When I think about the onslaught of prostate cancer and the possibility of death, my father, Robert Briscoe, comes to mind.
I remember talking to him about life and his sharing of interesting stories about the world and what it has to offer – whether we believed we had a purpose in it or not. When the conversation about prostate cancer arose, it struck a chord in me that this Arkansas farmer, somewhat of a healthy specimen at the time, didn’t take his illness seriously until it was too late.
My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 1993 after experiencing pain in his groin. He thought it would go away, he told me. The cancer had advanced so far along until there wasn’t anything the doctors or anyone else could do. He was 95 years old and discovered too late that he indeed wanted to live. Death, however, could be seen through the prism of his eyes.
I was torn apart. He’d ignored my request that he should see a doctor. The request fell on death ears and the frequent nightly urination continued. The pain was relentless and the cancer literally ripped the inside of his body to shreds. He was full of life on the outside and joy had permeated his soul.
I’d thought to myself: What a blessing to be able to be alive and in good health at the age of 94. After observing my father at that time and trying to comfort him during his waning hours on earth, he’d manage to say, “I’m blessed.” Then he’d look off into space, where he’d drift into a peaceful state of mind.
African-American men generally are apprehensive about seeing a doctor. We tend to fear the doctor and would rather not know what ails us. Women tend to be different. They’ll see a doctor without hesitation to keep that ticking bomb from exploding inside their body.
Prostate cancer also is a ticking bomb that can be extinguished if diagnosed early. But this debilitating disease affects so many men in the African-American community. According to a study published in 2000 by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, African-American men were found to be at nearly twice the risk for prostate cancer compared with white men.
Prostate cancer is less common in men who do not eat red meat, according to Pubmed Health, a research service provided by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). The average age for prostate cancer to appear is usually around 60, but death often happens to those over the age of 75.
The symptoms of prostate cancer vary: delayed or slowed start of urinary stream; dribbling or leakage of urine, most often after urinating; slow urinary stream; Straining when urinating, or not being able to empty out all of the urine; blood in the urine or semen; and bone pain or tenderness, most often in the lower back and pelvic bones (only when the cancer has spread).
According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than two million prostate cancer survivors. Without proper awareness, that number is expected to increase. That’s why men over 40 should get their prostate checked or have a PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) test done to determine the likelihood of developing prostate cancer.
So what else can be done to prevent prostate cancer?
You should eat a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly to prevent the onset of prostate cancer. You should also pay attention to changes in your body and discuss treatment options with your primary care provider if you’re in the early stages of prostate cancer.
There are several treatment options. For men in the early states of prostate cancer, your doctor may recommend surgery and radiation therapy. If the cancer has spread, treatment may include hormone therapy, surgery and chemotherapy. Monitoring the cancer with PSA tests and biopsies is also part of the treatment.
The American Prostate Cancer Research Fund, Inc. (APCRF), a Mississippi-based charity dedicated 100 percent to prostate cancer, offers free prostate screening exams. The APCRF will travel to any event for cancer screenings or you can visit their office in Olive Branch, Miss. Call Sheree Thomas at 662-890-9870.
Screening saves lives. If my father had been screened earlier, he may have lived just a little while longer.