Columnist is cancer-free a year after surgery

It has been a year since my cancerous prostate was removed. I am happy to report that subsequent blood tests have shown no signs of cancer.

Early detection was the key to my successful treatment. That detection consisted of a digital-rectal exam and a blood test called PSA, which stands for prostate-specific antigen, an enzyme made by the prostate.

I’ll speak more about the PSA later in this column.

But I want to share a letter and email from two friends who encouraged me to keep talking about getting checked for prostate cancer.

One of my friends, Chester Nelms Sr., approached me when I attended my cousin’s funeral earlier this year at Christian Bible Baptist Church. Chester is one of the church’s deacons. He and I met many years ago when we played fast-pitch softball together for Oakhill Pharmacy. He was a solid performer, especially deadly as a hitter. He also dedicated many years and hours coaching youth baseball and softball in this area.

He slowly made his way over to me, and we hugged. He had read my column last year about prostate cancer. Chester is recovering from a stroke, so he couldn’t speak very well. But he said he had something he wanted to give me after the service.

He gave me a slip of paper and said he wanted me to give this admonition to his friends:

“Ernie: Please write this letter to all my fellow players and coaches that I’ve coached against to get their annual checkups. Prostate cancer has taken another friend and loved one.

“Please, my friends, when you read this, take care of yourselves, and get close to God as you can.”

After reading about my cancer battle, I received an email from my friend Paula.

This is what she wrote:

“Dear Ernie, I just read your account of your medical experience. My husband has also lived that experience. It has been three years for him. We thank and praise God for the VA [hospital] in Cleveland. He was treated there, and now he, too, is cancer free.

“Please post a yearly newspaper column encouraging black men to be tested and to follow through with their treatment plan. You would be shocked at the number of black men who know [they need treatment] but will not follow through.”

The PSA test remains controversial. Some articles have been written saying the test is overblown. In fact, a recent edition of the AARP Bulletin lists the test as one of 10 that should be avoided because it may do more harm than good.

According to that publication, an estimated 75 percent of tests that show high PSA levels turn out to be false alarms.

Even the American Urological Association, which supports PSA testing, says that it should be considered mainly for men age 55 to 69.

Every person, of course, has to decide the best course of treatment to deal with their physical condition. I am just one person, but the PSA test, in my case, may have saved my life.

Three digital-rectal exams by my oncologist did not detect any abnormality with my prostate. I never displayed any symptoms of prostate problems.

The rising PSA levels, however, showed something was not right. A biopsy I had in January 2013 confirmed that I had prostate cancer.

Early detection gave me a list of choices — radiation-seed implantation therapy, external radiation treatment, robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy, traditional prostatectomy and active surveillance, which is periodic monitoring of the prostate to determine whether the cancer has spread enough to become a concern.

I chose the robotic prostatectomy. I was healthy enough to have it done, it was minimally evasive, and recovery time was a little faster.

I am in no way advocating prostate-removal surgery as the best option. It was for me, but it may not be a good option for men in their 70s or early 80s. Incontinence problems top the list of drawbacks with a prostatectomy.

What I am advocating, however, is that men should get prostate exams, especially black and Latino men. For some reason, this form of cancer is more prevalent in minority men.

Statistics show 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.

The theories range from different diets to genetics, but there is no clear-cut answer.

All I’m saying is that the digital-rectal exam literally takes a few seconds. The PSA test also is completed quickly, again less than 30 seconds.

My prostate surgery was April 1, 2013. God has blessed me to see another year.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Have your prostate checked as a part of any physical examination.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at

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