November 29, 2020
Prostate Cancer – In the Public Eye
Celebrities can bring important perspective to a complicated disease.
As with many things in life, a “fear of the unknown” can be crippling for some. Especially when it comes to a cancer diagnosis, extreme feelings of loneliness can accompany that seemingly overwhelming fear. Whether it’s the first person in the family to receive a diagnosis or the only one with current disease – cancer can be an isolating condition. So, even when the unfortunate but non-discriminating C-word strikes those in the public eye, there is often a silver lining – awareness. Al Roker is the most recent celebrity to share his prostate cancer journey publicly. As a urologist who cares for many patients in various prostate cancer treatment stages, I am eternally grateful.
Celebrities who publicly share their cancer stories have my gratitude for many reasons. Perhaps the most significant is that they bring awareness to specific cancer types in large-scale ways on massive media platforms. The health care industry has advanced and evolved so much over the years when it comes to educational outreach. However, what we can accomplish in that regard is a far cry from the attention a disease will get when it affects a notable figure. That individual’s story is often featured in every mainstream media outlet and social media platform. I should also note here that battling any type of cancer or another disease can arguably be a very private matter. It is no small feat when a celebrity publicly shares a health matter they may have otherwise wanted to keep confidential. Mr. Roker didn’t just share a revelation that he has prostate cancer. He shared it at the beginning of his diagnosis before treatment began. The early chronology is invaluable because it also allows the general public to “follow along.”
When the public can follow along with a public figure’s prostate cancer diagnosis, it illuminates the journey tangibly, in real-time, and that can have a profoundly positive effect. In Mr. Roker’s case, it was a routine physical that revealed a slightly elevated PSA, which alerted his health care team to the suspicion of possible prostate cancer. How he came to be diagnosed matters. For many men, routine physicals remain a nuisance and something they simply don’t prioritize. But Mr. Roker’s revelation helps illuminate the importance of an annual physical. Finding disease sooner is always better than later. Always. When it comes to prostate cancer, especially, routine physicals are the means to that early-identification end.
In addition to following along at the start of Mr. Roker’s prostate cancer diagnosis, the public was also able to witness which treatment option(s) he chose. This is significant. Though medicine has made some tremendous advances in prostate cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, it isn’t without some cost – namely confusion. For example, in cases where prostate cancer is identified early, there is some debate and public misunderstanding about when we should treat that cancer. In cases where cancer is small and slow-growing, some men are advised to engage in watchful waiting. Watchful waiting isn’t the same as ignoring cancer. Instead, it is actively monitoring it for growth or change without first engaging in curative treatment. However, in Mr. Roker’s case – he opted for surgical removal of the prostate. He explained the reason for this very simply: “Good news is we caught it early. Not great news is that it’s a little aggressive…” What that statement helps reveal is that prostate cancer treatment is not a “one-size-fits-all” proposition. For every man, his own unique set of circumstances will help dictate the type of prostate cancer treatment that is precisely right for him.
Finally, as we can publicly witness a celebrity’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment – we also get to watch their recovery. For many patients, the fear of a limited ability to live a quality life after a selected treatment can be as scary as the cancer diagnosis itself. Again, in Mr. Roker’s case – we get to see him get back to living the life he wants post-treatment. In fact, at the time of this writing, he co-hosted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade just two weeks after his prostate cancer surgery. Though this isn’t necessarily how every man’s prostate cancer recovery process will go, it is crucial to see that quality of life restoration is possible and probable in many cases.
Though I don’t wish prostate cancer or any other cancer diagnosis on anyone, I am incredibly grateful to Mr. Roker and every other celebrity who shares an illness journey with the masses. They don’t have to, and it certainly isn’t required. But as a health care professional, it can do a world of good for many patients. Thanks again to Mr. Roker, and best wishes for his continued health and wellness.