It was a beautiful fall afternoon; the sun sat low in the sky, spreading its warmth. I was sitting on our backyard swing while my wife and lifelong partner, Jenny, was cleaning out the garden. The fall coolness, at least for a day, had been chased away.
My spirit was basking in the sun's glow when, without warning, I felt an explosion of tears spill from my eyes. It was those damn medications.
I was taking them to rid my body of testosterone. Only then, when my prostate shrank, would doctors begin the radiation component of my cancer treatment.
Now I know how a woman feels when she goes through menopause. Hot flashes. Mood changes. Achiness. Fatigue. Loss of appetite. And wondering when it all will go away.
Prostate cancer invades the bodies of one in six men. More than 200,000 will be diagnosed this year. New treatments are improving the survival rate, but many men - and I mean younger men, too - continue to succumb to this aggressive disease.
I imagine the cancer onslaught this way: A castle's fortified gate is battered by attackers surging ever onward with persistence and tenacity. Suddenly the gate is split apart, and the invaders swarm into the main courtyard spreading death and destruction.
A gruesome scene, indeed. But that's what I ponder from time to time, even though I know that I have a high chance of surviving this ordeal. That's what friends say, anyway. And research extends hope, which casts light on my darkened moods.
But for so many other men the situation is much grimmer. They lack what I have: good health insurance. These are the self-employed - farmers, musicians, consultants and insurance agents - and many service industry workers, to name two of the larger uninsured groups. And what about the poor and jobless? And the homeless sleeping on heat grates and in shelters?
What point is there for me to urge them to get a checkup when they have far more immediate needs in life?
Indeed, good health coverage is hard to find. The squeeze on business is brutal. With premiums rates rising 10% to 30% annually, businesses can be mightily tempted to reduce or end coverage of their workers. When I was the president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, I made sure we didn't pass those costs on to employees, because they were making meager wages to begin with.
But many other firms are cutting back. Consider yourself lucky if you work for the university, the state, city, county, MATC, any school district - or a solid union shop in the private sector. That's where you can find good health insurance. I'm among the lucky ones: Jenny has a policy that will pay for my treatment. And I give praise for that blessed gift.
The good news is that prostate cancer research is growing daily both in prominence and in priority. Promising break-through research is occurring not only at the National Institutes of Health but also in places like Johns Hopkins' Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and at our own UW Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The bad news is that even guys with health insurance won't get themselves checked out. African American males especially are slow to be tested.
The simplest means of discovering prostate cancer is through a blood test. But I highly recommend the physical exam as well. And that's what shakes up a lot of guys: the doctor's finger up your butt to check your prostate gland.
Get over it! You're a fool if you don't get yourself tested. And maybe even dead before your number is called.
African American men need to be vigilant. They are 61% more likely to develop prostate cancer than Caucasian men and nearly 2½ times more likely to die from it.
What puzzles me is that while women have the "Pink Ribbon" campaign and other promotional efforts concerning breast cancer, so little is done to promote awareness of prostate cancer. I'm encouraged that's finally beginning to change.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation is the world's largest philanthropic source for prostate cancer research.·The foundation is teaming up with the National Basketball Association and its NBA Cares initiative to sell special NBA player wristbands to raise money for research. And Golf Digest magazine hosted its second annual Golf Digest Celebrity Invitational at the Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles on Nov. 6 to benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
More can and must be done to raise money for both research and getting the word out, especially to men of color. Local community health centers can play a role. Nonprofits can sponsor prostate cancer run/walks. The Race for the Cure, and its success in promoting breast cancer awareness, is a model to emulate.
Still, nothing beats personal outreach. I'm very grateful for the calls and good wishes from so many friends. Jenny and I have a support/healing group - friends who watch out for us - and many others who are holding us in their prayers. We appreciate this so much.
More African American men need to do what Emanual "Manny" Scarborough, a friend who works for the Genesis Development Corp. and is fully recovered from prostate cancer, did for me. He called me early on after my diagnosis and offered me good advice and emotional support.
We need more of this: African American men giving one another the straight facts on prostate cancer. This is not only priceless, but it saves lives.
I feel optimistic about my outcome. I also know that every once in a while despair will explode within the deep recesses of my soul. I'll get through that just as I'll get through the cancer. With good health insurance and good friends, I'm confident. I know I'm one of the lucky ones.