Confronting Prostate Cancer in My Family

Commentator John McCann talks about his personal experience dealing with a family member diagnosed with prostate cancer. The disease affects one in six men in America. John McCann is a columnist for the Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Prostate cancer affects one in every six men in America, and the disease often reaches beyond the diagnosis, with emotional side effects that also hurt friends and family. Commentator John McCann remembers going through that pain firsthand.

Mr. JOHN MCCANN (Columnist, Herald-Sun, Durham, North Carolina): Mama broke the news to me. And then my old man got on the phone. The doctor had caught his prostate cancer early, but they need to operate to cut it out, which could cause some sexual dysfunction. Daddy didn't like hearing that.

I'm Godzilla, he boasted. I refuse to get old, he said.

The Godzilla comment, I think, was a misquote of Denzel Washington in Training Day. In the movie, Washington's character, a crooked cop, believed he could take on the world and declared himself mightier than King Kong.

Daddy's doctor said he could fix whatever got broken during surgery, but my dad, bless his heart, is a little old school in his thinking, as far as equating manhood with penile potency. See, manhood is daddy getting up every morning and going to work at the warehouse, rarely missing a day, even now at 61. Manhood is daddy coming home every day once he got off work, and not knocking momma against the walls. But whooping me, when necessary. See, that's what you call manhood.

Well, daddy had his surgery, and everything went well. Although the jury's still out on whether he'll need any Viagra. And, you know, a lot of good can actually come out of this. From a purely selfish standpoint, I could try to lay a guilt trip on my wife by telling her about research showing that more sex reduces the risk of prostate cancer. As well, I'm proud of my old man for getting his two brothers on the phone upon receiving the diagnosis. He wanted to make sure that they were getting checked out for prostate cancer.

Daddy may never get his own cancer foundation or a celebrity golf tournament like Jim Valvano, the late North Carolina basketball coach, but the Lord could use this ordeal to reach some people.

I'm several years away from the recommended age for getting prostate exams. I've put a note on my e-mail calendar so it can pop up in 2012 and remind me to get checked out. Dreading the thought of a doctor poking around inside me, here's hoping technology advances to the point of a computer looking me over and thereby avoiding the invasive procedure.

And thank goodness for health insurance. Had my dad been without it, what you're listening to may have turned into a shameless plug about contributing to the James C. McCann Prostate Cancer Fund. Then again, if daddy didn't have any benefits, the thought of paying more than $20 dollars or so for a co-payment may have scared him away from getting checked out in the first place, and he'd never have known that something nasty that was in his body was waiting to kill him.

It makes me want to get my eyes checked, my tonsils taken out, or anything else insurance will cover. My wife and I have relatives who actually have good insurance, but won't even take the time to get worked on. And I tell you what; I hate to see my parents get old. But I realize stuff like this is just a part of life. It's just that, it really doesn't seem that long ago when daddy was whistling fastballs at me in the backyard.

Back when he was, well, Godzilla.

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CHIDEYA: John McCann is a columnist for the Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina.

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