Seventeen-years ago I can remember standing by my Dad's side moments before he was wheeled into surgery. It was 1993, and I had no idea he was embarking on a 17-year fight for his life. I also didn't know much, if anything, about his disease called prostate cancer. And I doubt it ever entered my mind that someday I would be following in his footsteps (and not just in TV news). Well, here I am. He's gone now, but I know he's with me in great spirit. How times have changed! As my step-mother Lalie tells me, my dad's PSA level around the time of surgery was a whopping 65. A PSA below 3 is considered normal. His PSA was more than 20 times that level. Lalie says my Dad only went in for a prostate exam because his son-in-law had just discovered he had prostate cancer. My Dad was 63 at the time. He had never had a prostate exam up to that point.
Our awareness and education about this common disease among men now tells us you should have your first exam at age 50. If you have family history, a father or brother with the cancer, you should be checked in your 40's. I was 49 before I went in for my first prostate exam. My father had been bugging me to get it done. He knew I had a higher risk of getting the cancer. I remember putting it off for a couple of years. Finally I went in to see my urologist, and my PSA was around 1.5. I probably assumed it would be that low forever. I was wrong. It stayed below three the next four years, but slowly crept up.
When I turned 54, my Dad was in his final months fighting cancer, and my PSA had nearly doubled to 5.1. I pushed it to the back as my Dad slowly lost the battle. I'm glad he didn't find out what I was dealing with. After he passed in July, I had the biopsy, and the early stages of cancer were spotted. In my mind, my Dad saved my life. I believe at my age, he probably had prostate cancer too, but he didn't have a father encouraging him to go in for an exam. His father Samuel (who I am named after) died when my Dad was just 18-months old. Seventeen years after my Dad's first surgery (they did not remove his prostate), the PSA is standard, there are now other treatment options, and a robot is now used in many surgeries to remove the prostate. I think there's also a much greater awareness of prostate cancer, and an openness to talk about it. Or is there? Many men (I was one of them) do not like being poked, examined, touched, and felt in intimate places. Well, guys get over it! As I said in an earlier blog, 15-seconds of uncomfortable are far better than years of misery fighting cancer that has spread.
My father was blessed with a hugely supportive partner in Lalie. I am equally blessed with my wife of 15-years, Noelle. Gentleman, you can't put a price on how much family support means in this journey. Your wife or life partner is key! My father may have passed on the prostate cancer "gene" to me, but his courage and determination also run strong in my veins. God Bless you Dad! I know you are cheering me on.....