October is breast cancer awareness month. What you may not know: September is prostate cancer awareness month. Just as many men are diagnosed with prostate cancer as women are with breast cancer.
All month, James Crummel and Brett Thackara will be bringing you stories and information about this deadly disease. We begin with a story of two men who were diagnosed and what they did to fight it.
“I’d gone in for a routine checkup and, of course, the physician said, ‘Have we checked the prostate lately?’ I was in my early 50s at the time,” Clemmie Gilpin of Dauphin County said.
That’s when Gilpin received the news no man wants to hear: he has protest cancer. It wasn’t a complete shock to the retired Penn State professor.
“I’m an educator, you know, so the first thing I did was educate myself beyond what I already knew,” he said.
Here are the facts. One in seven men in the United States is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Nearly 12,000 will be diagnosed this year in Pennsylvania alone. African American men are 61 percent more likely to get it. Family history is also an important factor.
Knowing all of this, Gilpin had to act.
“Prostate cancer tends to be a very slow growing cancer, but it’s kind of daunting to think I have a slow growing cancer inside of me,” he said, “You don’t ignore it.”
Treatment options include monitoring, radiation therapy, or removing the prostate completely. Gilpin chose surgery. It was a success. He is now cancer free.
Harold Rittner of Cumberland County was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago. He was 53.
“One of the fallacies of prostate cancer is it’s an old man’s disease,” he said, “The fear, and I also had confusion because I’m not an old man, so why do I have an old man’s disease? How does this happen? Why would it happen to me?”
“That made me feel a lot better,” he said, “’cause I wasn’t first, alone, and number two, I knew I could survive this.”
Rittner, too, is cancer free. Both men say the key was getting the test, and getting it early.
“My dad died when he was 77,” Gilpin said, “After his diagnosis of stomach cancer, they would go ‘Gee, we saw it.'”
Men have to get out of that mindset. Prostate cancer is deadly, but if caught soon enough it’s curable.
“You can absolutely beat it,” Rittner said, “I’m living proof.”
It’s so important for men to get tested, especially because in many cases, there are no symptoms. A good resource to learn more is the Pennsylvania Prostate Cancer Coalition. Check out their website at paprostatecancer.org.