You know your day, your year and the rest of your life will be impacted when a doctor informs you that you have cancer.
I heard the dreaded six-letter word at the end of January this year when my urologist, Dr. James R. Stille, informed me that the results of my biopsy had come back positive for prostate cancer.
Dr. Stille quickly told me, however, that the biopsy showed the cancer was confined to the prostate. It had not spread. Therefore, I was an excellent candidate for several treatment options.
This column will tell you a little about my journey to remove cancer and also encourage all men, especially black men, to get tested yearly to determine if you have the disease, the most-common cancer in men. If caught early, the cure rate is high.
Prostate cancer need not be a death sentence.
I did not exhibit any of the symptoms associated with someone who may have prostate cancer. That is why routine testing is so important.
I owe a great debt of thanks to my two childhood friends, both East High School graduates, who kept encouraging me to get tested. They are James in Texas and Kathy in Maryland. James is a prostate-cancer survivor. Kathy’s husband is recovering from prostate cancer. Through telephone calls and emails, they showed their love and concern for me by imploring me to make yearly testing for prostate cancer a part of my annual physical.
In May 2012, while getting my physical, my family doctor, Dr. Denise Bobovnyik, noticed that my PSA level had risen. My level had been around a level 1. My PSA had risen to 2.3. She referred me to Dr. Stille.
PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen, an enzyme made by the prostate that can be checked in a blood test. Dr. Stille performed a digital-rectal exam in June and found no lumps or hard spots. He said to have another PSA test done in December and come back to see him. The results of the December test showed my PSA level had gone from 2.3 to more than 3 in six months. Dr. Stille performed another digital exam, but felt no lump or hard spot. He said I should have a biopsy done.
One of the great resources my friend James gave me was a book titled “Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer” written by Dr. Patrick Walsh, a distinguished service professor of urology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and Janet Farrar Worthington, an award-winning science writer whose father also had prostate cancer. They combined to write a book that addressed every aspect of the disease, beginning with an understanding of the prostate itself, screening and detection and the various treatments for this particular cancer.
I had consultations with a radiation oncologist in Austintown and a prostate surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.
After much prayer, discussion with my wife and discussions with several men who are prostate- cancer survivors as well as with wives of men who had prostate cancer, I decided on robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy.
The surgeon, Dr. Jihad Kaouk, and his practitioner, Dr. Humberto Laydner, did an outstanding job explaining the procedure, its risks and its outcomes. I decided to have my prostate removed for two reasons. First, radical prostatectomy remains the “gold standard” if cancer is confined to the prostate, Dr. Walsh writes. He quickly adds, however, that the surgery should be for younger men with curable disease who are in good health otherwise and can reasonably expect to live an additional 15 years. I felt I was in that category. Second, my biopsy showed a potential trouble area that could develop into another tumor.
On April 1 — no joke — Dr. Kaouk and his staff performed the operation at the Cleveland Clinic. I was back home in the late afternoon April 2. The recovery time is about four weeks, so hopefully, I will be able to return to work and to my church activities next week. I have suffered no major setbacks.
During this time, my faith in God was put to the test. The two Scriptures that were my anchor were Isaiah 41:10 and I Peter 5:7. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with thee. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your care upon him [God], for he cares for you.”
Prayers were offered on my behalf from friends and colleagues throughout the country. Special thanks to my friends at New Bethel Baptist Church for their prayer support, and, of course, my church family at Rising Star Baptist Church.
Our home is filled with get-well cards. My wife, Cherrie, was my rock during this time. God could not have chosen a better life partner for me. The Vindicator family sent gifts of food. Home-baked cookies and pastries were great treats from my church family.
If you are a man 40 and older, I beg you to get tested. Dr. Walsh writes that black men, particularly young black men, seem to get more-severe forms of prostate cancer and are more likely to have recurrences and die of the disease than young white men.
Doctors from the Mayo Clinic, as well as Dr. Walsh, say they don’t know why black men are hit so hard by prostate cancer. Dr. Walsh, however, suggests that genes may play a role. That is why it is important for black men to know their family history to learn if an uncle, father, a grandfather had prostate cancer or prostate problems.
I have told my son, my nephews and all the males in my family and on my wife’s side of the family to get tested, the earlier the better.
Get Dr. Walsh’s book. Do your research on the Internet. Be proactive in your health care.
I still have some challenges to face down the road, but I believe the worst part is behind me.
It is my prayer that a year from now, I am still writing a column, and I will be able to say I’m still doing well.
Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly column. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org