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Survivor Stories - Bert's Story

In September, 1997, while living in New Jersey, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Like so many men, I ignored various medical symptoms for several months, until one day I found myself in the emergency room.  A kidney ailment led to surgery, and subsequently to a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  Those were not days I would like to relive.

After surgery I settled back into my normal routine as an ‘anonymous’ survivor and sharing my situation with only my closest friends.  I later moved to Ohio, and in 2003 a visit to my oncologist, Dr. William Hicks, at the Ohio State University James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, revealed other troubling indicators associated with the prostate cancer.

A rising PSA, high protein levels in blood tests, and scan results led to the determination that I needed radiation therapy.  Actually, I was preparing myself to die sooner rather than later.  Fortunately the treatments were successful.

Then, a chance encounter with two colleagues that I had known 20 years prior compelled me to break my silence and start down the path of prostate cancer advocacy.  My colleagues invited me to join them in their prostate cancer outreach organization whose goals were to increase awareness and to raise much needed funds for free prostate cancer screening and education.

I agreed and was elected to membership on the board of directors of this new organization, Central Ohio Men Against Prostate Cancer.  With this new role came responsibility and I was determined to learn all that I could about a disease that disproportionately affects so many black men.

I have served for the past five years (FY 2008-2012) in the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP).  I spent two years (FY 2008-2009) as an ad hoc member of the PCRP Integration Panel (IP) to assist with the programmatic review of research proposals.  Programmatic review is conducted by the PCRP Integration Panel, which is an advisory board composed of scientists, clinicians, and consumer advocates.

I spent the past three years (FY2010-2012) as a consumer peer reviewer.  My role was to represent the collective view of prostate cancer survivors and patients, family members, and persons at risk for the disease when they prepare comments on the impact of the research on issues such as disease prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and quality of life after treatment.

Reviewing research projects in this capacity has opened up a new world of understanding for me.  At these meetings I have met some of the scientists and clinicians who labor intensively to realize new discoveries, and who work continuously to translate those discoveries into clinical applications.

I have been impressed and pleased with their patience and willingness to listen to the survivor’s point of view.  I will continue to support them as they work to gain further insights into the struggle consumers and families face with prostate cancer and to help them develop an even greater understanding of the urgency of finding ways to alleviate death and suffering from this terrible disease.

I know the impact of prostate cancer, not just through statistics, but through my experience and the personal experience of close friends who have died, friends who are suffering, and friends who have had to endure treatment complications that have led to poor quality of life.

Of my 12 “regular” golfing buddies, 4 of us are prostate cancer survivors.  That is 1 in 3 among our small statistical base.  Together our survivorships range from 3 to 17 years.  We are among the fortunate ones who have received treatment and are fortunate to have some quality of life, which is a goal of all prostate cancer patients.

Through all of this I have developed a much greater understanding of the importance of stepping up to the plate as a survivor and advocate and will continue to do so for as long as I am able.  The men who have died, those who are suffering, and those who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer are our brothers, fathers, grandfathers, sons, husbands, and friends.

And, I have learned several important lessons.  One is that hiding from symptoms and avoiding regular checkups does not prevent any disease.  I now look forward to my checkups and to the peace of mind my family and I get from knowing the results.

My advice?  See your physician regularly and take responsibility for your health.  Then go out and enjoy life!