Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Encouragement from a Survivor

It's official, I can now be considered a prostate cancer survivor. My recent check up with my physician showed an excellent PSA (Prostate-specific antigen which is checked through a blood test) level and no remaining sign of the disease. So my surgery four months ago can be considered a success.

I was diagnosed last fall and I have to admit hearing that you have cancer, no matter what kind, is unsettling to say the least. Even though prostate cancer is one of the most treatable of all cancers its still not easy to here the words that confirm that you have contracted the disease.

For reasons that I'll include in another post, I put off the biopsy that showed the extent of the cancer for a couple of months. But fortunately it was caught early and I can look forward to full recovery.

There are a few things that come to mind when I think about my experience.

One is how few men talk about their experience. Once members of the church, friends and others found out I had the disease other men who had gone through the same thing came out of the woodwork! They did offer words of comfort, prayers and encouragement, but I kept thinking that perhaps if I had known how many faced what I was going through, I wouldn't have been nearly as worried, nor would I have brushed off so many opportunities to learn about prostate care. Although my father has the disease and we had talked somewhat about what he was going through, I didn't make the connection. I didn't even know that my maternal grandfather had the disease until after I had been diagnosed!

Obviously much of that was my fault for not asking enough questions, but in the end there ought to be much more conversation among men about what this disease is and prostate health in general. We need to do as much promotion with regard to prostate cancer as we do with breast cancer.

Secondly, I thought about those who don't have insurance. Even though the hospital stay was short (overnight), and the surgery relatively innovative (the robotic laproscopic technique), it was also an expensive surgery. How many men die needlessly, because they don't have the examinations, or treatments which could help them detect, live with the disease or choose appropriate forms of treatment? Think of the number of poor whose treatment (if they receive it at all), must be much more invasive and devastating.

One of the reasons I do what I do for a living, is to be a part of work that looks to make good medical care available to people who are on the margins - its hard work because we have a long way to go!

Finally I thought of those who are in denial about the importance of prostate care, diagnosis and treatment. Many men apparently don't want to know. It's hard to blame them on one level.
The examinations can be uncomfortable, to put it mildly.
The options confusing.
The apprehension can be paralizing.
If you have surgery, although minimally invasive like mine, it can be painful.
Recovery can be humbling.
But in the end, knowing that you have dealt with it can be extremely liberating.

When I was talking with a friend's husband yesterday about having the examination, he claimed to have had a check up, although he couldn't rememeber when he had the last one. And then began talking about his faith and his view that he has to die with something. And while I have to admit that I still have work to do to improve my lifestyle and health outcomes, its important that we do not use our faith as an excuse to not take care of ourselves.

Although a man of faith, I am appreciative of the fact that regular examinations and medical technology put me in a position where I didn't have to feel entirely out of control, nor did I have to approach my health care with resignation. There are some things we must experience, but we can be proactive, educated and generous with one another about our outcomes and outlook. This doesn't take the place of the prayers and, what I am certain is, the Grace of God, which saw me and my family through an extremely challenging time.

So I want to encourage men to have their exams. And if you are a woman reading this, encourage the men in your life to have their exams. To not do so means that some of us place ourselves and our loved ones at incredible physical and emotional risk.

The facts are sobering:

One in every 38 men, 40-59 will contract this disease. For those who are 60+ the odds increase to 1 in 15. African-American men are more than 60% likely to develop prostate cancer than our Caucasian brothers and more than twice as likely to die from it. If you have a relative - father, brother or son who have had the disease, you need to be particularly proactive and if more than two of your relatives have had it, even moreso because you are nearly four times as likely to be diagnosed.

You can find more information at the Prostate Cancer Foundation website:

It's no fun going through the process. But it's great being a survivor!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Gerald!

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