Unfortunately, my dad didn’t go to the doctor until his prostate cancer spread to his lymph nodes. He died of the disease in 2001 at age 56. My uncle also died of prostate cancer. As the son and nephew of these two African American men, I heeded the advice of my doctor to get tested early and often. That’s why I was able to catch my prostate cancer at stage 1. Because the cancer was detected early it was easily treatable.
Since African American men are 1.5 times more likely to get prostate cancer than white and Latin men my advice to all men is not to wait until it’s too late. The prostate exam and blood test are quick and easy, and necessary. Don’t let your ego stop you. Besides, there are many treatment options these days, including forgoing any treatment at all and having the doctor monitor the cancer until a procedure is necessary. Catching cancer before it has spread outside of the prostate allows a man to be eligible for less invasive options that don’t involve surgery and can preserve his quality of life.
I’m 58, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York in the Midwood neighborhood. I’m trained as a social worker and for 23 years I worked for the Office of Children & Family Services. I’ve worked with youth at risk and currently, I’m employed as a supervisor at a woman’s shelter. Our clients are women escaping domestic violence, some struggle with mental illness, and some are mothers with children and no place to live. I believe in helping others—and also taking care of myself.
On my days off I like to run, love dancing, and now that people are starting to travel again, I look forward to resuming my other passion.
I put my professional and personal life on hold, however, as I embarked on another project: researching prostate cancer treatments. Before I got the diagnosis, my doctor said my PSA levels were high and he sent me for an MRI which showed a suspicious shadow. Next came the biopsy which confirmed the cancerous tumor. I can’t say it enough—I am so thankful it was caught early. My project to navigate treatment options began.
My doctor referred me to a surgeon who does robotic surgery at Maimonides Medical Center. But I decided it was too invasive and I was warned of the two side effects of urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. I went to see the surgeon’s boss, Dr. David Silver and learned about HIFU, or high intensity focused ultrasound. Dr. Silver said HIFU is ideal for patients whose prostate cancer is still confined to a small part of the prostate like mine was.
Dr. Silver explained that there’s no incision with HIFU and he only destroys the diseased portion of the prostate, sparing surrounding nerves, which means incontinence and impotence are less likely to occur. HIFU is done quickly, in approximately two to three hours, and in a single session at an outpatient surgery center. I chose that option and was able to go home the same day.
So not only were urinary incontinence and sexual impotence low risk, but I also liked that HIFU was an outpatient procedure. It was the best choice for me. Still young, quality of life was very important to me. After I returned home, the drugs wore off and while there was a bit of discomfort, as I had to wear a catheter for a few days, I was able to heal quickly and returned to work after five days. Now I’m back to normal.
As it turns out, when I was diagnosed, I opened up and posted on Facebook that I had prostate cancer. At least 15 African American Facebook friends replied that they too had prostate cancer and survived! It’s common and we’re all in good company. It’s why I urge all men to be proactive and take their health seriously like I did. Because I caught my prostate cancer early, I have a lot of life ahead of me.
Written by: William Whitlow, Prostate Cancer Survivor