cancers and bladder reconstruction, died Friday at a hospital in Naples, Fla. He was 45.

A research scientist and unusually skillful surgeon beloved for his compassionate bedside manner, Stein was a star in his field, who was, according to Keck Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, "what every dean of a medical school wants in a faculty member. He was a dedicated clinician, a state-of-the-art surgeon. He was a great innovator, a scientist . . . a terrific role model," who touched the lives of thousands and saved many lives.

Athletic and robust, Stein became seriously ill while attending a meeting of the American Assn. of Genitourinary Surgeons in Naples and was taken to a local hospital. Although doctors worked furiously to combat what appeared to be a massive infection, he died the next day.

Preliminary signs suggest a form of toxic shock syndrome, but the cause of death awaits the completion of autopsy studies, said Dr. Donald Skinner, a renowned USC urologic cancer surgeon, who trained Stein and helped guide his care at the Florida hospital.

Along with colleagues and patients, Skinner mourned Stein’s death as a tragic end to a brilliant career on the cusp of advancement.

"I consider him the finest surgeon I trained, an extension of my own hands, a member of my own family, like a son," said Skinner, who established Keck’s prestigious urology department 30 years ago.

Stein, who was born in San Francisco in 1962 and grew up in Walnut Creek, Calif., was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago. He completed his residency under Skinner at the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and became a professor of urology and co-director of the center’s Genitourinary Cancers Program.

Early in his career, he and three colleagues published a landmark study that helped to identify which patients had more aggressive forms of bladder cancer. Published in 1994 in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found that an alteration in the DNA of bladder cancer cells, called a molecular marker, could help predict who would most benefit from continuing treatment after surgery and who would be more likely to face a relapse.

In another major study, Stein demonstrated the importance of thorough lymph node removal in the successful treatment of bladder cancer, said Dr. Peter T. Scardino, a urologic oncologist and chairman of the department of surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Working with Skinner in the late 1980s, Stein also helped to develop a technique for reconstructing the bladder in patients who had lost the organ to cancer. Building a so-called neo-bladder using part of the patient’s intestine was a breakthrough that vastly improved the quality of life for bladder cancer survivors by allowing them to urinate normally. Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer among men and the eighth among women in the United States.

Bladder replacement initially was performed only on men because not enough was known about female urinary anatomy to ensure that women could successfully undergo the procedure. In women with bladder cancer, doctors routinely removed the urethra, where urine drains from the body, to prevent the spread of the cancer. Unconvinced that removing the urethra was necessary, Skinner and Stein studied cancer specimens and found that in women the cancer rarely spread that far. With other doctors, Stein conducted further studies, particularly examining the nerves that affect continence, and concluded that the urethra could be preserved.

"This revolutionized bladder reconstruction in women," Skinner said.

Colleagues said Stein was one of the rare doctors who could conduct basic research and apply it in the operating room.

"He was a marvelous surgeon to watch, quick, highly adept, with extraordinary hands and great understanding not only of the anatomy but of the disease and what needed to be done to remove the cancer and reconstruct the anatomy for the best possible function," Scardino said. "He had a great sense of the organization of an operation, the flow of it. It’s like being a very good fighter pilot in a time of war. . . . I never knew anyone better at it than John Stein."

At the relatively young age of 42, Stein was elected to the highly prestigious American Assn. of Genitourinary Surgeons. He also served on the editorial board of four major urologic journals and in 2003 received the Young Investigator Award by the Society of Urology Oncology.

He also earned the adoration of patients, who valued his humanity as much as his expertise. He hugged them, sometimes prayed with them, sat by their side when they cried, and joked with them to relieve their fears.

Said Santa Monica resident Paul Scott, who credits Stein with saving his life after being diagnosed with bladder cancer six years ago: "When you’re thinking about dying and your life is just in turmoil, here is this man who takes your hand in his and looks you in the eye and says ‘You’re going to be OK.’ He was just the kindest guy." Now a leader in the electric car movement, a cause he took up after regaining his health, Scott added, "I owe him so much."

While devoted to his patients, Stein also had high ambitions, intent on one day succeeding Skinner as head of USC’s urology department. When Skinner announced in 2006 that he would step down from his post the following year, an intensive search began for a replacement. "There was great competition for the job," Puliafito said.

On Friday, after meeting with the urology faculty, Puliafito had reached a decision: He planned to offer the job to Stein. But by then Stein was battling for his life.

Already showing signs of a cold or the flu, he had boarded a plane in Los Angeles early Wednesday and arrived in Florida late that night after delays caused by airline snafus. By the time he showed up at the conference hall Thursday morning, he was so sick he could barely stand. Colleagues rushed him to the hospital.

The local doctors made heroic efforts, aided by USC specialists who were in close contact by phone, but whatever malady had attacked him proved too virulent to be reversed.

Stein, a Pasadena resident, is survived by his wife of 18 years, Randi Goress Stein; four children, John, Joseph, Eleanor and Louisa May; his parents, Dr. Robert and Helen Mary Stein of Walnut Creek; and two brothers, Rob of London and Tom of Riverside, Conn.

A visitation and vigil service will be held at 7 p.m. tonightat the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, 2640 E. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena. A funeral Mass will be held there at 10 a.m. Friday. The Keck School of Medicine will hold a memorial service at a later date.

"Everyone felt he had just begun to come into his own as a leader in the field," Scardino said. "He was just about in position to be a mentor, to guide the next generation of young people who go into this field. He was such a valuable role model. It’s a huge loss in that way."


John P. Stein , MD

Associate Professor

Research Interests

Clinical and scientific research in urologic oncology and various forms of urinary diversion and bladder reconstruction, including the development of new and improved surgical techniques.

Clinical Interests

Surgical Treatment of Urologic Cancers: Bladder, Kidney, Prostate, & Penis
Nerve-Sparing Surgery of the Prostate & Bladder
Diseases of the Prostate
Bladder Reconstruction
Urinary Diversion
Transfusion Free (bloodless medicine)



Loyola University-Stritch, MD, 1989


LAC+USC Medical Center , 1989 – 1990


LAC+USC Medical Center: General Surgery, 1990 – 1991
LAC+USC Medical Center: Urology, 1991 – 1995


USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center: Urologic Oncology, 1995 – 1997

Board Certification

American Board of Urology, 1999



American Urologic Association
Alpha Omega Honor Society
Western Section of the AUA
American College of Surgeons
Society of Urologic Oncology

Clinical Affiliation

USC Care Medical Group
USC University Hospital
USC/Norris Cancer Hospital


Stein, J. P., Stenzl, A., Esrig, D., Freeman, J. A., Boyd, S. D., Lieskovsky, G., Cote, R., Bennett, C., Colleselli, K., Draxl, H., Janetschek, G., Poisel, S., Bartsch, G. and Skinner, D. G.: Lower urinary tract reconstruction following cystectomy in women using the Kock ileal reservoir with bilateral ureteroileal urethrostomy: initial clinical experience. J. Urol., 152: 1404-1408, 1994.

Stein J. P., Cote, R. J., Freeman, J. A., Esrig, D., Elmajian, D. A., Groshen, S., Skinner, E. C., Boyd, S. D., Lieskovsky, G. and Skinner, D. G.: Indications for lower urinary tract reconstruction in women after cystectomy for bladder cancer: a pathological review of female cystectomy specimens. J. Urol., 154: 1329-1333, 1995.

Stein, J. P., Lieskovsky, G., Bochner, B. H., Ginsberg, D. A. and Skinner, D. G.: The T-pouch: An orthotopic ileal neobladder incorporating a serous-lined ileal antireflux technique. J. Urol., 159: 1836-1842, 1998.

Stein JP and Skinner DG. Clinical presentation and investigation of bladder cancer. In: Bladder Cancer: Biology, Diagnosis, and Management (KN Syrigos and DG Skinner, eds) Oxford University Press, pp 167-180, 1999.

Stein, J. P.: Indications for early Cystectomy. Sem. Urol. Oncol., 18: 289-295, 2000.

Buscarini M, Stein JP, Lawrence MA and Skinner DG. Tube gastrostomy following radical cystectomy and urinary diversion: Surgical technique and experience in 709 patients. Urology 56:150-152, 2000.

Stein JP and Skinner DG. Orthotopic Urinary Diversion. Contemporary Urology 13(11):26-45, 2001.

Stein JP and Skinner DG. Radical cystectomy and orthotopic reconstruction for bladder cancer. In: Mastery of Surgery 4th Edition (RJ Baker and JE Fischer, eds), Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, Chapter 8, 1746-1765, 2001.

Stein, J. P., Lieskovsky, G., Cote, R., Groshen, S., Feng, A-C., Boyd, S., Skinner, E., Bochner, B., Tangathurai, D., Mikhail, M., Raghavan, D., and Skinner, D. G: Radical Cystectomy in the Treatment of Invasive Bladder Cancer: Long- Term Results in 1,054 Patients. J. Clin. Oncol., 19: 666-675, 2001.

Stein J P, Skinner DG and Montie J E. Radical cystectomy and pelvic lymphadenectomy in the treatment of infiltrative bladder cancer. (MJ Droller, ed) In: Bladder Cancer: Current Diagnosis and Treatment. Humana Press Inc., Ch 10, pp 267-301, 2001.

Williams SW, Buscarini M. and Stein JP. Molecular markers for diagnosis, staging and prognosis of bladder cancer. Oncology 15:1461-1476, 2001.

Stein JP. Contemporary concepts of urinary diversion. Tech Urology 3:185-7, 2001.

Stein J P, Quek, M D and Skinner DG. Contemporary surgical techniques for continent urinary diversion: continence and potency preservation. In: Atlas of Urologic Clinics of North America. W. B. Saunders, 9(2):147-174, 2001.

Stein JP and Skinner DG. Application of the T-mechanism to an orthotopic (T-pouch) Neobladder: A new era of urinary diversion. W. J. Urol. 18: 315-323, 2001.

Stein JP and Skinner DG. T-Mechanism applied to urinary diversion: The orthotopic T-pouch ileal neobladder and cutaneous double-T-pouch ileal reservoir. Tech Urology 7:209-222, 2001.

Stein JP and Skinner DG. Surgical ablation of invasive transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder. In: Management of Urologic Malignancies (FC Hamdy, JW Basler, DE Neal, and WJ Catalona, eds.) Churchill Livingston, Part 1, Chapter 7.1, pp 67-76, 2002.

Stein, J. P. and Skinner. DG. Orthotopic bladder replacement. In: Campbell’s Urology, Eighth Edition (PC Walsh, AB Retik, ED Vaughan and AJ Wein, eds.), W. B. Saunders, Ch 108, pp 3835-3864, 2002.

Kaiser AM. Stein JP. Beart RW Jr. T-pouch: a new valve design for a continent ileostomy. Diseases of the Colon & Rectum. 45(3):411-5, 2002.

Raghavan D. Quinn D. Skinner DG. Stein JP. Surgery and adjunctive chemotherapy for invasive bladder cancer. Surgical Oncology. 11(1-2):55-63, 2002.

Quek ML and Stein JP. Urinary diversions. In: Urologic Oncology Handbook (DA Nachtsheim, ed), Landes Bioscience, 2002.

Stein JP and Skinner DG. Surgical ablation of invasive transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder. In: Management of Urologic Malignancies (FC Hamdy, JW Basler, DE Neal, and WJ Catalona, eds.) Churchill Livingston, Part 1, Chapter 7.1, pp 67-76, 2002.

Wilson SS, Clark PE, and Stein JP. Angiomyolipoma with vena caval extension. Urology. 60(4):695-6, 2002.

Stein JP, Ginsberg DA and Skinner DG. Indications and technique of the orthotopic neobladder in women. Urologic Clinics of North America. 29(3):725-34, xi, 2002.

Stein JP and Skinner DG. Simple technique to stabilize the costochondral junction using synthetic mesh after a thoracoabdominal incision. Urology 59(5):768-770, 2002.

Petrovich Z., Lieskovsky G., Stein J.P., Huberman M., Skinner DG. Comparison of surgery along with surgery and adjuvant radiotherapy for PT3NO prostate cancer. BJU International 89:604-611, 2002.

Quek ML and Stein J P. Suprapubic urinary tube placement. In: Procedures and Monitoring for the Critically Ill. (WC Shoemaker, GC Velmahos, and D Demetriades, eds) WB Saunders, Chapter 19, pp. 139-146, 2002.

Stein JP, Cai J, Groshen S and Skinner DG. Risk factors for patients with pelvic lymph node metastases following radical cystectomyt with en bloc pelvic lymphadenectomy: The concept of lymph node density. J Urology 170: 35-40, 2003.

Stein JP. Contemporary concepts of radical cystectomy and the treatment of bladder cancer. J Urology 169(1):116-7, 2003.

Quek ML, Stein JP, Clark PE, Daneshmand S, Miranda G, Cai J, Groshen S, Lieskovsky G, Quinn DI, Raghavan D., and Skinner DG. The natural history of surgically-treated bladder cancer with extravesical tumor extension. Cancer 98(5): 955-961, 2003.

Quek, M. L., Quinn, D. I., Daneshmand, S., and Stein, J. P.: Molecular prognostication in bladder cancer. Eur J Cancer, 2003.

Quek ML, Stein JP, Clark PE, Daneshmand S, Miranda G, Cai J, Groshen S, Lieskovsky G, Quinn DI, Raghavan D., and Skinner DG. The natural history of surgically-treated bladder cancer with extravesical tumor extension. Cancer 98(5): 955-961, 2003.