Why do so Many of Us Think About Prostate Cancer Like Joe?
by Robert Warren Hess
When it comes to prostate cancer, we men are our own worst enemy. We just can’t seem to come to grips with the risk and the testing. I hope the story I’m about to tell will prevent you from becoming a “Joe” and, even better, ensure you don’t become one of the 30,000 American men who die each year from prostate cancer.
The story begins about 11:30 am, on Sunday June 2, 2013, as I’m about halfway through my weekend bicycle ride from Manhattan Beach, over the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and up to the antenna farm where the old Nike site was located on top of San Pedro Hill.
As usual, I was riding Fast Freddy, my Blinged-out Italian steel bike made by the Renzo Formigli workshop in Florence, Italy.
If you’re not a cyclist, Freddy looks pretty normal. But if you are a cyclist, there’s a lot to attract your attention. Here’s what gets the conversation going: lugged steel frame; gold lugs – I think it’s real; deep rim Zipp wheels, and Shimano Ultegra electric shifting. Guys make a comment about Freddy and from there I segue into talking about the importance of annual prostate cancer testing and personally tracking the results. It works like a charm!
Suddenly, I’m Caught from Behind . . .
The climb up to the top of San Pedro Hill is only a few miles and about 1,000 feet, but I’d already ridden 31 miles and climbed 3,000 feet, so I was just working on reaching the top. About halfway up a rider pulled up next to me, said “hi,” and complimented me on Freddy, saying “I think I’ve just found my next bike.” Let’s call this nice man “Joe.” (No offense intended to anyone named Joe!)
I love to ride and, since my game is prostate cancer awareness , I almost always wear one of my prostate cancer jerseys. Today I was wearing our new jersey – which, by the way, is available in limited quantities on the PCAP store – ThePCAP.org/store.
I’m not a very good model, but the jersey looks pretty cool on other people. Can you think what the crowd theme symbolizes?
“That’s an interesting Jersey”
We kept climbing toward the old Nike missile site and, after we finished talking about Freddy, he said that he had retired eight months ago and was just 10 days or so from doing a solo three-month bicycle ride from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Seattle, Washington.
Then Joe commented about my prostate cancer jersey, noting that his grandfather died of prostate cancer and that his father and brother have prostate cancer and that he is “just waiting” for it. I asked about his PSA number, which was .8 – OK for a guy in his late 50s – and had not changed for the last several years.
We talked about the importance of tracking any rise from one year to the next and I told him about ProstateTracker and it’s email reminder system, which he thought was great (everyone likes this feature).
“Would You Like to be a PCAP Athlete Ambassador?”
The Prostate Cancer Awareness Project (PCAP) recently created our Athlete Ambassador program, where we outfit cyclists with a jersey, shorts, and socks bearing the PCAP and ProstateTracker logo and websites. The only requirement is to wear the kit, talk to people, and take photos that we can put on our website. Joe seemed like a perfect fit: family history of prostate cancer, retired, and articulate.
So, I made the offer and, to my great surprise, Joe said no. We were still climbing at about 8 miles an hour, so we had time to talk. I asked Joe why he declined and after five minutes the answer came out; Joe was concerned about physical exam and the potential side effects of prostate cancer treatment. I estimate that Joe is in his mid to late-50s. (I was diagnosed with Stage Two prostate cancer at age 58, in 2003.)
We continued talking for the rest of the climb about various treatment options and side effects, Joe was fine talking with me but, as we will see in just a few minutes, it wasn’t a subject he would talk about with strangers.
The Cancer Researcher on the Hill
We stopped at the finish of the climb and began talking with three other cyclists, one of who was a researcher for another cancer. Freddy got their attention – he always does – and in 10 minutes I turned the conversation to the importance of annual testing, and got nods of agreement from the other three, but not Joe.
This would have been a great opportunity for Joe to tell his family’s prostate cancer story and how he watches his annual PSA results like a hawk. But not a word.
Robert, the cancer researcher, had a great idea for awareness and fundraising and I gave him my card. I fully expect to hear from him.
I was on a schedule so I had to leave the group. As I said goodbye, Joe was busy regaling our new friends with his many bicycling exploits. Somehow I doubt that Joe got around to prostate cancer.
What Could Joe have Done. And Why Didn’t He?
Joe had a perfect chance to pay it forward with these three men by telling his family story and encouraging them to track their PSAs. Joe’s upcoming three-month bicycle trip is a made-to-order opportunity to engage hundreds, if not thousands, of people about prostate cancer. That’s what Joe could have done, but didn’t.
But Why Couldn’t Joe be Part of the Conversation?
I believe Joe literally was frozen in place by the misinformation that surrounds prostate cancer, prostate cancer treatments and outcomes, and by the media’s excessive focus on adverse treatment outcomes.
I believe that we men are so focused on our “manhood” that we don’t take the time to sort through the available information. Men are just reluctant to talk with other men so we almost always make decisions in isolation, without really talking with survivors who have been down the path they may be getting ready to take.
So, What’s the Moral of this Story?
Well, there are several . . .
- We guys need to begin talking about a cancer that one in six of us will get and that today, right now, kills almost 30,000 American men every year
- We need to test annually (yes, the test is imperfect, but it’s the only affordable screening test that medical science can deliver the moment) and personally track the results, looking for any increase from the previous year
- We need to talk with our buds and ask them if they are testing – we all need to be part of PCAP’s “Just Get 6!” program
- Newly diagnosed men need to “man up” and talk with prostate cancer survivors, because they have been through all the treatments and know what to do and what to avoid
What Can You Do to Help?
- Go to ProstateTracker and activate your free prostate cancer early warning tool
- Make sure your wife is getting her mammogram
- Consider becoming a PCAP Athlete Ambassador
- Become an active Just Get 6! participant
- Help us keep ProstateTracker operating and free to all men
Prostate Cancer Recurrence
The most popular blog post I have written deals with prostate cancer recurrence. I’ll be posting more about this in the future, along with steps men and their families can take to reduce the probability that prostate cancer will recur.
Thanks for reading this very long post. My hope is that you will become an active part of the prostate cancer awareness movement, and not be like Joe.
Robert Warren Hess