While it’s a generalization to say “men don’t go to the doctor,” there’s also some truth in that old cliché. I read the Cleveland Clinic’s 2016 MENtion it Survey, which said 40 percent of men don’t get annual checkups, and even if we fear a serious medical condition, only 42 percent of us actually go to the doctor. I, myself, had not seen a physician for 15 years.
But, now that I’ve been treated for prostate cancer, I can say I didn’t fully understand the value— or the necessity— for annual physicals.
I had plenty of reasons to justify my avoidance. I regularly do high intensity exercise, Beach Body Insanity workouts and kettlebell workouts. I enjoy hiking around the White Mountains and playing golf—and can’t remember the last time I had a cold. Prior to this diagnosis, when I got a physical, the doctor even told me, “You’re in great shape. See you in ten years!”
In October 2016, I received a company email inviting me to have a preventative health evaluation that would give me a discount on next year’s healthcare premium.
Because of my good health, I didn’t worry about the exam and went through a battery of blood tests–including the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test used for screening prostate cancer. Something told me to take that one.
Everything was fine with the exception of the test results showing my PSA at 4, the high end of the range. It took another three months before I showed the results to a doctor who repeated the test. This time my PSA was up to 4.3.
I went to see Dr. Kashif Alvi at Urologic Surgeons of Arizona in Mesa who, after some additional testing, delivered the diagnosis: localized prostate cancer.
I was not entirely surprised by the news. My father also had prostate cancer. Treated, he is very much alive and well today. I joked with my wife, that with so many people getting cancer, we’re just waiting our turn. Naturally, my wife was concerned, but we stayed calm and considered our options.
Dr. Alvi gave me the choice of active surveillance (watchful waiting) to track the disease, or treatments such as radiation, cryotherapy, or surgery to remove the prostate. I also learned all of those treatments could produce devastating side effects like incontinence and/or impotence.
At Dr. Alvi’s suggestion, I also considered another option called HIFU, or High Intensity Focused Ultrasound. I was a candidate because I had low-grade cancer that had not spread outside the prostate gland. HIFU directs ultrasound waves to attack the diseased area of prostate tissue to stop its progress. Before making a decision, Dr. Alvi recommended I research HIFU for myself. Even though this option is fairly new in the U.S., it’s been successfully used outside the country for years and more than 45,000 men have had the procedure worldwide.
Part of the reason I chose HIFU is because the risks of those dreaded side effects are much lower than with other prostate cancer treatments. It’s important for me to highlight this point, because many men avoid discussing these issues openly.
As an African-American man, I’m aware men of my race are two times more likely to get prostate cancer than white males. I’m a black man with history of prostate cancer in the family—I knew I was at risk. After I first got my diagnosis, I contacted my brother and sent an email to my black fraternity brothers telling them to get their PSA tests. They were stunned because they knew me to be someone in good shape with no medical issues. I’m glad to say, they took my advice and got their check ups. One even invited a physician to speak to the men at his church about prostate cancer.
For myself, I’m glad I took that preventive health checkup at work. It saved my life. There’s no better gift than that. Now, I want other men to know they need to be screened and that there’s an alternative treatment for those with localized prostate cancer.