by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
August 5, 2006
IT MEANS PEPPERONI, SAUSAGE, ANCHOVIES
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Some readers may have heard me quietly lament my recent 39th birthday ("Oh my Gawwwwd! I'm getting oooooolllddd!!"), and complain that I'm getting too old for a lot of things like stuffing myself with pizza and beer without thinking about my cholesterol.
But that's nothing compared to the staggering news I received a few weeks ago, when I was told I was old enough to get "that" test. You know, the one that all men should get, but typically don't.
I was at a health fair, speaking with Linda, a nurse from a local cancer center. Her organization was offering free prostate screenings, so I asked her about prostate exams.
(In case you didn't know, the prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system, and prostate cancer affects one out of every six men. Law & Order's Jerry Orbach died from it.)
I had heard chilling tales about The Test, which is more commonly known as "The Finger Test." Men everywhere get the shudders whenever they think about The Test.
I asked Linda, "Isn't there a new prostate test that men could get?"
"Sure, the PSA" she said. "It's The Other Test."
I assumed that since most wives continually nag their husbands to get their prostate checked, it was some sort of compromise test that stood for "Please Stop Asking." It actually stands for Prostate Specific Antigen, which means it checks for a specific protein that usually signals the onset of prostate cancer.
"How old should a man be to get the PSA?" I asked, afraid to hear the answer.
"Typically 40 years old."
I sighed with relief. "Good, I just turned 39 a couple of weeks ago."
"Then you're the right age. You should get it."
I was crestfallen. In just five short words, I was suddenly The Right Age. Old enough to get The Other Test.
"It's just a blood test, right?" I asked desperately.
"Yes. But there's also the DRE." She saw my confused look. "Digital rectal exam."
Despite the name, this one ? thankfully ? has nothing to do with computers. In this case, digital refers to the doctor's finger, or digit.
"But I can put that one off for a while, right?"
"Yes, men should get the DRE when they turn 50. But it's still pretty nice when you can get the PSA and DRE together," she said.
I accused her of making up a new meaning to the word "nice," but she explained. "The cure rate for prostate cancer is nearly 100% if it's caught early enough. But the trick is to catch it, because men don't like to get checked."
"Of course not," I explained. "Men don't like to talk about their feelings. What makes you think they want to talk about their plumbing?"
And that's the problem. Men don't talk about the health of their prostate, so we joke about it, laughing like little kids who heard a new potty word. We joke to cover up our discomfort, much like I've done for the past 504 words.
I debated whether to get the PSA since I was only 39, technically one year away from being The Right Age. But that argument was settled when I learned one of the other risk factors: if you have a family history of prostate cancer, you're at a higher risk of getting it yourself. Unfortunately we never knew my grandfather's medical history, so my dad has gotten his checked every year. I figured I'd better play it safe and do the same.
So I had my blood drawn for my first-ever PSA. I was both proud and a little sad. I was proud at my new-found responsibility, and sad that I was no longer a carefree young man who could take his prostate for granted.
But I hit an emotional valley a week later, when I noticed the bruise on my arm from where they drew my blood. That had never happened before.
"What's that?" my wife asked me.
"That's where they took my blood," I pouted.
"For your PSA test? Why do you have a bruise?"
I sobbed inwardly. "Because I'm old enough to get a PSA test."
"So it takes longer to heal when you get older!"
She patted my arm in sympathy. "Well, at least you know you're alright."
She had a point, so I decided to count my blessings. I still had 11 more years in which scientists could come up with a new, less invasive test.
I just hope it involves pizza.