Gerry McDaniel reflects on his brush with prostate cancer
BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
September is observed as Prostate Cancer Awareness month, and this year, the Jamaica Cancer society is redoubling its efforts to help men overcome their fear of getting their prostate checked. Well- known Jamaican, and media personality, Gerard 'Gerry' McDaniel, who survived his brush with prostate cancer, shared his experience with the Jamaica Observer.
McDaniel shared that he got his diagnosis in May of 2015 when during a visit to his GP (general practitioner) for a thorough check-up, progressed quickly to him having to then go to a urologist to do DRE (digital rectal exam), when it was found he had an enlarged prostate.
Here is his account of the series of events:
So when I did the biopsy, I was told that it would be about two weeks before I get the results. So I get a call about quarter to five the Friday after. I had done it the Tuesday. And the office called me the Friday at a quarter to five and say 'we have the results but we can't tell you anything, me must come. I had the whole weekend freak out. That's where faith comes in; so what did I do, I just prayed. I prayed and I meditated, and called upon three other people who were close enough to me. And so I made it through the weekend.
After I had then heard that it was cancerous, by then [I was already] steeled up and prepared to accept anything. This is the value of faith. You're prepared to accept anything that comes and you recognise it as the will of God, one way or the other, and therefore you have to deal with it and you'll get what you need to do with it and you will die in a particular state of mind and even though it is terminal, you will have a better quality of life even as you go.
When I moved from recognising that it wasn't just an enlargement after doing the DRE to having been asked to do the biopsy, and I heard what the biopsy involves — That is what is really invasive and rough — by then you know that you are confronted with the reality of having cancer.
I saw somebody first who was pushing me to surgery. I happen to know that anybody in my family who get cut die within a couple months, I might not be, but the fact is, nobody wants to die. You know you have to, but you don't seek death. On the other hand, doctor Morrison took me through everything. This is the risk: everything has risks. So she walked me through radiation therapy.
My prostate had swollen so large that the number of implants I would have [had] to do to treat it was above the threshold of what is considered healthy. So I was down to do either radiation therapy or surgery, but when you do the surgery you're up and walking the next day, except that you now have a couple weeks off work and I said no; one, because of the effect that surgery has had on many members of my family. I had lost a couple dozen family members in a 10-year period, so my decision was clear.
I did radiation therapy and with that there's a whole package that's available. I had to talk to a nutritionist who walked me through. [I had to] change my entire diet before and then everyday for half an hour I did radiation therapy for eight weeks.
In my case, the radiation cost $2.4 million, much less than that. you would have had to, and the facility here in Kingston is on par with anywhere in the world. And at the end of the day, I realise why it cost $2.4 million. You'd think it's inflated, but it's what it cost if that's the full comprehensive measure. The issue I have though is the extent to which insurance coverage is available for that in Jamaica. I got the diagnosis in May, did the preliminary things and the counselling, started to get the treatment in the end of summer, finished in October.
Other than that...
The cancer was one thing, but my prostate is enlarged which means the urine flow would have been restricted anyway. So one of the things that happen even though the cancer is gone, my prostate is still enlarged and I occasionally have odd things with my urine.
Things that helped ...
What I have learned from my personal experience is that these are things that kept me through:
One was a proactive GP [general practitioner]. And if the GP is not proactive, you just ask the questions. I'm diabetic because of my bad dietary habits, so I paid the price with diabetes. My GP [had] just wanted to figure out what had been happening.
Faith [also] helped. Two years before that, I moved again from just being a churchgoer, who just like how people run go pray to God when dem inna problems, and started to have a real relationship with God. I happen to find that faith makes a huge difference, because you do not fear, you really truly don't fear. I'm not suggesting that that is the way to handle prostate cancer, but it can't hurt. It can't hurt if you have real faith and that was one of the biggest factors for me.
Another one was relationships, especially positive relationships with women. Why? Although we claim that we're so independent, it matters to us what women think of us. You have to have good mutually respectful relationships, especially with women because, the kind of empathetic thing, we kinda only let down our guard when there is a woman involved, and that's when you need to have that conversation. So I found in particular my relationships with those women in media and those in my family were most crucial. And therefore we would love to be able to get a lot of women to help.
And one more thing, guidance from persons who have already been diagnosed. It's a small country; just ask around. there are people who have done it. If you're going to think your diagnosis is going to be negative, then you probably should figure out who has had it already and get guidance through. So I had three other gentlemen surrounding me. One who had a rougher ride than me but was very upbeat. It helped that this guy had emerged on the other side, at 60 - still very much married and happy and his wife is happy, too. So it's like, oh, functional, happy, fit, married, stable relationship. It means that it nah go mash up necessarily.
And then the other thing was a respectful, sensitive urologist. The urologist who made me feel that this could be done, that's very important.
The 'real' fear
But if you don't have that kind of hand-holding, talk about the fear of diagnosis. I have to muscle up like every man to go to the doctor. Man a thug, man a bad man, man nuh 'fraid a noting. In Jamaica men are not afraid of death. You can't scare a Jamaican man with death because lives are so disposable. We're more afraid of not being able to have sex than dying.
One thing I probably need to emphasise is the fact that the first step is the blood test. People think you just go the doctor for him to bruk di one way, as a friend of mine would say, and that kind of freak dem out. It really and truly sounds worse than it is, because if you have to do an actual blood test, it's not that much different. It's just because we not accustomed to that kind of test. And by the time, you're so far down the pike that you just need to know, so you get it done so you can know.
To me, it is an easier process than giving blood because giving blood is the breaking of your skin with this irritating kind of sensation. In that case, it's a blunt object, highly lubricated and takes less than 30 seconds. And I say to the men too, it's a medical procedure; the doctor has seen and done so much, they just want to get through all the patients. So to associate it with anything other than health is really just a bizarre and twisted way of thinking.
As of last year, I do talk in men's fellowships and churches, and service clubs. And I find that when you get a bunch of them together talking, [they] pour out and ask the questions.
When I went out last year and did that whole little mini campaign, the number of men who called was ridiculous. What was even more surprising is the number of women who said, 'you can talk to me husband?' And I said maybe you should tell him directly, and they called back-to-say that they had heart to hearts after that. So whether you married or not, to have good female friends is a big plus because you can afford to let your guard down — mek her talk sense into you head.
And that was good for me and that was when I really started to talk about it. So the men came to me one away, and the wives and girlfriends came to me as well. Lots of them reported that they got tested as a result. So it makes me want to do this continuously (sic) and make people see that this is not something that is so crucial.
Well, since then and I've been very evangelistic in terms of taking my medication and doing the things that I'm supposed to do. I always have my water, I eat healthy more often than not. And I do get, not enough exercise, but some.
It's a new life. I have to constantly ensure that I keep as healthy as I can. And outside of that, I now know that I test every year, which is something I didn't think about before. I'm going to learn how to swim because I must be active.
Just about the same time before I got the diagnosis, I started to just radically focus on what I do. So I started to do 5K's walking; I walk briskly. There was a time when I was doing 3 5K's a week walking, and cut out baked products and just started to eat six weeks a day. I started to buy the 3 colours of sweet peppers; it's amazing how when sumn pretty, you'll eat it, even if you don't like it. So you make your plate pretty and have six meals, you're never hungry and you drink lots of water. And I lost 50 pounds and it didn't feel like I was trying. I mean I put in some exercise as well.
So, I'm not the same. I have to live differently. Your life has to change to be sufficiently grateful for the diagnosis and leverage that; it's bad news but it's good news in the sense of it's a wake-up call and you get a second chance. Grasp it, don't wait until you get diagnosed with something else, or to hear that it come back. No, my life is not the same — it can't be.