- I don’t want to have cancer.
No one wants to have cancer. Cancer happens the way life happens. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t signal the end, but the beginning of a new fight that will change your lifestyle. Who wouldn’t like an advantage to win the lottery or to be guaranteed to the ‘right person’ the first time? We all most certainly would, but that’s not really possible. There is however an advantage you have with cancer that tips the odds in your favor. You can cheat cancer a little with two simple words: early detection.
- I have better things to do.
We all have better things to do. I’d rather be fishing, or reading a book, working in my garden or playing guitar. Hell, I’d rather scrub a toilet than get tested for prostate cancer! But if you think you have better things to do than getting a PSA test, you’re wrong. This simple, inexpensive, painless blood test can be the most important thing you do in your entire life. It can be a reminder that sets your mind at ease for another year or it can let you know that something isn’t right; a warning like ‘slippery when wet’ or ‘bridges freeze before highways’. It is important to know your baseline PSA level so you can recognize changes immediately. Get tested. You don’t have better things to do because the most important thing working in your favor is early detection.
- I’ve heard it is slow growing.
There is an old adage I first heard from a doctor. He said, “There are some cancers you die of, some you die with.” Some prostate cancers are indeed slow growing, which is why ‘watch and wait’ is an option. However, you can’t automatically assume, “I have plenty of time to address this. What’s the rush to do something right now?” When I received my diagnosis with a Gleason score of seven (4+3), I was told that I didn’t need to make a decision right away, but neither should I let grass grow under my feet. I attribute my positive surgical outcome to PSA testing and early detection. Prostate cancer isn’t always slow growing.
- I don’t have any family history.
Family history has to start somewhere. I had no family history until my brother called me one day in 2008 to say he had been diagnosed. I now realize that I was only looking at immediate family. I later learned that I had two uncles and more than a few cousins that had prostate cancer. Looking back now, I can see it came from my dad’s side of the family. Don’t put on blinders when looking at family medical history. Two of my cousins in Canada did not have very positive outcomes. Neither did they have early detection.
- I’m too busy.
We are all busy. It seems like success in life today takes up all our time. We put ourselves under stress to get ahead, or just to stay even. But knowing your PSA baseline number takes almost no time. In fact, if you have it done as a routine part of an annual physical it takes no more time than you have already allocated to your ongoing health. Being busy is no excuse for avoiding the one thing that can afford you early detection.
- I don’t trust doctors.
This is a personal decision. Doctors study a long time and in recent decades have moved away from general medicine to specialized areas. Whatever your disease, there are bright young minds absorbing and furthering the pool of collective knowledge to understand and treat you. The best way for you to remain healthy is to talk to your doctor about any reservations you have, and to be tested anyway.
- I’m scared of cancer and don’t want to feel alone.
Anyone who says they’re not scared of cancer is either exhibiting a false bravado or not being completely honest. Once you get a confirmed cancer diagnosis, you are never alone. Support groups abound for any disease. They are filled with people just like you who faced what you are facing and have gotten through it. Support groups – in person and online – offer personal stories, can answer your question, and will help you feel less alone. It is good to have a healthy fear of cancer, it means you haven’t given up and are ready to give the fight of your life. Go to any of these support group websites and each will say there is no substitute for having an acute awareness of your health that can provide you early detection.
- I don’t want to worry my wife and kids.
This one is easy. Imagine your wife and kids without you. Imagine them going through life’s milestones with you only as a memory. If you don’t want to cause them worry, involve them in your journey. Educate them as you learn about your illness and treatment options. Let them know what to expect. They are your family. They love you. Help your partner to understand your needs and be kind. Laugh with them when you can, because there will be times when you cannot. Since you now have family history, remind them that this is now in their DNA and they need to develop an awareness of this disease in their own life. Awareness can provide them the gift of early detection.
- What if I leak pee?
We came into this life without urinary control, and our parents still loved us. My point is, leaking pee is not the end of the world. It might be an embarrassment, an inconvenience or an annoyance. There are exercises one can do to help relieve or even eliminate symptoms of incontinence. If men have their prostate removed before there is any involvement of the critical nerve bundle that controls continence, there is a much better prospect for good urinary control. And the best way to do this is to get tested and track your PSA every year to ensure early detection.
- What if I can’t get an erection?
Erectile function sometimes becomes the yardstick by which one measures his worth. Interestingly, partners and spouses in caregiver roles list many other things as being far more important. They love you. They already know you are scared. They know you are fighting to beat cancer with no guaranteed outcome. Whether or not you know it, they already have factored in the possibility of your erectile dysfunction. It is well publicized and a part of preoperative information that if the nerve bundles cradling the prostate are involved with cancer, the potential for positive outcome is decreased. That is not to say erectile function recovery will not happen, but it can take longer and present significant challenges. The very best way to tilt things in your favor for undiminished erectile function is to catch your cancer early, before the nerve bundles become involved.
Know your number! Get a PSA test and monitor those results over time. Your very best opportunity for positive post-prostatectomy results is early detection.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. If you don’t get a PSA test in September it doesn’t mean you’ve dodged a bullet and can wait until next September – that bullet may still be headed your way. It only means that you have overslept. You’ve hit a snooze button on your life and you need to wake up and smell the coffee! Be your own best advocate. You can get away with many things in life, but don’t mismanage this one.
I guess what matters most is, ‘How much do you love life?’