Over the past several years, the month of November has become known as Men’s Health Month.
My goal is that every month men will keep health at the top of their list, but for now I will take it one month at a time. Heart disease, lung cancer, colon cancer, testicular cancer and prostate cancer are a partial list of some of the top health issues men can have over the course of their lives.
I have always said that until something comes into your wheelhouse, affects you directly, it is not something that we tend to be concerned with, especially men. Having a yearly physical is like having a regular tune-up for your vehicle to avoid costly repairs for something that could have been a minor repair if caught early. Getting screened early for many cancers is a key to avoiding the potential spread of cancer.
Well, I mentioned something affecting you directly. My wheelhouse journey began with my father who passed away from metastatic prostate cancer at the age of 57. I was 21 at the time of his passing, and I will never forget all that he went through with the disease. Remembering all that my father went through spurned me to start getting regular physicals at the age of 35. For the most part, nothing major occurred until I was 49. That’s when my PSA number went up.
The PSA blood test is used to detect a change in the prostate. It may not always be cancer but it is a sign that something needs to be investigated. I had been taking the test since my 30s with no changes. Since there was a change in my PSA numbers, my doctor suggested that I see a urologist. I tried medication to see if it was an infection. When the numbers didn’t come down, I had a biopsy — that is currently the only way to confirm if a man has prostate cancer. The first test came back negative, but six months later my PSA numbers were still high, and I had a second biopsy. This time cancer was found.
I had caught my cancer early versus my father who had it metastatic, which means it spread from the original cancer source. Risks of having prostate cancer are one in nine American men in their lifetime, one in six African American men, one in five U.S veterans and those with family history. Since I was the family history candidate, I elected to have a radical prostatectomy. I had my prostate removed at the age of 50.
I have been cancer free for nine-plus years. It wasn’t an easy decision to have the surgery, knowing that there would be recovery issues from the surgery and some things would be different, but I would go back to my father and all that he went through and that made the decision easier.
Again, back to my wheelhouse. Prostate cancer affected my life twice. I tell others I have seen up close what this disease can do to a man. Medicine has changed so much since my father passed away. We are in amazing times medically — diseases from the past that people would have just walked away from are now being treated with much success.
I have stayed very active with current research, and I am part of various organizations that advocate for men with prostate cancer. One of the best organizations is ZERO The End of Prostate Cancer (www.zerocancer.org). I have partnered with them for three prostate cancer run/walks to raise funds for research and to bring awareness to the men and their families in our community. During the month of November, they have Grow & Give to continue spreading awareness for men’s health.
I have coined a term, “Fight On For The Cure For Prostate Cancer Spare The Walnut.” Why that term? The prostate is approximately the size of a walnut. Catch your cancer there, and you have a chance to be virtually 100 percent cancer free.
Men, during this November, take time to schedule a physical and look for changes in you body. If something doesn’t feel right, see a doctor. Early detection is the key to a healthy life.
Leonard Zasoski is Bakersfield’s race director for the Zero The End of Prostate Cancer Bakersfield Run/Walk. He is an advocate for men’s health and speaks through various organizations around Kern County about prostate cancer. The views expressed are his own.