Published on September 04, 2015

Too Many Men Ignore Prostate Health

The young, African-American doctor goes back to the inner-city barbershop in his neighborhood and tries to engage the customers in a discussion about maintaining their health.

He asks customers when they last had a physical.  No one can remember. He asks when they last had a prostate exam.

Never.

“I’m not letting Halle Berry do that to me,’’ one of the barbershop customers says of the digital rectal exam.

It’s a funny line, but also a strong point was being made in the television show. There is plenty of statistical evidence that many minority males don’t think about their health until it is too late. African-American men are statistically much more likely to die of diabetes, heart disease and cancer than Caucasian men.

They are also more likely to develop and die from prostate cancer.

A few years back the barbershop scene from the television program could have been shot at Joe McLemore’s shop on Harrison Street in Davenport.  Same characters, same banter and the same disdain for the importance of physicals.

Joe McLemore was as guilty as anyone else of not taking care of himself.  Until 2006, he hadn’t seen a doctor for a routine physical in 40 years.  He didn’t even have a regular doctor.

“Then I got real dizzy with high blood pressure. I went to the emergency department at Genesis East and they got the blood pressure under control but they told me I had to set up a physical with a doctor,’’ McLemore explained. “I didn’t have a doctor so I went to my wife’s doctor and as part of the physical, she did a digital prostate exam on me.

“She said my prostate felt hard on the right side.’’

The next stop for McLemore in his path of enlightenment about the importance of health maintenance and prevention was the office of David Rohlf, M.D., a urologist with Urological Associates PC, Davenport.  Biopsies were taken from several areas of McLemore’s prostate. 

Two days later the news came…cancer.

“That was a hell of an alarm,’’ McLemore said. “My first thought was what do I do now, what are my options? Do I have it anywhere else?’’

McLemore was lucky considering his history of not having annual physical exams. The cancer was still limited to his prostate. The tumor was removed at Genesis and he has been cancer free since 2006.

He is still cutting hair and bantering with customers at Joe’s Barber Shop but with a big difference.  He is a survivor who has become a local advocate for getting checked out before it is too late.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Seems like as good a time as any to make a doctor's appointment for a physical. Joe McLemore now follows the guidelines.

“Once a year every year with Dr. David Rohlf,’’ McLemore reports. “I was lucky. I got there (to the doctor) in time.

“It’s funny because I’d had plenty of opportunities to get screened in the past  but I wouldn’t go.

“I still don’t think I would have done anything if it hadn’t been from the dizziness from the high blood pressure.’’

African-American men develop prostate cancer at a higher rate than Caucasian men and also are more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer.

“One of the best things all of us can do is education,’’ Dr. Rohlf said. “We need to target areas where information can be given and received by all of the population.’’

Now that McLemore talks freely about his cancer history, he has found out there were many others he knew who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“That’s what surprised me.  Guys I knew had had prostate cancer, but didn’t talk about it. We need to get the word out by talking about it ourselves. I’m doing what I can, but I’m not sure a lot of people I talk to are really listening,’’ he said. “I understand them because I was them.

“Where I come from, going to the doctor isn’t something you do unless you know there is something wrong. I think black men who grow up poor usually think they either can’t afford to go to the doctor or they don’t need to go. Besides, we aren’t going to live forever. That’s the attitude when you grow up day to day without any money.

Every man at age 50 should have a prostate cancer screening and affordability is no longer a good excuse. Access to affordable health insurance has improved under the Affordable Care Act and many individuals and families can qualify for subsidies.

Genesis hopes to raise awareness of prostate cancer during Prostate Cancer Awareness month with an inflatable men’s health display on Sept. 15 at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute.  The inflatable display has visual elements of the urological system and how prostate cancer develops and spreads.

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