Leon Adams: Hoping to Increase Awareness of Cancer after a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

Age: 65Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 2017. I am lucky that the disease was caught before it had spread outside the prostate and surgery is the only treatment I have needed so far. Since my diagnosis, I’ve realized that there is a need for increased awareness about cancer in the community and I’ve been sharing my experiences with family and friends to help them as they make decisions about their health care.

I knew about the statistics of African-American men and prostate cancer. So, after talking with my primary care doctor, I began regular PSA screening for prostate cancer several years ago. A test in 2011 showed high levels of PSA and I was referred to a urologist, but a biopsy revealed that I did not have prostate cancer.

After several years of tests showing low levels of PSA, I chose not to be screened in 2015. Fortunately, I did not skip the test at the end of 2016 because it showed a PSA level of 13; normal is less than 4. I returned to the urologist who did a digital rectal exam and a biopsy, which showed prostate cancer.

Several scans, including a bone scan, showed that the cancer had not spread beyond the prostate. I had several treatment options to choose from, including radiation or surgery. I did some research on the options and talked with a radiologist who said that I would need 8 weeks of radiation therapy. That seemed like a long course of treatment to me and I was also concerned that if I chose radiotherapy and the cancer returned later I might not recover as easily as I would at 65 from surgery. Ultimately, I chose robotic surgery because it offered a shorter recovery time than open surgery.

I had the surgery in April 2017 and my PSA results after that showed that the PSA level is below 0.1, so I will be monitored, but I’m not having any more treatment at this point.

I feel good after the surgery, but it has left me with some incontinence. I think it happened because my surgery took place sooner than expected due to a cancellation. This meant I did not have as much time before surgery to do the Kegel exercises they recommend to strengthen the pelvic area and decrease the chance of side effects after surgery.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve talked with family and friends about what I have been going through. I’ve learned that my grandfather had prostate cancer back in the 1960s and that one of my brothers had the disease in 2006. I’ve also been able to help a second brother, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer not long after me, navigate treatment decisions and give him an idea of what to expect.

Given that my outlook would not be as good as it is now if I had not gone for my PSA test in 2016, that we have a family history of prostate cancer, and that the statistics for African-American men and prostate cancer are not good, I’ve also been encouraging the men in my family as well as friends who are getting older to talk with their doctors about PSA screening.

Many men think they are invincible and are reluctant to go to a doctor for annual checkups even if they feel that they might have a problem. I hope that by telling my story I can raise awareness of cancer, in particular prostate cancer, and the need to be proactive about your health. It is better to prevent cancer from developing or catch it early than to find that you have metastatic disease.

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