Here at NewsChannel 11, we have been encouraging prostate cancer screening. The reason why is very personal to us. For those who have wondered why the chair next to me on the news set was empty for several weeks, here's the story. And thankfully, it has a happy ending.
They say cancer makes you look at life differently. Well, it was just days before his prostate cancer surgery that Abner formally adopted his wife's daughters, Kiersten and Kelsie.
It was a bigger surprise to those who knew him that Abner put aside his privacy and allowed our cameras to follow him as he went into surgery to remove the prostate. We were there later in his hospital room, and we checked in on him at home to see how he was recovering and to find out when he was coming back on the air.
"I'm a little nervous about coming back, because you need so much help," joked Abner.
Then finally just minutes after the newsroom celebrated his return, Abner was on the news with his doctor David Aronoff.
"There are 2 million men in this country with prostate cancer. Obviously the incidences increases as you get older. But it's a major health issue," said David Aronoff, MD, urologist.
It was a candid interview about a very personal problem and Abner set the tone.
"We're talking about our privates down there and that's something we just don't want to talk about. But we have to," said Abner.
So, since Abner cut to the chase, I will too. For those who don't know what or where the prostate is, it's just under the bladder. The prostate gland is about the size of a walnut. Its job is to protect and nourish sperm cells as they travel through the prostate on their journey to the outside. That's why only men have a prostate.
One in six men will end up with prostate cancer and 27,000 will die every year, but here's the good news.
"Prostate cancer is relatively slow growing. But with early detection and treatment, what we can strive for is a complete cure," said Dr. Aronoff.
Even though Abner's prostate is removed, he will continue to be checked regularly for cancer with what's called the PSA test. It's a simple blood test that checks for protein levels that may be elevated if prostate cancer is there. Doctors will tell you this not a perfect test, but in the majority of cases, it can be life saving.
"85% of the time, we find it with a PSA. But 15% of the time, they have a normal PSA but they have prostate cancer and that's when you find it with a digital rectal exam," said Dr. Aronoff.
That's why the American Cancer Society suggests screening should include a PSA test and a digital rectal exam every year for all men by age 50, or starting at age 40 if there is a family history of prostate cancer or if they are African-American, because the disease is more aggressive in that group. The idea is to find it early before it spreads.
"Men should know it's confidential. Don't be embarrassed. This is what we do. We do it all day long," said Dr. Aronoff.
Abner credits his wife Tara for making him go to the doctor. It was that exam that sent up a red flag which later revealed the cancer. Now, Abner and Tara are continuing this fight with a public service announcement emphasizing the importance of early screening. And for the first time ever, the Junior League is joining the effort.
This week's Holiday Happening is expected to draw about 15,000 shoppers, mostly women. And this year, the first booth you'll see is ours, even before you need a ticket to get in.
Whether you shop or not, men can stop by and pick up this voucher for a free PSA test at either University Medical Center or Covenant Hospital.
And don't forget ladies, you can pick one up for your husband or your father, to be used at their convenience for free, anytime before the end of January.