JOHN Allen is one of those men who always stayed on top of his annual medical appointment, but with COVID-19 having a negative impact on many lives, he decided to go earlier — a visit that marked his brush with prostate cancer.
The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system. It sits just beneath the urinary bladder, encircling the urethra — the tube that empties urine from the bladder. The prostate gland produces fluid that makes up part of semen. Prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate develop changes in their DNA.
In February, Allen, a former marketing executive, now HR specialist, did his usual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This time, the test revealed a sudden rise in his PSA levels.
The PSA is a protein produced by normal, as well as malignant cells of the prostate gland. The PSA test measures the level of PSA in a man's blood.
Following the results of the PSA test, several medical examinations including an MRI and prostate biopsy were done for confirmation and cancer staging to ascertain the best treatment options to increase Allen's chance of survival.
According to 67-year-old Allen, prior to the diagnosis he and his family maintained a healthy lifestyle and so, the news left him stunned.
''I was speechless. It was truly a body blow. I immediately thought about my family and just how they would deal with this news,'' Allen said, adding that reassurance from his doctor, Trevor Tulloch, gave him the will to fight.
''I had no symptoms, but with detailed research, many consultations with Dr Tulloch, weighing all the pros and cons of each treatment option, and encouragement from my daughter who is also a doctor, we decided the best way forward,'' he said.
Allen opted for robotic surgery, a treatment option not yet offered in Jamaica. In June, he was referred by Dr Tulloch to Dr Chad Ritch, a Jamaican urologist living in Florida, where he completed his care.
The journey of overcoming prostate cancer included robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy, which is a complete removal of the prostate by radical surgery.
''The experience was better than I expected. I went in for surgery Friday and was discharged the following day. The pain was tolerable. I took painkillers only when necessary,'' Allen said.
Allen said the expenses were steep, but became affordable thanks to a combination of his family's support and critical illness insurance that he never even remembered he had.
According to Allen, the CCRP/SAGICOR coverage he'd recently bought, family members pitching in and his wife's surrendering her insurance policy for the cash value, made the difference.
''I really am grateful for the financial support I received. My family was extremely supportive, especially my wife Audrey who took her vacation to travel overseas with me. When your significant partner is by your side in the way my wife was during the 18 days during and after surgery, it definitely helped me recover well and with less challenges than what I would have otherwise experienced,'' he said.
Another crucial part of Allen's journey was the encouragement from friends and other prostate cancer survivors.
''It is so important for other men who have gone the same road to be very supportive of each other,'' he said.
To remain upbeat, Allen said, ''I motivated myself through praying daily and I deliberately focused more on positive outcomes which confirmed what my urologist told my wife and I – 'prostate cancer is not a death sentence when caught early'. I realised there was quality of life after prostatectomy from the various articles read and testimonials of survivors including that of my friends,'' he said.
Allen and his family have now got stricter with adopting a healthier lifestyle and share with their adult son the need to get his checks done when he gets to the recommended screening age.
But, his contention is that many men think they are invincible and neglect their health.
''In our culture men actively avoid vulnerability and this posture often times lead to their own demise. Most men freely talk about work, friends, relationships, sports. But they don't talk about a pain or a change in their bodies. A lot of men don't even know about their own prostate or even about prostate health, family history and the role it plays in prostate health. To make it even more tragic, talking about your prostate problems is taboo, a lot of Jamaican men don't see it as an area which should be investigated by a doctor because of where it is and how you're examined. So, too many men die because of staying ignorant rather than opening up and going to see their doctor,'' Allen said.
He added: ''My advice to men who are afraid to get tested for prostate cancer – get tested now. Have your medical check-up annually, especially men over 40 years old, which must include a prostate examination and PSA testing, plus the digital rectum examination (DRE). I also believe we need to talk and share. The information and knowledge you share with other people could help save a life without you even realising it.''
For more information: Visit the MOHW/Non-Communicable Disease & Injury Prevention website ncdip.moh.gov;jm