Emphasize the “Pro”

They begin with the same three letters, but you don’t hear “proactive” and “prostate cancer” uttered together nearly enough.

In the fall of 2014, when my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I learned why they should be.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, after lung cancer. Yet, for up to three-quarters of men diagnosed with early-stage disease, treatment can render them cancer free, or free from progression for a long time. For other men, prostate cancer will take a metastatic turn that can end up in the bone or other regions.

My dad was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer; his Gleason score was 8, which indicates a higher grade of cancer that is likely to spread more quickly. It’s important to understand how all of the diagnostic measurements fit together. It’s often the first proactive step a man can take.

Proactivity still has its obstacles. An historic passivity among men about prostate cancer or a hesitance to confront the possibility has inhibited them from getting the information and treatment they need. It’s slow growing. Turn right or left and there’s a man over 60 who has it. Then there’s the “good cancer” comments or the “a lot of guys die of a heart attack first” reassurance.

Yet, even with improved outcomes and ridiculous comments about “good” cancer, prostate cancer demands urgency. When my dad was diagnosed, he played it down for the familiar reasons. But his family sprang into action and encouraged him to ask questions to understand what his scores meant. We talked about his other conditions and their impact on treatment options. We insisted that he get a second and even third opinion from an oncologist before starting on the first treatment offered.

In short, we wanted him to take it as seriously as we did.

The result was a multidisciplinary and personalized approach that involved the urologist, radiation oncologist, and a cardiologist.

Messages around prevention and screening are foundational to “Movember” advocacy. So is empowerment. We need to motivate and empower men to take prostate cancer on, and not take it for granted.

Taking it on means being proactive about education and fearlessly asking the right questions of your doctor. It means asking for help and support from family and learning to talk with candor about the impact of treatment. It means owning the journey and making sure others are on it with you.

Finally, proactivity can also include ways to cope with adversity. My dad put a humorous and absurd lens on the awkwardness of hormone and radiation treatments. He didn’t shy away from embarrassing details. Rather, he put them out there and made us laugh about them. He turned his daily visits to the IMRT center into irreverent punch lines directed at his disease.

He owned it. He focused on being proactive and knew he was doing everything he could. When my dad was diagnosed he tried not to “make a big deal of it.” Then he did, and it saved his life.