President of the University College of the Cayman Islands Roy Bodden is speaking out about his experience as a prostate cancer survivor in a bid to raise awareness of the disease and encourage more men to get screened for the disease early.
Prostate cancer is one of most common cancers among men, with one in six men getting the disease in their lifetime.
Mr. Bodden, who has become the official spokesman on cancer for the Lions Club of Grand Cayman, described how one year ago, he was recovering from prostate cancer surgery in a Miami hospital. “I’ve spoken to many people prior to and since that time, many men, and I think Caribbean men in particular have a problem acknowledging and putting themselves forward to have certain types of examinations done,” said Mr. Bodden.
He has been prompted to talk publicly about having prostate cancer by the reluctance he has seen in other men who feel too macho or embarrassed to undergo tests that can lead to a diagnosis of prostate or colon cancer.
Mr. Bodden, who knows of no history of prostate cancer in his family, said he had been proactive in monitoring his health over the years and underwent annual medical checks.
“When I got to my fifth decade, I began to experience symptoms which were nothing to be alarmed about, they were just typical prostate enlargement… the symptoms became more acute and I realised it wasn’t just a simple prostate enlargement and I became more assertive and particular about my condition,” he said.
Despite the invasive nature of the exams, Mr. Bodden said it was important for men to put aside the “notion of invasion of their privacy” for the sake of their health because prostate cancer is one of major killers of men.
The university president said he felt obligated to make society, and men in particular, aware of the disease.
“In the Caribbean, it is the most common form of cancer among men. In the US, it is significantly higher among black males. I have an obligation as an educator to make people aware,” he said.
Mr. Bodden said the disease does not discriminate and can fell any man, adding that US politician Bob Dole and army general Norman Schwartzkopf had both had prostate cancer.
Describing the process leading up to, during and after his operation, Mr. Bodden said that while it was serious, it was never traumatic.
“At every point of the operation, I was aware of what I was doing, what the results would be and of the recuperation time and I had great supporter in my wife, so that made it not easy but understandable,” he said.Since his operation, men has asked him about the post-operation impact. “Caribbean men are macho men and they come to me and ask ‘What about post-operation problems?’ Post-operation problems? It’s really no problem at all. If you have an understanding mate, that’s half of it. Some men… have a fear of losing their virility. Well, modern medicine has ensured that that is no longer a problem. If you watch TV, you’ll see all these advertisements for Cialis, Levitra and Viagra, and if you speak with your doctor, if you can find other support system to supplement those; it’s not a major problem.”
He added: “A major problem is, as my surgeon told me, ‘You know, men find it difficult to go through this process, but let me tell you want I’ve seen – I’ve seen a man, 6’ 3”, 265 pounds, in a state of prostate cancer, left to a bundle of bones, 75 pounds, and the pain is absolutely unbearable. No amount of morphine pumped into the human body can deaden the pain of someone dying from prostate cancer’,” said Mr. Bodden.
He urged men not to put off being screened. “Some people take the attitude of wait and see. Listen, if you have cancer, there’s no time to wait and see,” he said, adding that if the cancer enters the bones, “then you have a big battle on your hands”.
The initial screening for prostate cancer is a PSA or prostate specific antigen test, which is a simple blood test that can determine if a person has an abnormal prostate. If that test is positive, the next step is a digital rectal examination by a doctor. If the doctor sees a problem in this exam, he or she will recommend the patient to a urologist.
Mr. Bodden said he knew from checks dating back to 2004 that he had prostate challenges, but it was not until 2011 that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which is usually a slow developing cancer.
He recommends all men older than 40 to undergo regular prostate screening tests as part of their annual medical checks, and if diagnosed with the disease, not to panic or give up, but to formulate a plan for treatment with a doctor.
Within six weeks of his operation, Mr. Bodden was back at work as university college president. “That’s what happens if you’re proactive,” he said.
Mr. Bodden is working with the Lions Club of Grand Cayman as its spokesman on cancer awareness in the run-up to Club’s upcoming fundraising three-day run/walk for the Cancer Society and Cayman HospiceCare.
Breast cancer survivor Linda DaCosta, the new chairwoman of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, said the society is supporting nine colorectal cancer patients and three patients with prostate cancer. Funds raised by the Lions Club and others will go towards financial help for cancer patients and paying for screenings for cancer.
The Cancer Society offers free PSA tests for patients who cannot afford to undergo screening, Ms DaCosta said.
“By facilitating early diagnosis, regularly scheduled testing extends the life expectancy of cancer patients. Early treatment, likewise, reduces long-term risk nand healthcare costs,” said Health Minister Mark Scotland, who admitted that prostate cancer remains a taboo subject for many men.
The minister said in many cases, people show up at the hospital for the first time when they are in advanced stages of cancer and men with prostate cancer are no exception, as they often did not undergo the early screenings that could catch the disease before it reaches late stages.
He urged everyone to join the struggle against men’s disease and share the twin message of prevention and early detection, which are at the heart of PACE 2013 – the Lions Club event, which stands for Prostate and Colon Cancer Event 2013.
The prevalence of prostate and colon cancer, as well as all other cancers, is not known in the Cayman Islands.
The establishment of 2010 of a national cancer registry is going some way towards finding out what kinds and how widespread are certain cancers in Cayman, but more cooperation and information from cancer patients and their families is needed to expand the data the registry has been receiving, Mr. Scotland said.
He encouraged cancer patients and survivors to register with the Cancer Registry.
This is the second year in a row, the Lions Club of Grand Cayman is organising PACE, also known as the Delano Hislop Memorial Three Day Journey for Life Run/Walk.
Alfonso Wright, who is organising the event, said: “When we came up with this idea, we wanted to honour our past president Lion Delano Hislop who died of colon cancer.”
Last year, the event raised $20,000 for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society and $10,000 for Cayman HospiceCare. Another $10,000 is being used by the Lions Club for year-round promotion of awareness of prostate cancer and other illnesses that predominantly affect men.
Mr. Wright said that in the lead up to last year’s event, in the first 30 days after the announcement and launch of the run, the Cancer Society had more people come to its office to ask about prostate cancer than it had had in the previous 10 years. “Before that, people were reluctant to come into the office. Even at that point, some came in and were reluctant to say why they were there,” he said.
This year’s PACE event will begin on Saturday, 29 June, and ends on the pu
blic holiday Monday of 1 July. It entails walking or running about 15 miles a day for three days, with each day start starting at 4am.
“Our goal is to try to educate all of our men to understand that there is nothing wrong with getting a rectal digital exam.
There is nothing wrong with admitting you have an issue. It doesn’t make you less of a man. It actually helps save lives; it helps save your life and those of other men,” said Mr. Wright.
For more information about PACE, or to sign on as a sponsor or participant, email [email protected] or call 925-4667.