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Celebrating My 50th Birthday Cancer-Free

Posted on 09/18/2012 by |AARP Blog Author | Comments

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The following is a guest post by Jerry Bembry, journalism professor at Morgan State University.

I turned 49 a year ago today. At the time, I considered all the exciting things I wanted to do leading up to my 50th birthday. “Fifty to Fifty,” was what I called my plan, and I began writing down the 50 things I wanted to do before hitting the half-century mark:

“Take a cross-country drive, visit the six remaining states that I’ve never been to, take in a Lizz Wright concert (where I had hoped to convince my favorite singer to serenade me)…”

Absent from that list was the mission that wound up consuming my life over the past year: Fight cancer.

After a routine PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test a year ago, I was eventually diagnosed with prostate cancer: the same disease that claimed my brother’s life two years ago. It also claimed the lives of two of my uncles. Over the past year, I’ve learned just how truly devastating this disease can be.

  • Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men.
  • Prostate cancer is a disease that will affect an astonishing 1 in 6 men over the course of their lifetimes. (If you are African-American, the odds increase to 1 in 5)

My doctors told me the cancer was found early. As I prepared to have surgery in May, I detailed my family’s battle against the disease in an article that I wrote for TheRoot.com.

But on the eve of that surgery, I got a new scare: A CAT scan showed a lesion on one of my ribs, and there was a fear that the cancer had spread. More tests were needed, this time a bone biopsy. So four days before my scheduled surgery, it was called off.

My rib was tested and the lesion turned out to be nothing more than an old bruise. My procedure was rescheduled, and on July 12 I entered New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City to have my prostate removed via robotic surgery.

Today, on my 50th birthday, I can celebrate the fact that I’m cancer-free. Last week, I received the results of my first post-surgery blood test, and my PSA levels are virtually non-detectable.
But my battle is far from over. Even though my PSA levels are good now, there’s always a chance of them rising. Which is why I have to get a blood test every three months, and why I’m continuing changes in my lifestyle that will increase my chances of completely beating this.

This past year I’ve been through a lot. In my battle against prosate cancer I’ve encountered dozens of men who have battled the disease, and who were quick to offer support.Some of them I’ve known for years, though I never had a clue about what they faced. I’ve found that many men battle this silent killer in silence.

I speak about my journey with prostate cancer every chance I get. I’ve written about it in my blog, I’ve mentioned it in numerous Facebook posts, and today—on my birthday, and in the middle of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month—I’ll begin writing about it on a regular basis.

Some men hesitate even to get tested. I just want to let them know that early detection and successful treatment is a far better journey than having this cancer continue to an advanced stage, where it ravages your body and makes your bones brittle.

Trust me, it is not a pretty sight.

Back to my 50th birthday today (which makes me AARP eligible—let the discounts begin!). A year ago I was putting together my  “Fifty to Fifty” list—filled with adventures that I never had a chance to begin.

I’m just thankful that a PSA test led to early detection, which led to a successful surgery. All that means is I can take that “Fifty to Fifty” list (which is still a work in progress) and shift it to “Fifty Beyond Fifty.”

And the good thing about “Fifty Beyond Fifty?” Now that I’ve beaten cancer, I don’t have to rush.