Since my early 30s, I have regularly had prostate exams. In fact, as I noted in part one of my article, I was alerted through the free tests I had taken last September that my PSA scores were somewhat elevated. After having several PSA tests done this year through my health care provider, I knew it was time for me to kick things into gear and get a handle on my health.
Until now, over the past decade I have attempted to manage my symptoms— with and without the assistance of doctors. Many times I would take the prescribed medications on an as-needed basis, since I am not a fan of medication and the side effects that often occur. I just figured I would have to live with a certain level of discomfort for the rest of my life.
Conversely, in my late 30s, after having continuous elevated PSA scores combined with a number of symptoms, I was faced with the decision of having a prostate biopsy. As opposed to having one, I put my head in the sand, choosing to ignore my doctor’s request. I kept this information close to the vest, not it sharing this with anyone—until recently. Yes, I know it was a foolish decision; I played Russian roulette with my life. I just couldn’t then, as I can’t today, bear the thought of having a biopsy or the thought of having cancer. Fear, at the time, overrode my sense of logic. I was just scared as hell about the whole process then, as I am today.
Well, earlier this summer, I was faced with the same critical decision again. It’s amazing how unresolved issues circle back around until you’re finally forced to address them. This time, I was left with no options; I realized the medications I ingested periodically weren’t providing me the relief I needed. So I finally had to face my fears and forward with having a prostate biopsy. Boy, I was so unnerved.
Once I knew I was in biopsy mode, I had to take a nonconventional approach, reaching out to about 12 folks in my inner circle I could confide in, letting them know what was occurring for my sanity, using good old-fashion email. Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets weren’t even considered.
In order to cope with the biopsy, it was easier for me not to make phone calls or personal visits to most folks, especially since a number of them lived out of town. There were some people I just couldn’t tell at the time because they were facing their own family crises. Had the biopsy occurred prior to the days of email, I would have more than likely drafted certified letters to be sent out. Using email as a means of communication helped me keep my emotions intact (or so I thought). It served as a form of therapy, keeping me from entering into long, drawn-out conversations—which would have more than likely led to tears—I just wasn’t (and still am not) quite ready to handle.
In the emails, the recipients (or my guardian angels) were given strict instructions about what they could ask as I was taking this journey. They were also asked not to discuss or share my email. I trust that they honored my request. During the process, I didn’t even tell loved ones until after I got the results. I knew what was best for me at the time to cope with the situation, but I wasn’t in a position to help others cope while I was in need of help myself.
Yes, it was hard as hell for me then—as it still is somewhat now—to deal with the biopsy, the thought of cancer and the options that have been placed before me since learning I am in the early stage of prostate cancer. Thank God my foolish decision to play Russian roulette with my health didn’t cause my cancer to spread to a state where I had no options. That was always my unspeakable fear.
I have even had to step up my game, seeking professional counseling for the first time in my life to get me through this ordeal. Sometimes folks, who are the closes to you, just don’t know what to say or just end up saying the wrong things.
My ultimate reason for sharing this is to urge young men around my age of the importance of taking care of their health, going to the doctor and, especially, having their annual prostate exams. From my story, I hope men realize the need to seek out loved ones and a support group to help through this process or, for that matter, anything that becomes extremely difficult to cope with on your own. With what I am facing, this is one road I can’t and won’t travel alone.
In fact, I am being forced to make life-impacting decisions that no one should have to make, especially when they’re in their 40s or, for that matter, in their 50s. I am not ashamed to say, since I was forced into biopsy mode, that I have been on an emotional roller coaster like no other. Yet I am in a much better place, or so I think, now that I know my options.
In public, so far, I have managed to keep it together. Also, locating stories of folks who look like me and are in my age group were nearly impossible to find. That’s another reason I decided to go public so soon after being diagnosed. There was only one article I was able to locate on the net that I could connect with in my age story. In fact, the article I found has literally aided me through this difficult process.
While I commend older men for sharing their stories, it’s hard for me to connect with them. Young Black men have a totally different outlook as it relates to their life span and their sexual health. It’s rare that brave souls like Jerry Bembry publicly share their story. Having brothers like Bembry to lean on and talk me through the process is just what the doctor ordered.
So for young men who are really ready to step up their game and to take control of their health, there is assistance available whether you are insured, underinsured or have no insurance.
Currently, I am sorting through my treatment options. Like one of my brothers mentioned, it’s like searching for a vehicle before the low-interest auto loan expires, meaning I am under the gun to make a decision. With the choices I have been given, there are pros and cons. Honestly, I really don’t like any of my choices, although I know I should be thankful to have them.
While I am normally in the driver’s seat, helping folks find the perfect ride, I am currently in unfamiliar territory. This has been quite taxing for me and those I have allowed in the decision-making process. By the year’s end, I hope to be traveling a new road in my life, driving into 2013 as a slightly used, reconditioned model with a long-term warranty.
As I travel down this new road in my life, I see brighter days ahead. With 2013 rapidly approaching, I look forward to wearing a T-shirt with these words: I am a part of the 20 Percent Club, and I survived prostate cancer. Also at that point, I hope to be in position to serve as a support system for other young men walking in my shoes. Right now, the best I can do is to share my story. I have taken a personal pledge to be a vocal advocate for this disease. I will no longer keep this close to the vest as other men walk around suffering, not knowing how to cope with this.
I have so much to live for, and men, you do, too! Do the right thing. Make a personal pledge today to take care of your health and go to the doctor. At least, take advantage of the free health services in your area. And if you’re over 35, start getting prostate exams annually.
To find out more information about the prostate and prostate cancer, visit pcf.org.
Jeff Fortson is an auto analyst and editor of a car-buying website for women and minorities. To learn more about his popular car-buying workshop and/or to price a new-vehicle, drive on over to www.JeffCars.com. Follow him http://twitter.com/#!/JeffCars/.