Linda Galanos stands at the foot of the examining table. Her voice is matter-of-fact.
“OK, I want you to place your right foot here and your left foot over there,” she says, pointing towards the floor. “Then I’m going to have you lean forward.”
I’m naked under the paper-thin gown. It’s 9:15 in the morning and I’m barely awake. It might help to tell you that Linda is my Family Nurse Practitioner. She’s just finished the infamous genital check. Now she’s standing behind me. You don’t have to be Hawkeye Pierce to guess what’s coming next.
This clearly isn’t my idea of fun, but I drove in from Nipomo that morning fueled by anxiety and concern. One of my older brothers had a heart attack at 56. A second brother was just diagnosed with prostate cancer. And my parents, both 92, finally got around to informing us last week that prostate cancer does run in our family.
That gave me, at 54, enough pause to schedule some initial blood tests. The good news is that my prostate seems fine. Then came the bad news. I have double the normal amount of triglycerides, meaning cholesterol concerns, meaning if I don’t make fundamental changes in exercise and diet, I’ll be moving to Heart Attack City. Linda decided to bring me in for a complete exam. A very complete exam.
Off came the clothes and I assumed the position.
“HELLO!” I yelled loud enough to be heard back in Nipomo as Linda made initial contact using what is politely termed the “digital exam.” This only takes seconds, but it seemed like minutes and I began calling Linda nasty names through gritted teeth. “You didn’t even buy me breakfast, first,” I snarled when she was finally through.
The prostate is fine, but the bulging stomach that Linda playfully named “my little friend” has got to go. I only weigh 212, but it’s all in the stomach and if I were a woman, people would be asking me when the baby was due. We agreed on a three-pronged attack of diet, exercise, and medication. Back in two months for more blood tests. We’ll continue the assault until we slice that triglyceride level in half.
My older brother did not get off as easily. He is scheduled for surgery at the end of next week and will be out until November. He should be fine. Thankfully, he went in for a physical and they detected the cancer before it spread too far.
But a lot of us guys won’t be as lucky, either because we’re wimps about seeing a doctor, or we’re overly macho and believe we have nothing to worry about. Either scenario keeps us away from having to undress and assume the position.
My Uncle William was the classic case. He was an Ivy League-trained pharmacist. Columbia University. Smart guy. Successful guy. He spent his career in health care, but never bothered to get checked himself and ended up dying from prostate cancer at 73.
So let me remind you of the basic facts, gentlemen. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer, other than skin cancers, in American men. According to the American Cancer Society, about 218,890 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. About 1 man in 6 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer.
Let’s not allow the women to get off too easily. Coronary heart disease, which causes heart attack, is the leading cause of death for American women. Nearly twice as many women in the U.S. die of heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular diseases, as from all forms of cancer, even breast cancer.
I don’t mean to preach and I hate to reinforce the obvious, but the news of my brother’s prostate cancer sent a somber chill throughout our family. We just all assumed that because our parents lived so long that we’d be equally blessed. We just assumed that our parents would share with us any important medical information. We were wrong. Believe me, if it hadn’t been for my brother’s diagnosis, I would never have gone in to see Linda. I would not know about my own health problems.
Learn your complete family medical history. Get regular examinations once you hit 50. Now I want you to put your right foot here and your left foot over there.
Lean forward. This won’t hurt a bit.
SLO City News (October 2007)