Fighting a Silent Killer

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

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.

I’m learning a lot during this process of getting this disease out of my body, and I’ll share my experiences and what I’ve learned about prostate cancer in my blog ( There are a lot of changes you can make in your life that can limit your risk of prostate cancer. Hopefully, what I have to say will help keep someone away from the situation I’m in now.

In the meantime, heed this advice:

If you are a male over 40 and, like me, have been so caught up in the grind of work that you’ve skipped a few physicals, get tested.

If you’re a woman who cares about her age-40-plus man, husband, brother or father, urge him to get tested.

If your family medical history is like mine, you already know the deadly effects of cancer. If you’ve passed your 40th birthday, please get tested.

If not for cancer, my oldest brother would have been sitting at Carnegie Hall two weeks ago alongside his wife and three sons, watching his youngest son, Jayson, perform as a finalist in a classical piano competition. If it weren’t for cancer, my mother would have had a special weekend last week: a joint celebration of her granddaughter’s college graduation and Mother’s Day.

Cancer took those moments away from my family. Cancer, within my immediate family, is undefeated. In addition to my mother and brother, cancer has claimed two uncles on my father’s side (both victims of prostate cancer) and one uncle on my mother’s side (liver cancer).

Now it’s my turn facing cancer, and I’m here to claim the first victory. And when I’m cancer free, I have this message for the disease: Please leave my family alone. You’ve caused us enough pain.

Jerry Bembry with his brother Joe Bembry. (Courtesy of Jerry Bembry)

Jerry Bembry is a longtime sports journalist who has covered professional basketball for ESPN and the Baltimore Sun. Recently Bembry was a senior video producer at WYPR in Baltimore, and he teaches in the mass-communications department at Towson University. He will continue to write about his experiences in battling cancer — and his recovery — at his blog.

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