'Don't fear a finger'

'Don't fear a finger'

Prostate cancer survivor encourages women to prompt the men in their lives to get tested


Monday, September 23, 2019

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LIEUTENANT colonel Paul Dunn spoke openly and candidly with All Woman about his battle with prostate cancer, but the survivor was overcome with emotions when he spoke about how it impacted his wife, who provided unwavering support from the initial diagnosis and through years of treatment.

“On the day of the surgery she was smiling, but recently she said to me that it was not easy,” he said of Beneze Barker Dunn, to whom he has been married for the past 11 years.

When Dunn retired from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) in 2010, Beneze, who he describes as his greatest critic and supporter, told him that he was being prepared for something great. While Dunn anticipated a repositioning in his career, he never imagined that cancer would become a part of his story.

In 2015 the former soldier was a fit 55. While in the JDF, he had done his routine exams, which included an annual prostate check every year since he was 40, and everything was always normal. But he had missed a few check-ups. He attended a health fair at his church, where he serves as a deacon, where he was encouraged to have his prostate checked. Though he had only stopped by to ensure that the fair was running smoothly, he took up the health care workers' invitation and had the test done.

“Since I did it, I wanted the results, so I started asking questions. After a little while I got a call from the Cancer Society to come in,” he recalled.

There he was tested again and told that his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level was 9.2, which indicated that there could be cancer in his prostate (a normal PSA is between 0 and 2.5). After seeking out a third opinion from a urologist who he was friends with and getting a similar result, Dunn was referred to have a biopsy.

“If you think the finger test is anything, imagine then an instrument with 16 needles and a camera being inserted into the anus,” he said unabashedly. “When I was leaving they gave me pull-up diapers and reminded me that I should have somebody drive.”

Dunn felt fine, but of course, his wife was there waiting, so she got in the driver's seat. After a few minutes in the car Dunn realised why they had given him that warning. He could see nothing.

“Everything around me got white, and I said to her that I wasn't seeing anything, and I was feeling nauseous,” he replayed.

Without missing a beat, his wife took him home and got him comfortable. She kept him nourished and kept a close eye on the bleeding which was caused by the biopsy.

When the cancer was confirmed, the couple opted for surgery to remove the prostate. On the day of the surgery in March 2016, his only request as he was being whisked away to the operating room was to see his wife to tell her goodbye in case it was his last time he would see her.

After a successful surgery, his wife would ensure that despite wearing a tube that connected a bag on his leg to his abdomen, he could still enjoy life.

“I went out. I wore shorts,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. He shared how his wife drove him to the funeral service of his late church sister. He confessed that he was very relaxed throughout the eight weeks of daily radiation therapy, and he never questioned God's presence in and purpose for his life. His new family at the Mustard Seed Communities, where he worked for two years, was very understanding and encouraging.

Dunn celebrates his 59th birthday this week, and the end of his last round of hormone therapy, on which he was put for three years following the surgery. These hormones suppress the production of testosterone, which in turn affects a man's virility. Dunn spoke openly about that fact and how his wife helped him through it.

“The doctor explained that the process of removing the prostate causes trauma to the nerves responsible for erections, and so they said that I might not have been able to have erections for about 18 months. Then I was on hormone therapy for another year and a half, but with the help of a loving wife, I came through,” he beamed.

After reflecting on the number of men in his family who had prostate cancer, including his older and younger brother who were diagnosed around the same time he was, Dunn decided to share his story in hopes of encouraging other men to get tested.

“Don't fear a finger. Some men might prefer a female doctor, but it doesn't matter who does it, as long as you get it done,” he urged, highlighting that had he not got tested, his cancer would not have been detected, as he did not display any of the typical symptoms — “I had no back pain, no stoppage of urine, no enlarged prostate, no sign of prostate cancer.”

He also encouraged women to prompt the men in their lives to get tested, as a prostate cancer diagnosis affects the entire family.

“It is important for women to stand by their men, or their fathers, or whoever it is because it is a trying time. It's not just the man who is affected; it's the family. It is the support system, and it is going to hit the wife hard, especially if you had a very intimate relationship. It's not just a man's problem.”

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