Fighting a Silent Killer

Prostate cancer has claimed the lives of many black men, but it doesn't have to be a death sentence.

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Prostate cancer is the second-most-common cancer among men, behind skin cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men.

If a first-degree family member has prostate cancer (like my brother), you have nearly three times the risk of being diagnosed.

The average age of diagnosis is 65. But I'm proof that, while not the norm, the disease also occurs in younger men. I was diagnosed at 49, but the cancer may have been growing inside me since my first PSA spike, when I was 45. St. John's basketball coach Steve Lavin was 46 when he was diagnosed, and dealing with the disease took him out of last season.

Jerry Bembry's mother, Mary Lewis. (Courtesy of Jerry Bembry)

Here's the most important stat: Most men with prostate cancer don't die from it. But the key to surviving prostate cancer is regular testing. People like Joe Torre, Robert De Niro, Colin Powell and Harry Belafonte are alive today because their prostate cancer was detected in its early stages.

There's some debate about whether PSA tests are necessary. A report released last year by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggested that PSA tests don't save lives and that routine tests aren't necessary.

I'm here to tell you that panel report is wrong. PSA tests are necessary. With the results of that test, I get a chance to be a cancer survivor. Without the test, I'd probably be dead in six years.

There are many ways to treat prostate cancer, and I've researched them all. I've decided to have my prostate removed. The surgery was supposed to occur this week but was postponed because of a lesion found on one of my ribs. Hopefully that lesion turns out to be an old sports injury. If that's the case, I'll undergo surgery in the coming weeks.

This hasn't been a pleasant experience. My body has been probed, penetrated and pierced, and pieces of my prostate have been clipped and removed during this process. Some of those procedures, months later, still leave me shaking. But it's all necessary. This entire ordeal hopefully gives me a chance to have the best 50th-birthday celebration in September -- a celebration of my continuing journey to be cancer free.