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Facing down prostate cancer

October 1, 2017 5:53 AM
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Facing down prostate cancer

September is recognised as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and as we enter October - Breast Cancer Awareness month, we share the personal story of renowned radio broadcaster Gerry McDaniels and how his life was dramatically changed two years ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

One random day in 2015, I decided to finally take my doctor's advice and get an executive medical profile. He wanted to check on the state of all my vitals after I had been living with diabetes for five years.

However, the joy and relief I felt when he gave me the 'all clear' a few days later was to be short-lived. On a follow-up visit to go through the results, his wife, herself an accomplished physician, was filling in for him, as he had gone on leave. She asked, "Did my husband say anything about your PSA?"

What followed was a dumb-blond moment, for in my world a PSA is a public service announcement. That shows how far from my mind was any thought about what I now know is a prostate specific antigen.

As a broadcaster, and with some experience in health communication, I already knew that black men over 50 with a family history of prostate cancer were at highest risk. I was also aware of many of the fables, and often made stupid self-deprecating quips about my fate every time I enjoyed a mean ackee and salt fish.

Long story short, after a very blunt matter-of-fact discussion, including reassurance that the disease is highly treatable, it was off to the urologist to do the dreaded DRE.

Fear is a funny thing. It can either cripple you into making bad decisions, or if you suck it up and brave it out, you then find that the fear is much worse than the reality. Before I could hold my breath, screw up my face and feel humiliated, it was done. Now I can confidently say this very simple procedure has got some bad press. Of course, there was some discomfort, but we're talking less than 15 seconds. In fact, I was wondering whether the doctor could have made any conclusions in that short period.

The news was bad - it was either just an enlarged prostate or there were also cancerous cells. The good news was that at least now I knew, and nobody else did but my doctors. Then it was on to the biopsy to figure things out. Now that was scary, but again, more so than the reality.

I was told my result would be back in about three weeks because of the backlog at the labs. I could just go on with my life and not overthink it. However, a mere three days later, about 4:30 on a Friday evening, the urologist's office called to say my results were ready and I should come in to see the doctor. I could not be told anything else. Great. Now I had swapped a peaceful weekend for tension and angst that I could not shake, for the results could be a life-and-death story, depending on what they found. In any event, it would be life-changing.

When the doctor confirmed on the Monday that they had in fact found a scattering of cancerous cells, I was strangely relieved. At least now I could do something about it, because it had been caught early.

When I went to see Dr Belinda Morrison, she calmly gave me all the facts of the situation, explained the options available, complete with visual support and online references. Best of all, she demonstrated enough respect to give me enough time to mull the pros and cons of surgery vs radiation therapy.

I was fortunate to have found a community of survivors who were very willing to share stories and to give advice and encouragement. This made the journey to recovery far more manageable. In the end, on the advice of a colleague of my sister-in-law, I opted for radiation therapy.

Another bright spot amid my trial was the discovery that we have, right here in Kingston, high-quality, world-class care in radiation oncology. The main centre boasts not only world-class equipment, but highly professional staff who are efficient and personable without penetrating your personal space or allowing you to feel anything but care and support. They know all patients by name, and made time pass by very quickly. It was a full-service facility with a nutritionist to boot.

I could not believe it when I was at the end of eight whole weeks of daily treatments. It felt like I had won the Lotto, but with something less fickle than money. Today, I am still cancer-free and happy.

Not that you asked, but if you must face this journey, here are a few bits of advice.

• Invest in reliable and robust health insurance, even if it costs more and even if it leads you overseas. Once you're past 40 - trust me, you are worth it. Mine was painless, thanks to the initial investment before I had any idea that I had cancer.

• Cherish your community of faith, and faithful friends and family. Sometimes all you need is a listening ear, and my sister-in-law Doreen was a tower of strength. Her late husband, my 'pawsn bredda' also had the same issue. Gillian Haughton, my bona fide sistren of almost 30 years, gave me a ride in the pouring rain to and from the biopsy ordeal and continues to be just a text away. Many sisters and brothers at the Kingston Church of Christ remained supportive even while I was still living in imposed exile from the faith I hold as core truth.

• Pick your urologist as carefully as you pick your general practitioner. I can tell you this from experience. Trust me.

• Discuss male health issues in a trusted network. If it's about survival, it cannot be taboo. Discreet, yes; taboo, no. I now have a network of survivors at my disposal and who can also call on me any time.

• Level with your employer early. In the land of suss, people will make up what they don't know, particularly when it's not their business. Take the sting out by just telling the most senior accessible officer, then just go on with your life and tune out the noise.

• Maintain your best health and aim higher. Since then, I have become more physically active and wiser with food choices. I have stopped dieting - that just makes you fatter. Eat as much as you want - of the right things - so you are never ever hungry, and walk with water and take frequent sips if you are not a guzzler like me. After losing more than 50 pounds, I hit a plateau and my energy levels started to sag. I am now on a detox programme, and seriously considering veganism. At least for a while it will be raw foods only, but under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist, Tehuti Maat.

Despite the emotional roller-coaster ride with many moments of high stress, I have now become a fierce advocate for screening. Prostate cancer is something I had, NOT who I am. Speaking out will help others through the journey - and me inna dat big time, especially as a Christian.

Gentlemen, we are always stronger together, and despite popular sentiment, we are still needed - from the personal level of our families and friends, to our skills and expertise to help grow the national economy.

Altogether, the experience has provided a platform for personal development, firmer foundations of personal faith and some sharper life skills and survival tools.


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