By Jeff Hayes
Nationwide — Any one will tell you that a prostate exam is right up there with having your taxes audited; somewhat evasive and not very flattering. And discussing man part issues is up there with wanting to answer past relationship questions with your wife or significant other. But there’s also nothing more healing than connecting over a shared experience, even if that shared experience is cancer. When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago, I never thought I would be sharing my story with millions. I’ve been made aware of and have registered with a site that helps the larger community of prostate cancer survivors share their experiences too. It’s the Clark Atlanta University Prostate Cancer Registry which galvanizes prostate cancer survivors to share their stories in an effort to reduce health disparities and improve the treatment, care and long-term quality of life issues that affect African-American prostate cancer survivors most.
I was 42 years old. I had only been married for two years when I found out I had stage one prostate cancer. My doctor had been watching my PSA levels for years because of a strong family history. Nonetheless, it was a chance encounter with a seatbelt, so I thought, that would lead to my diagnosis. For what I thought was a simple pinch of my side by a seatbelt, I found out it was actually a kidney stone. I could barely walk, so I went to my physician, where they also routinely checked my PSA levels and it had tripled in less than a year. I went to see a urologist ASAP!
After the exam my doctor told me that he did detect some inflammation in my prostate and that I needed a biopsy to rule out any issues. At that point the possible outcomes became all too real. Although all kinds of caner runs on both sides, it usually occurred much later in life. So here I was, at 42 years old, staring down a potential diagnosis. I did what I could to keep my wits about me; I had a wife, two children and a family to consider, and they would take their cues from me. After all, I couldn’t allow myself to get worked up about something that may or may not exist. The biopsy would tell the tale and we would proceed from there.
The results came pretty quickly. He said, “We did find cancer within the prostate.” It sounded muffled to me in the moment, but the fact remained. Almost instantly we began to talk about options. We could have a procedure called a radical prostatectomy that would remove the gland all together. We could treat it with radiation and seek to shrink the cells. Or we could do nothing. The challenge with the last option was that my cancer wasn’t the slow-growing, ‘you’ll-die-before-it-kills-you’ kind. My cancer was sitting just below the surface of the gland just waiting to run rough-shot throughout my body. Waiting wasn’t much of an option at all.
But before I could form my response my wife leaned forward and said clearly and succinctly, “He will be having the radical prostatectomy” with the calmness of ordering an iced tea with her dinner. He looked at me, I looked at her and looked back at him. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ll have that.”
It’s so much to take in at one time. First, you have to digest that you have cancer. A word that has garnered so much attention in our society now that you can’t go anywhere without hearing it. Next, you have to process the type of cancer you have. While my diagnosis and the method of treatment gave me the best potential for a full recovery and a long life, this was my prostate. My PROSTATE. That magical organ that helps a man be a man. Sure, I’d get to live. But what would that life look like? And feel like? So I asked my doctor the question that all men in my position ask; “How long is it gonna take for Johnny to read again?” “Well, it depends. The surgery saves a lot of the nerve endings but it can take a while for them to ‘wake up’. For some men it can take up to two years.” Two years. Well damn!
The burden can manifest itself at anyplace, anytime. So while I’m being a rock for my family and for myself (so I think) my moment came, ironically, at the grocery store. I’m in the spice isle at my local grocer looking for fresh peppercorns. I see black pepper, red pepper, white pepper…but no peppercorns. Usually no big deal but today I’m anxious near the point of being frantic. As my eyes shift from one shelf to the next my breathing becomes shorter. I put the basket on the floor and walk out. Once I get to my car, I sit and cry uncontrollably for an hour. My moment had arrived. I was officially unglued.
The procedure was successful and I was home the next day. Although doctors and nurses try their absolute best to prepare you for the aftermath, every man’s recovery experience is different. There are lessons to be learned and examples to be set. I was fortunate to have a wonderful wife, a loving family and a great team of doctors to aid in my recovery. My doctor said that I would be living in a ‘new normal’ and he was correct. I have met some really wonderful people as a result of my diagnosis who have enriched my time here on this earth.
If you know someone on the journey or has been through the journey, encourage them to register anonymously at www.pcregistry.cau.edu or post this website address on their social media channels. You never know the lives you might save by sharing your story and experience. To share your story with Jeff, contact him at email@example.com
Jeff Hayes lives in Providence Forge, Virginia.
BLH Consulting, Inc.