By Allen R. Gray
NDG Special Contributor
Across the nation, people are rightfully protesting the indiscriminate killings of Black men by law enforcement officers, but rogue police officers are not the most lethal force Black men are facing. I was recently made aware of this startling revelation after my yearly wellness examination. After the results of my tests returned, my primary care physician immediately referred me to a well-known urologist.
“Do you know why you’re here,” the urologist asked grimly.
In a somewhat detached manner, I answered, “Yes. My PSI test levels were elevated.”
The grim demeanor left the urologist’s face for a flash of a second before he corrected me. “That’s PsA not PSI. If it were about PSI we’d be wondering if you’re car tires were over-inflated.” Then the urologist’s countenance returned to grim.
The PsA or prostate-specific antigen is an enzyme secreted by the cells of the prostate. The normal PsA value is usually less than 4.0. My PsA value was pushing 8. There is, however, an age-adjustment as men grow older, so for the moment, I took solace in knowing that.
“Unfortunately, your PsA number continues to rise, which is an indication there might be something wrong,” the urologist informed me.
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That meant that in two weeks I would have to undergo a biopsy, which also meant there would be an intrusion of my lower extremities, with “two” snips from my prostate. That meant there would also be upwards of a month of bloodletting in my stool and urine. As concerned and fearful as I was for myself, I was far from the first Black man to have that appointment set, and I would be far from the last.
Black men are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer and have a higher probability of dying from the disease than are all other American men; and cancer researchers are having a hard time understanding the biological and behavioral reasons why. In fact, over their lifetime Black men are 50% more likely to develop prostate cancer and two times more likely to die from the disease. One cancer researcher concluded these statistics are likely due to inherited genetic factors. That same researcher promotes regular screenings and active surveillance like a digital rectal exam, where the doctor checks for swelling and inflammation, in addition to the PsA test.
Black men often voice legitimate complaints about being short-changed in many social arenas. Prostate cancer isn’t one of them. The disease is indiscriminate when it comes to selecting its Black victims. It doesn’t care if you’re young or old, rich or poor, famous or infamous. Understand that Black men aren’t just contracting this life-altering disease, they are also dying in alarming numbers.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. For every 1,000 white men, roughly 97 will be diagnosed with the disease. Compared to 164 Black men for every 1,000. Albeit, these demographic disparities are much more pronounced in mostly southern U.S. regions (where I live).
If those statistics aren’t frightening enough, it is also the case that Black men are five times more likely to die of prostate cancer than white men.
The list of Black victims left in the wake of this most formidable foe is long and varied. Some of the disease’s most notable Black victims include:
• Langston Hughes, American poet, playwright, and novelist
• Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther Party leader
• Stokely Carmichael, leader of the Black Power movement
• Floyd Patterson, two-time World Heavyweight boxing champ
• Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes, famed Olympian and NFL Dallas Cowboy; and,
• Earl Woods, Vietnam veteran, and father of golf great Tiger Woods.
Two weeks later, there was I alone in the examination room, having already been prepped by the nurse with a shot of antibiotics and a numbing solution. Five minutes later, in walked the urologist.
And so, it began. The doctor’s movements were fast and deliberate. I closed my eyes and took my mind to some other place far, far away from the examination room I found myself trapped in. Besides, it would all be over soon. Just two quick snips—just like he had previously promised—and it would all be over. As I lay on my side, he inserted an objected that felt somewhat uncomfortable, but the numbing solution made the process bearable.
Then just like that, it was over…That’s when the urologist announced, “Now it’s time for the biopsy part.”
I was caught off guard and unprepared. My mind was squarely in the moment with no diversionary place for it to escape. I pressed my palm against the wall to brace myself.
The urologist welded the device like it was a miniature jackhammer, as he counted down what seemed to be a practiced sequence. “One. Two…” Snip. “One. Two…” Snip.
I breathed a long-anticipated sigh of relief. I had survived the two snips the urologist promised, and I had taken it like a man.
Then out of nowhere came, “One. Two…” Snip. The total count was now five unforeseen snips. “Did you feel that?” the urologist asked.
At this point, I held no trust in anything he had to say. I would go as far as to say that I was angry. I let him know how I felt with a sarcastic retort, “Let’s just say that I felt you.”
Then out of nowhere came, “One. Two…” Snip. It was as if he were a man obsessed.
All totaled, there were ten snips of my prostate. I was sure that the total was ten snips because there were ten bloody fingernail etch marks on the wall I had my palm pressed against.
I left that appointment with a little less machismo—but that day also left me determined to find out what more I could do to ward off the prospect of prostate cancer, lower my PsA level and avoid being on the list of the disease’s victims.
The tips doctors recommend for lowering PsA levels are:
• Increase your intake of lycopene by eating tomatoes
• Eating healthy protein sources like chicken, fish, and soy
• Taking vitamin D
• Drinking green tea
• Exercise; and,
• Reducing stress levels.