ZERO entered my life right when I needed support the most. It was January 2016, and I had just finished my last CyberKnife SBRT radiation treatment. Through my treatment, I struggled with the WHY behind prostate cancer. Why me? Why did this happen to me?
I turned to Dr. Google for answers. I needed solutions, and I needed to know there were men like me who lived to tell the tale. Dr. Google led me to ZERO and the right place for patients to find correct answers. The next month ZERO was holding its annual Summit and I knew I had to go! That decision changed my life.
ZERO provided me a safe place to seek accurate answers, resources, guidance, and support for this silent disease that men never hear about — yet 1 in 9 of us will have to reckon with it at some point in our lives.
I was at my first Summit to learn about the disease. Finding out I had the disease was scary enough. But then realizing my medical provider wouldn’t be able to handle or support the treatments I needed was traumatic; I had to come to grips with the realization that my options for treatment within the Phoenix VA Healthcare System were limited (I’m a retired naval aviator). Even more frustrating was the fact that the facility I was diagnosed at was under intense national scrutiny for failing as a medical treatment center.
After dealing with issues at the Phoenix VA related to my prostate cancer, it hit me that many other Veterans with prostate cancer were in a similar situation and struggling to receive proper medical care from the VA. I knew I had to do something. I needed (and wanted) to work with, educate, and raise awareness of prostate cancer among the Veteran population.
As a result of many heartfelt discussions and encouragement from physicians, Veterans, friends, and fellow advocates, I formed Veterans Prostate Cancer Awareness (VPCa) as a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
VPCa’s mission is to educate and raise awareness about prostate cancer within the Veteran population, both active duty and retired Veterans alike. Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in the VHA (Veterans Health Administration) system, with over 489,000 men diagnosed (more than 16,000 of those men have metastatic cases). It was clear that men needed to know about this disease and the correlation between military service and diagnosis. The VHA has a very high rate of metastatic diagnosis upon detection, at over 14% as recently reported in a study, which is double that of the civilian diagnosis. Because of this, I believe Veterans need to be formally deemed a High-Risk Population for prostate cancer, and that the VHA needs to do a much better job of earlier screening.
As I got to know the ZERO staff, they played an incredibly important role in helping me decipher treatment options and becoming connected to the larger prostate cancer community.
The VISION 2020 of VPCa and ZERO is to reach all 16 million male American Veterans and ensure each knows about prostate cancer and their increased risk. We will help provide accurate and up-to-date information on treatment options, and tools for supporting patients and caregivers.
It’s a natural partnership and a very gratifying step in developing a beneficial relationship between two organizations with the common mission of taking steps to end prostate cancer.
As General Patton said, “Every man is a vital link in the great chain.” Together, ZERO and VPCa are a solid link in the fight to end prostate cancer.