Guys, It’s Time to Have a Checkup… Down There

Lets be honest: its pretty difficult to get healthy men to go for a routine checkup. But it becomes even harder if that checkup requires anything … down there.

Yet, when it comes to prostate cancer, its the best way to diagnose the problem early and treat it successfully.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and a perfect time to revisit fears and myths around the prostate, with the help of John Warren and Sylvain Côté.

John was a welder for most of his life. Sylvain began his career as a mining exploration geologist, then continued as an airplane mechanic for 24 years.

Both are now retired and serve on the steering committee of the Prostate Cancer Support Group–Montreal and West Island.

Johns journey with prostate cancer

When he was 35, John heard a doctor on CBC Radio explain that men should have their prostate checked regularly after turning 50. John did this faithfully. When he was 69, his PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen blood test) score was OK, but a digital rectal exam (DRE) found a node on his prostate, which could be a sign of cancer.

A biopsy showed a Gleason score above six. The Gleason score is a grading system used to evaluate how aggressive a prostate cancer is. The highest score is ten.

John decided to have a prostatectomy (removal of the prostate). As he explains it, Its like cutting out the bad part of an apple. After the surgery, he underwent hormone therapy and radiation treatment. Unfortunately, the surgery caused urinary incontinence and an overactive bladder.

Eventually, he managed the incontinence with an artificial urinary sphincter (AUS). To address the overactive bladder, doctors used Botox injections. Today, his PSA levels are low and John is leading a normal life.

Sylvains journey with prostate cancer

Sylvains story is the reverse of the typical prostate cancer journey.

Shortly before his 50th birthday, he went for a prostate checkup. The doctor said his prostate was fine to the touch, but still prescribed a PSA test. At a score of 22, the result was high enough to require more tests, including a biopsy.

The biopsy revealed an aggressive cancer with a Gleason score of nine out of ten. Sylvains cancer had also spread to his bones.

Sylvain underwent hormone therapy twice, to suppress testosterone which fuels prostate cancer growth. He experienced many side effects such as weight gain and breast growth.

Eventually, Sylvain decided to undergo a prostatectomy in 2018. Since then, his PSA levels have remained at zero.

Prostate exams dont make you go gay

There are myths about digital rectal exams that cause men to avoid getting a regular prostate checkup, says John. Some men say they dont want a digital exam because it might make them go gay.

These myths are more prevalent in certain cultures. Many men also fear erectile dysfunction after treatment.

Ive talked to some men who said, Nobody will touch my prostate, because I need my erections to live, Sylvain adds. But theyre dead now because the cancer was caught too late.

A digital examination may be uncomfortable (for both people involved), but it lasts only a few seconds. Those 30 seconds could save your life, since early detection is key to successful treatments of prostate cancer.

If the cancer is caught early enough, it can be treated before it becomes metastatic. Relying on external factors, such as pain, is not enough.

One of my neighbours had a bike accident a few years ago, John explains. For a long time after the accident, he had back pains. He thought it was because of the accident. But they found out that it was also caused by prostate cancer.

Prostate 101 for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

For many men, prostate cancer is still a taboo topic. But Sylvain and John say that it should be discussed as openly as breast cancer is with women.

Prostate cancer occurs almost as often as breast cancer.

On average, 78 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day.

On average, 67 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer every day.

2022 statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society

Yet, we dont hear as much about prostate cancer, partly because of the taboos around it. John and Sylvain are doing their part to change that. A meeting at the Wellness Centre to discuss this topic is rescheduled at a later date.

Well talk about the prostate, Sylvain says, what it is, where it is, what it looks like, how to keep it healthy. We will discuss treatments for prostate cancer such as prostatectomy and radiotherapy. Well also discuss the side effects and even tell our story if the audience wants to hear it!

As they tell their story, you may also get to hear how prostate cancer has had some positive impacts on their lives.

Im 76, and today Im developing close relationships with male friends, says John. Im part of a mens organization, discussing health and relationships instead of cars and sports. I never thought I would do that.

A nurse once told John that prostate cancer might be the best thing that could happen to men. She explained that men diagnosed with prostate cancer tend to take better care of their health by having regular checkups, watching their diets, and doing more physical activity.

Both men also said that their health challenges have made them appreciate and care more about life and relationships.

We have resources within us that we dont know about until we need them, says Sylvain. I saw the possibility that life might end a lot sooner than I thought. So I realigned some aspects of my life to spend more time with my family and I stopped stressing about things I cant control.

John and Sylvain will be speaking at the Wellness Centre. (rescheduled at a later date).  

Hope & Cope offers the Men’s Cub, as well as The Bros Club, to support men aged 18–39. Please call the Cancer Wellness Centre at 514-340-3616 if you would like to join or for more information.

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