By George M. Hughes, Jr.
Nationwide — There’s nothing more private than discussing health issues related to your “man- parts”. But there’s also nothing more healing than connecting over a shared experience. I’ve learned through my experience that I am not alone, and that we owe it to our families and friends to be okay with discussing health issues with each other. When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, I never thought I would be sharing my story with millions.
I’ve been made aware of and have registered with a site that helps the larger community of prostate cancer survivors share their experiences. The Clark Atlanta University Prostate Cancer Registry galvanizes prostate cancer survivors to share their stories in an effort to reduce health disparities and improve the treatment, care and long-term quality of life issues that affect African-American prostate cancer survivors most.
Read about my story and consider making a commitment with yourself to reach out, open up, share and boldly discuss health issues with your family, friends and even strangers. You never know who might be listening. You never know about the lives you could be saving by speaking up. This could be another one of your acts of true “bruh-therly” love.
Growing up in a household with my mother, father and older sister, I thought my father was superman. I viewed all of my uncles (all seven of them) at the same level. They rarely talked about health issues, but when they did, it always came across as “secretive.” As I became a teenager and then a young man, any issues or sicknesses that my father had were always conveyed to me with a sense that everything was fine and that I should never worry. If there was cause for concern about any health issue, my parents always told me after a long period of “dealing” with the issue themselves. One of those “secretive health issues” was prostate cancer and the removal of my father’s prostate years ago. I knew about it, but not in detail as it was described as simply having a procedure on his prostate. To this day, my father has not told his brothers or anyone outside of our direct family about his cancer diagnosis. Because like breast cancer, prostate cancer can run in the family, my father always encouraged me to get my PSA tests done yearly and to keep an eye on anything unusual.
So during the summer of 2015, I went in to see my regular doctor for a yearly physical. I had blood drawn for various tests. My doctor’s nurse called a week later and told me that my PSA level was a bit high and he wanted me to make an appointment to see a urologist. I made and kept this appointment with no worry in my head because I thought I was too young at 47. I was in decent health, and to me, I didn’t have any symptoms. To rule out cancer, I agreed to have a biopsy done on my prostate to prove that I was not “sick.” After my biopsy was done, it took the office 3 weeks to get back to me. Because it took so long, and there was no sense of urgency shown by the doctor’s office, we just assumed that everything was fine. NOT! When I was finally able to see him, I took my wife with me. To our shock, the doctor came in and told me that I was in early stage 1 of prostate cancer, the slow growing kind. The two things I thought about first were my daughter and wife. Our only child and daughter was 8 years-old at the time and it scared me to death that I might not be around to see her grow up. I was shocked and panicked
After the shock wore off, it was time for us to figure out what to do. That’s when I started asking questions. I asked friends, family and doctors for advice and understanding. By talking about my situation and being open with people, I learned a ton of information that helped me on my journey. I had a very close friend, who is like a brother, who had just been through the same thing I was going through a year earlier. He was a huge help with everything that I was going through and was there every step of the way. He’s very private, so this was a stretch for him to share. I also made a lifelong friend with Jeff, a husband of one of my wife’s work friends. He was up front and in my face with the realities of going through this process and I don’t think I would have made it without his support. During my open discussions with my family, I was also surprised to find out that several of my uncles and cousins have had prostate cancer and had their prostates removed. This was such a shock to me because it was never shared until I was impacted. Prevention is critical, so I make it my point to encourage the men I know to get their annual exams and especially the male members of my family like younger cousins.
So after evaluating all of my options and having some open dialog with my wife, father and select friends, I came to the decision to have my prostate taken out. Because I am so young (youngest in my family to get prostate cancer), the best decision for me was to have it removed. With other treatment options, I would be at risk of not being able to remove the prostate down the road if the cancer returned because of the scar tissue that develops from radiation. On December 4th, 2015, I had my radical prostatectomy. I was very open about my entire experience and shared it with many friends and family members in hopes of continuing to open the lines of communication about health-related issues in particular. I’ve paid it forward by being a direct and honest voice to others who are diagnosed in this shared and similar journey.
If you know someone on the journey or has been through the journey, encourage them to register anonymously at www.pcregistry.cau.edu or post this website address on their social media channels. You never know the lives you might save by sharing your story and experience. To share your story with George, contact him at[email protected].
George M. Hughes, Jr. live lives Atlanta, Georgia.