Navigating a Cancer Diagnosis
- TODAY’s Al Roker told Memorial Sloan Kettering that he almost considered not telling his wife about his prostate cancer diagnosis when he first heard the news. But the idea passed as quickly as it came, and his wife supported him throughout his cancer journey.
- Black men are two to three times more likely to die from prostate cancer, according to one of our experts. It’s important to know your risk-level and stay up-to-date with screening because early detection can lead to better outcomes.
- With a cancer diagnosis comes a wide range of emotions. It’s important to have someone in your corner to help you through the cancer journey and be an advocate for your health.
After almost delaying the appointment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roker was diagnosed with an aggressive type of prostate cancer. He immediately had surgery to remove his prostate and some surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. Roker has been given consistent ‘all-clears’ since treatment, but he’ll be doing lifelong testing to make sure the cancer does not return.Read More
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“Deborah, my wife, wasn’t with me, and I’m thinking while he’s talking… oh my god, she is going to kill me,” he said jokingly. “There was a part of me for half a minute, and thought, maybe I can kind of be like the old Laurel and Hardy where the wives need to be none the wiser, I just won’t tell her.”
But Roker’s thought passed as quickly as it came. And looking at the situation from the other side, Roker knows all too well how nice it is to have someone supporting you throughout your cancer journey.
“As soon as I said it to myself, I thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty stupid,” he said. “When a doctor tells you that you’ve got cancer, it’s a gut punch… Besides being your own advocate, it’s important to have somebody else be your advocate and ask the questions that you might not be thinking of because, you know, your head’s kind of spinning.”
Understanding Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. The disease begins in the walnut-shaped prostate gland located between the rectum and bladder. This gland produces the fluid that nourishes sperm.
Symptoms of the disease are inconsistent and hard to pinpoint. “Prostate cancer is a very odd disease in that it doesn’t have a particular symptom,” explains Dr. Edwin Posadas, director of translational oncology and the medical director of the Urologic Oncology Program at Cedars-Sinai. But changes in urinary function like urinating more or less often or waking up at night to go more than usual could be a sign of the disease. However, it’s important to note that these potential symptoms could also could be caused by a urinary tract infection or even an enlargement of the prostate gland (which is not cancer).
Expert physicians that have spoken with SurvivorNet shared a hopeful outlook when considering a prostate cancer diagnosis, because there are many treatment options, and there’s been significant treatment progress over the past decade. Surgical and radiation options, for example, have made improvements in reducing side effects of treatment while still providing excellent cure rates. Even for men with an advanced-stage diagnosis, many new options exist to treat prostate cancer and help them maintain an excellent quality of life.
Prostate Cancer and Black Men
Al Roker has made a point to inform people, especially those within the black community, of the importance of screenings and vigilance when it comes to your health. On the TODAY show, he has shared some staggering statistics saying that 1 in 7 Black men and 1 in 9 men overall will be diagnosed in their lifetime with prostate cancer.
Dr. Posadas says the incidence of prostate cancer in Black men is 60 percent higher, “and they are two to three times more likely to die from the disease.”
Therefore, it is important to know your risk level and prioritize screening. Prostate cancer is typically slow-growing, so it is easily treated if caught early with screening which experts recommend doing around 40 or 45 years old – depending on your family history.
Dr. James Brooks, a urologic oncologist at Stanford Medicine, explains the PSA (prostate specific antigen) test, which is used to screen for prostate cancer.
“If a man has an elevated PSA, he has somewhere around a 20% to 40% chance of having prostate cancer,” Dr. Brooks says. “I would recommend that they get a PSA at age 45.”
Having a Support System
When dealing with a cancer diagnosis, as Al Roker can surely tell you, it’s nice to have a strong support system. Maria Gonzales, a stage 3c ovarian cancer survivor, couldn’t agree more.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, she says her husband, Greg, has played an instrumental role in her cancer journey.
“He didn’t have to stick with me all these years dealing with cancer,” Maria Gonzales says of Greg. “I wouldn’t want to do this without him.”
Greg has become an amazing caretaker for his wife. He made sure he was by her side through each treatment and surgery, refusing to leave the hospital even when Maria and others at the hospital would encourage him to go enjoy himself and take a breather. And he did it all for one thing: his wife’s smile.
“That smile she has… that’s reward enough.”
He also accepts that Maria’s cancer diagnosis is a part of who she is today. “We all get thrown curveballs in life,” he says. “It’s those moments that define you… that show you the kind of person that you are.”