By Bret Bero
It’s a call no one ever wants to be on the receiving end of: “As you can see from the lab results, we have confirmed that you do have cancer.”
But, now I knew. From July 2017, when my PSA blood test during my annual physical first indicated a slight risk of Prostate Cancer, through twice a year PSA screenings, to a biopsy in January 2018 to an MRI in March of 2019, the medical data was inconclusive. It was after another routine PSA test in October 2020 indicated a 95 percent probability of cancer that a second MRI in November 2020 showed spots on the prostate, and a second series of biopsy extractions confirmed the diagnosis in January 2021. Now it was time to consider the options—wait and watch, radiation, or surgery to remove the prostate—and make a decision.
I was 62—which is a little earlier than the average age of men diagnosed with prostate cancer, but certainly within what is considered the normal window. I am a son, brother, husband, father, and grandparent. I am also a Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor. And because “Movember” (Google it) is prostate cancer awareness month, I am sharing my story in hopes that it will play a small role in helping to save the men you love.
Now for some facts: Prostate Cancer is the second leading cancer in men. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 8 men will develop prostate cancer, and one in 41 will die from it. Prostate cancer can be easily detected by a simple blood test that takes less than two minutes to complete. If caught before the cancer spreads beyond the prostate, the five-year survivability rate is almost 100 percent. However, if the cancer spreads outside the prostate, five-year survivability levels decline to around 30 percent.
There are multiple methods of treatment after diagnosis and although each option has unique risks and benefits, all are about equal in effectiveness. Because I wanted to be 100 percent sure the cancer was removed, I elected for surgery. However, because I teach at Babson College, I chose to put off my treatment until the end of the semester in May. And in that short time, the cancer had escaped my prostate.
I make this point because the barriers to early detection and treatment are largely self-generated. We let life get in the way of saving our life. I was fortunate. I had an excellent surgeon at Mass General Brigham, and he was able to remove all the cancer. Had I waited much longer, the story might not have had a happy ending. But the sad fact is that for some, the decision to delay treatment or even testing is made because they do not have access to the proper healthcare that would provide this simple blood test. And while my story is about prostate cancer, the same decisions are being made to put off screening for breast cancer, colon cancer, and numerous other forms of the disease that have high rates of survival when caught in the early stages. We must do better, we have to ensure that not only are we increasing awareness about screening and early detection but we have to help those who do not have access to healthcare get it. In 21st century America this is not hard when we have the will.
I want to conclude by issuing a call to action. Ask every man that you love to please get a PSA test at their next annual physical. And keep the pressure on for a national healthcare system that will provide for all so that a simple, inexpensive blood test can prevent unnecessary deaths.
Bret Bero is a Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor and college professor. The piece is about his personal journey with prostate cancer and the need to raise awareness. For more information on Bero, visit www.bretbero.com.