Prostate Chronicles - Chapter 2: Guys Get Nervous

“David Barnett. 02/20/1952”

It’s become my hospital mantra. Every place that I checked into for pre-operative procedures asked me the same question: What’s your name and when were you born?

Medical institutions are big places, and this is one way they can make sure the right patient is checking in. When I walked into the Electrocardiogram lab, the technician asked me my name and birthdate. When I arrived for my x-ray, the tech there asked the same question. So does the person staffing the lab where they will now draw some blood samples.

The fact that I’m sitting here is the end result of a chain of events that began about two years ago, when my friend, Robin Williams, started bugging me to get a PSA test --- one of those “post-50” medical exams that men are encouraged to get, but shy away from. Robin’s husband Glenn was diagnosed ten years ago and she has since been a strong advocate among her friends and relatives for early testing.

But, here’s why a guy might resist such testing:
1. If I don’t feel it, there’s nothing wrong with me.
2. One of the common tests for prostate irregularities is the Digital Rectal Exam (DRE). The use of the term “digital” in this case has nothing to do with some cool, modern, high tech device. When I visited a urologist for my DRE, he asked me a few questions and then said, “Okay, drop your pants. You know what happens next.” I replied, “I turn my head and cough?” He smiled as he coated a rubber-gloved finger with lubricant, “Oh, no. That’s for sissies.”
3. For many years, the mysterious prostate gland has been the punch line of jokes involving old men who have difficulty urinating.
4. One of the possible side-effects of the treatment for prostate cancer can involve the two I-words that men do not want to hear --- incontinence and impotence. One of my colleagues at work expressed the concern in this way: “Guys get really nervous about anything that has to do with their ‘junk’”.

So, those are some of the reasons why men shy away from getting tested. But, there are many who do get tested --- often because there is a family history with prostate cancer. Once I told people about my diagnosis, every single person tried to reassure me with the news that they had a father, uncle, grandfather or some other close relative who had also been diagnosed.and survived the disease.

Reverend Marvin McMickle of Cleveland’s Antioch Baptist Church got that kind of support from his church members when he received the diagnosis in 2003. It seemed as if almost everyone --- from clergy to deacons to the people in the pews --- had a story to tell.

You’ll be hearing some of those stories over the next few weeks, including my own, as I track the journey from diagnosis to treatment to recovery. We’ll explore some of the facts, the myths, the jokes and some of the surprises. Like the day I recently learned that I might have another, potentially more serious, problem to confront.


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