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Image of Fred Allen

Photos and text used with permission of
Fred Allen.

In the various roles I play in life - father, state representative, photographer, and church deacon - what I enjoy most is serving others. One of the ways I do this is through my church, St. Mark Baptist, in Little Rock, Arkansas, serving food to the homeless. One day back in June 2007, I arrived at my church, ready to organize and serve. My outreach pastor came up to me and asked me to do him a favor. "Sure," I said, thinking he was going to ask me to distribute the food. He told me that our health ministry was co-sponsoring an annual prostate cancer screening event with the Arkansas Prostate Cancer Foundation (APCF). Would I please sign up for a screening? I agreed. I'd had a prostate check-up with normal results six months earlier. Now, at my pastor's request, I went to the APCF event and received a second screening. I felt good knowing that I was doing a favor for my pastor. Little did I expect to learn, as I did a few weeks later, that my PSA was elevated.

It was Friday, August 13, 2007, when I heard the four words that changed my life forever: "You have prostate cancer." I was 54 years old, with a daughter, Camille, an exciting and demanding career, and many commitments I'd made to give of myself so that I could make a difference in the world. All of a sudden, my world was upside down. I was thrust into a foreign country that used a language I did not understand. I began to hear about IMRT, hormone treatment, DaVinci surgery, traditional surgery, seed implants, watchful waiting, Gleason scores, and Kegel exercises. It was overwhelming - I was wandering in a maze with no clear direction. One of the first things I learned was that the experts and patients do not agree on the best way to treat prostate cancer, and the method of treatment is the patient's decision. Camille was instrumental in helping me navigate the maze and make the necessary decisions.

After three months of extensive research (and much prayer), I made the decision to go to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, to have robotic surgery. I met my doctor, Craig Roberts, who explained the procedure to me. Within three days I had the surgery and in less than 24 hours I was out of the hospital.

As an ex-basketball player, I knew the importance of conditioning my body and my mind before playing a game. So every morning I ran five miles and every evening I ran five miles to condition myself for surgery. I also spent a lot of time in meditation and prayer to get into the best mental, emotional, and spiritual shape I could for the fight of my life. I stayed away from negative people. Thank God for "caller ID," because now more than ever I screened my calls!

I often wonder what would have happened had I never received a prostate cancer screening. You see, I thought I was pretty healthy. I exercised regularly and watched what I ate. I did not smoke or drink. I felt pretty good. But unbeknownst to me, I had cancer. Prostate cancer screening saved my life.

But this wasn't just about me. I was reminded of the words of a great philosopher, who said: "What a man does for himself, he takes with him, but what he does for others he leaves behind." My experience of being diagnosed through a routine screening demonstrated the importance of early detection. My first order of business in the Arkansas General Assembly was to introduce and pass legislation to require insurance companies doing business in Arkansas to pay for prostate cancer screening for men beginning at age 40. If prostate cancer is diagnosed early, it is treatable. And, if it is treatable, it is beatable.

Last year, I received the news that I'd had a recurrence. I had to make a decision about treatment and decided to undergo tomotherapy. This experience deepened my commitment to continue to be a voice for men struggling with this disease. I am a board member of the Arkansas Prostate Cancer Foundation, and I also serve on the Advisory Board of the International Cancer Alliance for Research and Education. For the past three years, I have also served as a consumer reviewer for the DoD Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP). I have received a great deal of satisfaction from being involved in a process that is saving the lives of men from a disease that impacts the entire family. It is my prayer that the PCRP will find a cure for prostate cancer and, if not a cure, a way for men who are living with prostate cancer to enjoy life to its fullest.