September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness month. I must confess, this event had very little meaning in my life. So did the statistics on prostate cancer. One in six men will receive this diagnosis in their lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society 241,740 men will receive this diagnosis this year and more than 28,000 men will die of prostate cancer this year. Even though prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in men, I’ve rarely met a man concerned about this disease, or who was worried about the possibility of receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
As with other dangers we face, we live our lives thinking this will happen to other men, but not us. We cope in this way until unthinkable happens to us.
My journey with prostate cancer began in a very unexpected way. I went to my Urologist to get a prescription re-fill. I was feeling quite healthy, so I thought this would be one the best and easiest doctor’s visits in my lifetime. My expectations were shattered when the doctor said “Before I refill your prescription, I’d like to examine your prostate.” Alarm bells went off in my head. I wasn’t due for a prostate exam for 4 months. Since a digital rectal exam is my least favorite exam, I declined his offer.
He calmly said “No exam, no prescription re-fill.”
All I needed was a prescription re-fill. In order to get it I was forced into exam I didn’t want or need. I was ticked off, but could I do? I needed that prescription, so I agreed to the exam. Little did I know that in the next few seconds my life would change forever. While the DRE is unpleasant, it is also an exam that at ends quickly. The urologist performed the exam and said to me “I felt a suspicious lump so you’ll need a biopsy” In the time it took you to read that sentence, my life was forever changed. I couldn’t believe the news I’d just received.
I’ve worked as a medical social worker. I knew that “suspicious lump” and a “biopsy” meant one thing. My urologist suspected I had prostate cancer. Two powerful emotions instantly became my close companions for the next few weeks. They were terror and fear.
As I drove home from my appointment I knew my wife Brenda would ask “So, how did your doctor’s visit go?” I had no clue how I was going to break the news to my wife that my appointment for a prescription re-fill ended with the possibility I had prostate cancer. I knew this news would hit her very hard.
A few weeks later I had my biopsy, which confirmed I had prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is a uniquely confusing disease. When I had sharp pain on my right side I went to the Doctor. I was immediately sent to an emergency room and had my appendix removed. With prostate cancer it is up to the patient to decide what type of treatment to choose. You are expected to figure out the best way to treat a potentially life threatening disease you know nothing about, at time when you are emotionally shell-shocked. I took a few very stressful weeks to research the various treatment options. I chose surgery.
A few weeks after surgery I received my pathology report. The cancer was contained within my prostate and I received the news that surgery healed me from prostate cancer. I expected I’d feel grateful forever. Little did I know, I was heading down a path for the most serious depression I’d faced in my lifetime.
There is so much more to heal from in addition to the physical healing from surgery. As I’ve walked this path it’s become a life mission to make sure men and their partners are more prepared for their journey than we were.
If you are over 40, I hope you will pay attention to National Prostate Cancer Awareness month. I know the exam is unpleasant, but do it any way. Prostate cancer, when caught in the early stages is curable. Do yourself and those who love you a favor, make the commitment to get yearly prostate exams. My commitment to do this saved my life, it could save yours.