A military physician, I served in the United States Army for 21 years in various leadership positions. Before retiring in 1993, I was deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia, as the Medical Task Force 42nd Field Hospital Commander. During this four-month humanitarian deployment, I saw more death and dying than I had seen in my entire military career and in my career as a physician. Upon returning to the U.S., I said that I never wanted to see combat or war again.
In February 2003, I had my yearly routine medical examination including laboratory testing and a digital rectal examination (DRE). I was not concerned, as my previous prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels and DREs had all been normal. Seventy-two hours later, I learned that my PSA was still within the normal range but slightly elevated from the previous year. My urologist was concerned because he knew that, as an African American male -- with an uncle who had died from metastatic cancer and a father with elevated PSAs and enlarged prostate -- I was at risk. We discussed my having a prostate biopsy, which I underwent several weeks later. The procedure was slightly uncomfortable but bearable.
Two weeks after the biopsy, I met with my urologist and noted that he was not his usual jovial self; he, in fact, appeared pained and stressed. "Artie," he said, "you have prostate cancer." After a moment of numbness came a flood of anxiety and stress. Memories rushed back of the many cancer patients I myself had cared for, some who had died, and the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. I remember saying to myself, "Artie... you're at war again. This time the enemy is within you."
After much consultation with the radiation therapist, oncologist, and surgeons, I elected to have a radical retropubic prostatectomy, which was performed June 10, 2003. The pathology reported a Gleason 6 with clear margins. No additional treatment was necessary. Currently, my PSA levels remain undetectable.
During my personal prostate venture, I became aware of the magnitude of this disease that especially impacts black men: Current research tells us that African American men have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world and the lowest rate of survival, that African American men suffer disproportionately from prostate cancer, with an incidence rate higher than white males, and are 2.5 times more likely to die from the disease than white men. Faced with these statistics, we all need to start getting serious about this disease, and about our diagnostic and treatment options. We must acknowledge that the state of prostate cancer care is decades behind what it should be.
Greater outreach to African American men is critical in addressing this terrible disparity. Organizations such as Us TOO International, Inc.; Prostate Health and Education Network; and the FACES Project must take the lead, and lead by example, in the effort to combat this disease that can be cured if diagnosed early. These and other organizations must raise public awareness in the fight against this disease.
It was my pleasure to have served for two years as a consumer reviewer for the Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program Peer Review panel. But more so, it was my distinct honor and privilege to serve with the expert scientists and clinicians on the panel to review the various research proposals. As a consumer reviewer, we were given equal voting opportunities, as a lay cancer expert, to evaluate both the nonscientific and scientific aspects of the same proposals as the scientists.
As a retired military physician and prostate cancer survivor, I thought my medical background would be an asset in reviewing the research proposals, and to a certain extent it was. However, I quickly became aware that the professional training and focus of the scientific peer reviewers provided me with a different perspective that as a physician I would have overlooked.
I have the greatest admiration and respect for the scientific community for their dedication, professionalism, and personal sacrifice in their efforts to find a cure for prostate cancer. In 1971, President Nixon declared "War on Cancer." With the knowledge and perseverance of these scientists, with whom I had the distinct honor of working, I feel that in the very near future we should be able to declare a VICTORY in the war against cancer.
The scientific work of these brilliant scientist and researchers will ensure that in the near future, men will not have to endure the plight of prostate cancer. On behalf of prostate cancer survivors, we are indebted to the scientific community and thank you for your continued efforts in the fight against prostate cancer.