Raising prostate cancer awareness

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, April 29, 2009

During a routine physical, Maurice Peagler found out his blood sugar level was a little higher than normal. The 42-year-old Army National Guardsman figured he was about to become a full-fledged diabetic. After a closer look at the blood test results, the doctor ordered a rectal exam and a biopsy of Peagler’s prostate. The doctor told him he was too young for prostate cancer, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

When the biopsy confirmed prostate cancer, Peagler’s world came crashing down. His wife, Luellen, sat right there next to him while the doctor delivered the news.

“He basically looked at me like he was looking at a dead man,” Peagler said.

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Peagler was not ready to turn his life over to cancer just yet. He had five children to watch grow and years of easy living in Montgomery ahead of him. He searched for answers, ways to survive a cancer that is the most common among American men. He found that in a group that met the first Monday of each month at the local American Cancer Society. These men shared their experiences and helped each other beginning with diagnosis, through treatment and into life after cancer. Without the Man-to-Man Prostate Cancer Support Group, Peagler would have been like a lost dog.

“No matter who you are, there’s no way to know everything,” he said. “It’s important to at least know what to expect.”

Long ago, prostate cancer was a taboo subject among men. As a result, many men were diagnosed after it was too late for treatment. They came to the hospital, were diagnosed and died without ever returning home.

It does not have to happen this way though, Dr. William Sherrer said. Sherrer, a urologist at Vaughan Regional Medical Center, said with annual screenings, prostate cancer could be diagnosed, treated, and patients could continue to live long, productive lives.

Beginning at age 50, men should be screened once a year. There are two major risk factors for prostate cancer-if a brother or father has a history of the disease, or if a patient is black. In these cases, men should begin annual screenings between the age of 40 and 45. There are no early signs or symptoms for prostate cancer. That is why screenings are so important, Sherrer said.

The screenings are simple, too. All it takes is a quick blood test and a rectal exam by a primary care physician. If the test results are abnormal, the patient is referred to a urologist for a prostate biopsy, which only takes about 10 minutes to perform.

While many studies have linked risk factors such as diet and exercise to prostate cancer, Sherrer said there is no one reason why a person develops the disease. The only thing to do is to get screened early and often.

“It’s nothing that a man does or doesn’t do to get it,” Sherrer said. “That’s why screening is so important. It’s very effective, and it saves lives.”

After treatment, there are plenty of options for survivors, too. Luella Giles, health initiative representative at the American Cancer Society’s Montgomery office, said the support group works miracles in the men’s lives.

“They’re a good group that can help men before, during and after,” Giles said.

Peagler said he is a living testament. He said the group taught him that prostate cancer could change your life, but it does not have to take it.

“So many people get the impression that the big C, they feel that is the end, that there is no hope after that,” Peagler said. “But when you can talk to people who have already been through what you are about to go through, it makes a world of difference.”