My big brother has been dead for six months now. I think about him every day. I miss him every day. He was my hero.
Mark died from cancer, which had permeated his body. But it all started several years ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Mark, like a lot of us men, didn’t like to go to the doctor. We especially don’t like to go after we reach age 40 – as that might mean that it’s time for a prostate exam. But getting that exam – as distressing as it can be – is vital to our health.
My brother didn’t visit the doctor as much as he should have. Finally, when he sensed something was wrong with him, he went. The bad news wasn’t necessarily that he had prostate cancer – it was that it had spread to other parts of his body.
Cancer is the No. 2 killer of men behind heart disease. Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of death from cancer in men of all ages. But prostate cancer is very treatable if it’s caught early – before it spreads.
My brother lived with cancer for several years. He was also a guinea pig at the Cleveland Clinic, trying any new and experimental drugs that were available. Thankfully, those drugs and other treatments helped keep him alive for about five years. But in the end, when the cancer seemed to be popping up everywhere in his body, including his brain, he ran out of options. While he fought to the end, like a lot of cancer patients do, he couldn’t win this fight.
You might think that if you don’t drink, smoke or eat red meat that you won’t get prostate cancer. Not true. It’s not exactly known what causes prostate cancer, although your risk of getting it increases with age, especially if you are over 50, according to the American Cancer Society.
Genetics also plays a role; you have a 50 percent greater chance of getting prostate cancer if a family member has had it. I believe this statistic, based on personal experience.
Two years ago, I had my annual physical like I always do, which included a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which measures protein produced by cells of the prostate gland in the blood and is sometimes referred to as a tumor marker. Two days after my physical, my doctor called to tell me that my PSA had elevated sharply. If your PSA rises, it’s a sign you may have prostate cancer. My doctor ordered me to see a urologist, who told me there was a 60 to 40 chance I could have prostate cancer. He conducted a biopsy a few weeks later to find out for sure. Fortunately, the biopsy was negative.
But six months later, another PSA test revealed that my PSA had doubled. I thought for sure I had prostate cancer this time. But another biopsy proved – again, fortunately – that I didn’t.
A month ago, I had another PSA test. This time my PSA went down, which was good news. Now it’s a matter of monitoring my condition or “keeping an eye on it,” as doctors like to say.
But enough about me. I’m just telling you this to make a point about why it’s important to get checked. Let’s get back to you. If you are over 40 and haven’t been to the doctor in a while, make an appointment for a physical that includes a prostate exam and a PSA test. Do this today or tomorrow. Don’t wait.
About two years ago, I wrote a similar column about this subject, but it’s not too early to write about it again, especially considering that the golf course maintenance industry is dominated by males, many of them over 40. Consider this a sequel.
I also wanted to do it in tribute to my brother. He would want nothing more than for me to get out the word about his plight – and even the possibility that it could have been avoided.
Read more: Arnold Palmer’s Take on Personal Health