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by Timothy Fitzgerald   |   October 23, 2019

Seeing Prostate Cancer as a Gift

My name is Tim Fitzgerald, and I am a 54-year-old sportswriter who lives in Manhattan, Kansas. One year ago while covering the NCAA Tournament South Regional in Atlanta, my life changed forever. That day I received a call from a concerned insurance agent, who informed me that I was being rejected for a life insurance policy because my PSA score was alarmingly too high. He said I should go to my doctor immediately. I did not know the meaning of the letters “P.S.A.” I thanked him, hung up and entered “PSA” into Google.

Much has happened in the past year. My diagnosis is dire. My prostate was removed, I was told my cancer spread to my bladder, and eventually removing my bladder is a real possibility. I’ve done two months of radiation. I’m on two hormone therapies, and I’ve battled a plethora of physical and emotional challenges. I am now classified as having Stage 4 prostate cancer. The predicted survival period for Stage 4 prostate cancer is on average five years.

As I reflect on it all, I understand that my purpose isn’t to pray for a cure, but to ask for strength and wisdom as I walk this path. My purpose is to do something with this unexpected challenge. I am in the process of forming a nonprofit organization — Blue Shamrock Society  — with the goal of promoting prostate cancer awareness and education. 

I now see life much differently. I see time as certainly finite, even though it is for all of us, and I now see my cancer as a gift. I have a chance to save others. To educate. To raise awareness. Maybe to save another life that is meant for a greater purpose than my own.

And none of this is easy. I try to laugh because that is my nature. I battle incontinence, I have permanent erectile dysfunction, and my radiation has had lingering and unpleasant side effects. I shall always be an open book about the details of this fight because for too long men have turned away from such discussions. We need to learn from the courage of our sisters who began standing up to breast cancer in the 1980s in a way that was viewed as taboo at the time.

Now we all are aware of breast cancer and how it impacts the women (and some men) in our lives. Yet, men still do not openly discuss prostate cancer. Most of us do not understand the role of our prostate and many, like me one year ago, do not know the acronym PSA, which is the Prostate Specific Antigen. This must change, and that’s why I’m reaching out to organizations, to help us answer this challenge. 

Approximately 175,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually, and it is estimated that over 31,000 men will die this year alone. For survivors of prostate cancer, early detection is the key, which is why the simple act of getting men to the doctor to score their PSA or to undergo a digital exam is so crucial.

This call for action holds extra significance for all men, and specifically on my heart has been for coaches of college athletes. There is not only a dramatically larger percentage of African-American men who are stricken by prostate cancer, but the death rates have historically been double that of the white population. One of the big reasons for this disparity is education and access to health care.

For the African-American male student-athletes in our locker rooms, prostate cancer remains a grave threat to them later in life, and it is of a present concern for those men in their lives who are 40 and over.

The support of college coaches not only offers notable access to men of all races who need immediate education and awareness about prostate cancer, but it also offers a grassroots connection to a community closely tied to college athletics that is in desperate need of specifically targeted education and awareness.

We need to spread the word to males across the nation. Go get a checkup. The traditional American male idea that going to the doctor is a sign of weakness must end. No one is tougher than untreated cancer. I may have found out too late, but in my time left — be it five years or 50 — I shall preach #PSAKnowYourScore until I breathe no more.

Prostate cancer is killing us, my brothers, and I respectfully ask for your assistance in spreading that message.