I was diagnosed with prostate cancer this year at age 35. I thought it was supposed to be an older man's cancer. That's all I knew of this disease -- and that's part of the problem.
This year in America, over 32,000 fathers, husbands, brothers, sons and friends of all ages will lose their battle with prostate cancer. And the National Cancer Institute says 217,230 new cases will be diagnosed.
Prostate cancer is real, and all men -- of all ages and ethnic groups -- need to know about it.
I knew almost nothing upon hearing the words "You have cancer," then went through disbelief, sadness, depression and many questions. After all, I hadn't had any symptoms, and it was only during a checkup when a box was accidentally checked for a PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) test that I learned of the abnormality.
I knew nothing about the function of the prostate, much less prostate cancer. I didn't know whether it could kill me -- it can -- how to treat it -- we can, in many ways -- and what it meant. Surprisingly -- or perhaps not surprisingly -- few of my friends in their mid-20s to mid-40s knew much about prostate cancer either.
Men under 50 aren't urged to have annual prostate exams, and there's debate on how old they should be before such cancer screenings. I often hear 40 for African Americans and 50 for all others.
The National Cancer Institute defines prostate cancer as a "cancer that forms in tissues of the prostate (a gland in the male reproductive system found below the bladder and in front of the rectum)." Many older men get this cancer, but it's slow-moving for them and they often die from other causes before prostate cancer takes them.
In my case, the cancer was caught early, which is good. But treatment options can be tough. So far I've been told either to remove my prostate now or go under a program of "active surveillance" or "watchful waiting" and remove it later. I've been encouraged by many survivors and those who have lost loved ones to remove it before it metastasizes. But that's the last thing I want to do.
I'm still reeling from the biopsy, which was awful. I was awake and given a local anesthetic but the pain was unbearable, with needles poking my prostate through my rectum to take 12 pieces from the prostate. Post-biopsy, there was blood in my urine and stool. I was disturbed for weeks to see bright red streams of blood shoot out of me. So you can imagine my fear of the effects of having my prostate removed, especially when you add the risks of incontinence and impotence.
Perhaps it's my avoidance of enduring another biopsy or having my prostate removed that has me more interested in alternative methods at this time. As a result, I've met with great doctors in Houston and in New York City.
At New York Columbia-Presbyterian I recently met Dr. Aaron Katz, Professor of Clinical Urology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Founder and Director of the Center for Holistic Urology. He and his team conduct clinical trials which investigate the role of natural therapies within urology. He believes in traditional medicine but practices an integrative approach: allopathic and holistic.
Perplexed by having prostate cancer at such a young age, I asked Dr. Katz point-blank: Are all the hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in our foods contributing to rising cancer rates? His answer was an emphatic "Yes."
Another doctor told me to remove stress factors in my life. Said stress also can spur cancer.
Thus, I've radically changed my lifestyle. I eat five small meals a day, three of which are vegetarian. I eat mostly organic, and nothing fried. My main source of protein is usually a fatty fish like salmon, and I'm on a regimen of high-grade supplements of herbs, mushrooms and antioxidants. I also make a point to sleep more than the four to five hours I used to sleep, and I've slowed down.
Any results? Yes. In 12 weeks my PSA has decreased. I'll have another PSA at the end of this quarter and then the next. The doctors and I hope to see my PSA continue to drop. But this isn't all about me. It's about a threat to all men, young and old.
As a young man, I encourage other young men to:
- Know your body, understand your body and protect your body.
- Think about what you're eating and its long-term affects to your body. Try to eat organic.
- Think about your environment and to what you're exposing your body.
- Consider getting a PSA or DRE (Digital Rectal Exam) as young as 30-years-old.
- Go to ZeroCancer.org and PCF.org, great non-profits that research, advocate and lobby. Their websites are very informative and educational.
- Distance yourself from stressful people and situations and find time to be alone to reflect, meditate or pray.
I also just returned from Washington, D.C., where I attended the 2010 Zero Summit to End Prostate Cancer. Also in attendance were advocates, researchers and others who are making a difference in this vital battle. I was encouraged to see in person support by Speaker Pelosi, Senator Kerry, Senator Sessions, Congressman Cummings and Congressman Neugebauer. And I was moved to meet husbands, dads, sons and brothers afflicted with this cancer and hear their stories. Let's also not forget the wives, daughters, sisters and moms affected by loved ones dealing with this dreadful disease.
Among them I was touched by Sherry Galloway, who told of her son Jeremy. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 34 and gave the fight his all, but lost at age 36. I never met Jeremy, but I met his mother and she described him as a loving, passionate man who was loved by many and wanted to make a difference. He did. In fact, Jeremy donated his body for cancer research.
Now I too am inspired and motivated, and I pledge to make a difference. I pledge to raise awareness. I pledge to be an advocate. I pledge to lobby Congress for more money to study and fight prostate cancer. I also pledge to keep fighting my own prostate cancer. That fight came too early in my young life, but now I'm determined to see it through.