McNay on Money

Why the PSA Exam Needs to Stay

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

Jim LaBarbara's new autobiography, "The Music Professor," has a section about my dad. LaBarbara said that Big Joe McNay ". . . was bigger than life. He was friends with everyone from (Johnny) Bench and Pete (Rose) to the big politicians. I think he introduced me to half the people in town, everyone seemed to like him."

Jim LaBarbara's new autobiography, "The Music Professor," has a section about my dad. 

 

LaBarbara said that Big Joe McNay ". . . was bigger than life. He was friends with everyone from (Johnny) Bench and Pete (Rose) to the big politicians. I think he introduced me to half the people in town, everyone seemed to like him."

 

I didn't like dad; I loved him. I learned how to deal with people from watching the master. A master who died at age 59 of prostate cancer. PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) tests were not common when dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1992.  

 

A world famous physician was in dad's inner circle and dad went to him for regular checkups. No one ever thought to include the PSA exam. Dad was a former athlete in tremendous health, worked out seven days a week and enjoyed every moment of life.

 

Dad fought prostate cancer with a courage that amazed everyone. A tall and powerful man, he went from 228 pounds to 140 pounds, but kept fighting to the end.   

 

It was not unusual to hear the bones in his ribs and legs snap as the cancer ate them away.    Painful as it was, he never gave up.

 

Prostate cancer was a battle he should not have had to fight. A simple PSA exam would have saved his life.  If he had the PSA exam, he might have lived to meet the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who came into the family after his death.

 

His death made me a zealot for getting my own PSA exams and encouraging my friends to do the same. Several of my friends have been saved by early detection. Now a panel of bureaucrats, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, has called PSA unnecessary. I would like to have the members of that task force spend 15 minutes going through what dad went through for 15 months. They might have a different view of the PSA test.

 

It is easy to see what is driving the task force: Money. A ruling of this type makes it easier for health insurance companies to deny coverage for PSA exams in the future. The PSA is a simple blood test. It is not invasive, painful or particularly expensive. 

 

If you are wondering where before you heard of the U.S. Preventive Services Task, it may be from 2009 when it recommended that women under 50 not get routine mammograms. Although a recent USA Today article found that mammograms at age 40 reduce the risk of dying by 15 percent, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force decided they were unnecessary. Public outcry kept the task force's mammogram recommendations from being implemented. A lot of lives were saved. Now that same form of outrage is needed to stop the panel from eliminating PSAs.

 

Reading the "Music Professor" bought me back to the days when my father was still around. Even without my personal connection to Jim, it is a fascinating read. It is a first rate history of the rock and roll era of the 1960s and 1970s, and gives behind the scenes details about sports personalities who were part of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine era.   

 

LaBarbara came to fame at a time when disc jockeys, such as Wolfman Jack, Dick Clark and Alan Freed, were often more popular than the performers. LaBarbara was named one of the top 40 radio personalities of all time and is in the Radio/Television/ Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

 

LaBarbara operated out of WLW in Cincinnati.  Johnny Bench was the best man in his wedding, and Jim was connected to every celebrity and influential person in that city.  Jim met or interviewed every musical act you could think of, such as Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Supremes. Just like my dad was, Jim is a first rate storyteller. As his book noted, Jim and my dad were close friends. I would love to see what they would have done together if dad were still alive.

 

When Michael Milken was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a few years after my father was, he devoted most of his personal fortune and energies to finding a cure. The research he funded and his advocacy of PSA exams has made a big difference. Like breast cancer, people fighting prostate cancer learned that early detection is the key. And now, like those fighting breast cancer, people fighting prostate cancer are now fighting with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

 

A fight that is, literally, life and death.

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