My PSA had been high for awhile so in 2002 my doctor recommended I see a urologist. A biopsy was performed and at the age of 54 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Without my routine physicals I probably wouldn’t be alive today. We were able to catch the cancer early, and that made all the difference.
My urologist told me that surgery would be the best treatment for me since I was still young and healthy. I didn’t even realize that I had other options at the time. However, the thought of having surgery caused me to pause and seek out more information. This information led me to Yale Cancer Center. They reviewed different treatment options with me and decided that radiation therapy would be just as effective without the need for surgery. After discussing the treatment plan with my urologist, Thomas Martin, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Urology, I decided radiation seed implants were the most appropriate treatment for me.
Doctors can tell you about side effects that may occur, but you don’t really know until you experience them. The side effects of my treatment were worse than I had expected. You can’t focus on the bad though, it is the price you pay to be cured, and that was a price I was willing to pay. Staying informed and being aware of your options is so important during treatment. Attending support groups at Smilow Cancer Hospital taught me what questions to ask my doctors and about new treatments available. I attend all of the patient events offered through Smilow and Yale Cancer Center and the survivorship programs because they provide important information that is relevant to my care. I knew nothing about cancer coming into this experience and have emerged informed and ready to help others.
I tell all the guys I grew up with to get their blood work done and to keep track of their PSA. No one ever talked about cancer when I was growing up. Now it is in the media all the time. I’ve learned that you can’t force people to seek help or become informed; you can only do your best to share what you have learned and raise awareness. It’s up to you to keep track of your own health and write your own story.
It's disheartening to see that I am usually the only African American, male or female, at the cancer support groups. We tend to have the most aggressive forms of cancer and yet no one attends these support groups. I hope that by sharing my story I can encourage all people to seek help and ask questions. I can't understand why someone wouldn't want to take advantage of this. This is information that could save your life.
While I was being monitored for my prostate cancer, the doctors discovered I had developed a tumor on my kidney. The good news was they had caught it so early that I wouldn’t need drug treatment. They were able to remove a small portion of my kidney and the tumor with it. God and my faith had a lot to do with my recovery. I know that God intervened and I feel so blessed. One of the most amazing things that happened during my treatment was when Dr. Martin came to speak at my church. It meant a lot that he cared enough to come and educate my community. My minister was shocked to learn I understood all the medical terms. I definitely consider Dr. Martin a close friend.
Volunteering is something that I can do to give back. I’m part of the Big Brothers Program and volunteer at the Emergency Room in New Haven. I chose to work in the ER because I know they need me there. I’ve taken an interest in medicine and love meeting and talking with people that need my advice or help. I’ll tell anyone anything they want to know about my experience if it will help them in some way.
Recently I received news that the cancer has returned to my kidney. It was discovered during a yearly follow-up MRI. Again, it was caught early, and again when I sought care it was suggested to me that surgery was the best option, but I was hesitant and when one of the social workers at my support group suggested I meet with a kidney cancer specialist at Yale, I followed her advice. Thankfully he had another option in mind, since the scar tissue on my kidney and my age would have made surgery very difficult. I underwent cryoablation, where extreme cold is used to kill kidney cancer cells. I still have side effects from the radiation I received, and didn’t realize that the scar tissue was still present in my body. There are a lot of things you don’t realize that still affect you years out from treatment, but for me, it’s all been worth it.
I still am able to run, which is very important to me. I completed a 12-mile road race and still try to run six miles or so every other day. It’s not easy, but I am here, I am alive and still sharing my story with anyone that will listen. After overcoming something like this, I feel as though I can live forever. There is always some doubt and despair, but you learn to know yourself and what you are capable of. With hope and faith by your side, you are able to realize the reality of your life and face it head on.