Prostate cancer gave Quinton Yearde a greater appreciation for lifeSunday, September 12, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Quinton Yearde, whose battle with prostate cancer underscored his courage, faith and strength, is of the view that more survivors of the ailment should share their stories to change the mindset of men who fear getting screened for the deadly disease.
“I am saying that although it (the battle with prostate cancer) is private for some of us men, we're gonna have to start sharing so that other men start realising that listen, this is real and that we need to change the way we approach it (prostate cancer),” the 51-year-old lecturer told Observer Online.
“You cannot do it in silence; you cannot do it in fear. You need to share so that other persons can benefit from your experience, and we can get the death rate for men from prostate cancer down,” he asserted.
It is against that background why Yearde felt compelled to share his prostate cancer survival story, which featured unwavering support from his friends and family during his initial diagnosis and through months of treatment.
From the onset of turning 40, the Kingstonian had recognised the importance of making sure he did his regular prostate examination, especially since his father had been a prostate cancer survivor.
It was, therefore, no surprise that when his annual prostate specific antigen (PSA) began fluctuating, he visited his urologist.
“So when I started to have the fluctuating PSA, he (the urologist) had the benefit of all of the PSA scores before hand to help him in his decision. So, with the fluctuating PSA, we did a change of diet to see if he could see what was happening,” the educator recounted.
“However, the diet didn't change the PSA readings. The DRE (digital rectal examination) did not indicate any abnormality, [and] the MRI did not indicate any abnormality either. The doctors then did a biopsy, and from the biopsy they were able to clinically diagnose that, yes, you definitely have prostate cancer,” he said.
After that confirmation, Yearde, who had a brain tumor when he was 14, said he made the decision that he would do “everything in my power to live”.
“So I had prostate cancer. Alright cool. So we're going to approach it as how I approached the brain tumor when I was 14. So, it was about being positive and about being a diligent patient, doing any and everything I could to aid in my treatment, healing and recovery,” he shared.
Along with his cancer journey being steeped in positivity, Yearde had a close support network, which comprised his wife, his father and other close family members and friends.
“And because I had a five-year-old son at the time, I told some of the parents of his friends I am going through this, because… I didn't know [how] he would react and I didn't know if he would show it at school with his friends as against at home,” Yearde explained.
“[So] those were my close support network. We went about supporting each other through an interesting journey,” he added.
In June 2019 – days before Father's Day – Yearde opted to do prostate cancer surgery.
Asked whether he harboured any fears that he would not be able to celebrate Father's Day, the educator quipped: “I don't do fear… I am a realist.”
He continued: “What would I be fearing? Alright I don't get up from the surgery and that is a possibility; the cancer has spread; it is a possibility. But whatever reality faces me, I am going to deal with it as best as I can. That's all I can do as a human. The thing (the cancer) that I face is already enough.
“That fear that you talk about is the reason why a lot of men do not take care of themselves. They don't go to the doctor and they would rather go to a corner rather than go to somebody who's an expert in a field to address a problem they may be having,” Yearde lamented.
“How I try to counter fear is I try to get the best information and make the best choice that I can based on the situation facing me... At the end of the day, I want to say that I tried,” he declared.
The Portmore Community College lecturer recounted that on the day of his surgery, two things happened to him that stood out in his mind.
“[My] close friends were there and they were saying, 'Quinton, you look like you're happy', and I said, 'Listen, I have done all that I can do. I have listened to the doctor. It's in God's hands [now],'” he reflected.
The second thing that happened that day was that the educator met a young nurse, and they later prayed together. Following prayers, she revealed to him that she would be doing surgery for breast cancer in about three months.
“Those moments of sharing helped, and it is something that I believe in. I think we need to make our brothers more aware, because when you're informed you can make… better decisions,” Yearde suggested.
The next step in his cancer survival journey was radiation.
“So normally you do the surgery and then you wait a little before you do radiation, but because… my prostate cancer had come out of the prostate and gone into one of my seminal vesicle, my doctor informed me that the standard procedure after surgery and [once] you're healed after six months, you will do radiation,” he shared.
Yearde completed radiation treatment in March 2020, a week before the country was plunged into the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And the rest they say is history, or in this case sweet victory, as Yearde won his battle against prostate cancer. He shared too, that the experience made him appreciate simple things, including being able to walk.
“It made you value and appreciate, if you didn't, simple things like walking. I walk with my wife and we exercise together and even just doing those exercises, you look on it and say, 'Thank God I can do this. I can walk on my own,'” he said, adding that “How I feel now is that all of these things that we may have taken for granted is just a joy to be able to still do it... I am grateful that I am still here to function.”
In light of his own experiences, Yearde suggested that other men battling prostate cancer should recognise that they too can be cancer free.
“That is what I want people to understand, you can be cancer free. My father has been cancer free twenty-odd years now. Another colleague of mine... he is 11 years [cancer free]. It is not a death sentence. You have to do your part,” he stressed.
He recalled a conversation that he had with his doctor shortly after surgery two years ago that influenced him to share his diagnosis and subsequent victory in his cancer battle.
“We had a conversation and he said [that] prostate cancer is the largest cancer killer in Jamaica. And I said, 'In men', and he said, 'No, no it's the largest cancer killer in Jamaica.' And I was saying, 'If men know this maybe it wouldn't be the largest cancer killer in Jamaica.
“… We, therefore, need to go out and to say to men, 'Hey prostate cancer is the largest killer in Jamaica, get tested, and get tested early, especially if your family has a history of cancer,'” he said.
“… I was fortunate that my father had gone through it (prostate cancer) before, so he was... such a good help, by telling me what's going to happen etcetera,” he pointed out.
Asked what advice he would give to men who fear getting screened, especially because of doctors placing their fingers into the rectum to check the prostate gland – a procedure normally associated with the digital rectal examination (DRE) – Yearde responded: “How can a medical procedure be sexual?”
He added: “Women get examined all the time. That is something that is important to their health. Men need to understand that this is an exercise that is important to our health.
“What you need to do is get a PSA done; you have DRE screening; PSMA (prostate specific membrane antigen) MRI, which is a specific MRI for the prostate. If you have prostate cancer it will pick it up. That's much more expensive but less invasive and you also have biopsy,” he said, in outlining the options for men to get their prostate examined.
Yearde also encouraged women to prompt the men in their lives, including their partners or their sons, to get tested for prostate cancer.
“Take them (your men) kicking and screaming. Close the shop if you must… Remember prostate cancer rate in the Caribbean is very, very high. Some people will say it is not if, but when, and if we know this, why [are] we not getting screened?” he questioned.
“If we know that our father died from prostate cancer, [or] your uncle, you know you need to go get screened. Some school of thought says that if your father had prostate cancer, whatever age he got it, you need to get screened 10 years before he got diagnosed,” he argued.
Asked whether he would like to provide any final commentary on his cancer journey, the educator chuckled and went on to repeat his desire for more Jamaicans, including men, to be aware of prostate cancer.
“When prostate cancer day comes up, wear blue; wear a blue ribbon. We need to improve our awareness. There is no reason why prostate cancer should be our top killer,” he ended.
September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month aimed to bring attention to this common form of cancer in men which is the leading cancer-related cause of death in adult males locally. Observer Online will contribute to this initiative by sharing the stories of a number of prostate cancer survivors throughout the month.