I met George Sheehan, a noted cardiologist as well as a legendary runner and writer about running, in August of 1986. I had been designated to pick him up at the airport in Aspen, Colorado, late the night before he was to speak at a conference that I was managing. We hit it off immediately.
That first meeting, I learned several months later, happened to fall only a few days after he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
As a newly graduated, idealistic physician assistant in 1991, I enthusiastically took to heart all recommendations for health promotion and disease prevention screening. The PSA test was encouraged for all men at that time, and when I found out my father had not been offered what I had been taught was a life-saving test, I beseeched him to have it done. He did and it turned out his PSA was elevated, initiating a medical journey that I am still processing over twenty years later.
After a four-day bout of intense, immobilizing, lumbar back pain, associated with a fever of 103.4, my wife and I decided that going to the ER was indicated. Within a very few hours, I was in the ICU with a presumptive diagnosis of Staph septicemia (infection) and pneumonia. Faced with my falling oxygen saturation, the intensivist recommended intubation and thus, for the next five days, I was in an induced coma while he and the infectious disease physician battled to save my life.
I am a 54-year old academic, family doctor. Last May, after the US Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft recommendation that physicians talk with patients about PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing at age 55, I was updating my clerkship presentation about preventive screening. At the time, I was experiencing some palpitations (sensations of an abnormal heart beat), so I decided to check my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and CBC (complete blood count).
Not having checked my PSA since age 48 (it was 0.9 then), I decided, on a whim, to add a PSA to my blood tests. It came back 10.8, which means there was a possibility of cancer.
As a female, I do not have to deal directly with prostate issues, but I did have to support my father through his own prostate challenge. In February of 1986, Dad's surgeon said the words we all hoped to never hear: "You need prostate surgery before things deteriorate."