With so many challenges and adversities facing us in life on a daily basis, we often don’t give much thought or concern to those devastating realities unless they are placed in our laps. It isn’t that we aren’t aware that they exist, or we are void of showing sympathy, but oftentimes we don’t really become proactive or show empathy until it strikes close to home. Such is the case with me when it comes to prostate cancer. I had been informed of the importance of getting screened for prostate cancer, ideally starting at the age of forty. I heeded that advice and incorporated it as part of my yearly routine of staying aware of my present health. It wasn’t until I learned of my uncle’s diagnosis of having prostate cancer that I really began to research, ask more questions and become proactive in bringing awareness, encouraging and motivating others to get tested.
I have witnessed firsthand how this debilitating disease can change the quality of a person’s life when ignored or not diagnosed in time. I have also had the opportunity to meet men who have been diagnosed with it in the early stages and who have been able to continue on with a relatively normal life. I had the privilege of sitting down with my uncle and his family to discuss life as it relates to living with prostate cancer. When our uncle, father, son, brother or anyone dear to us is diagnosed with prostate cancer (or any terminal illness), the dynamics change not only with that individual on many levels, but also with the whole family. It is my hope that this candid conversation with my uncle and his family will uplift and inspire others to band together, knowing that united we stand and together we can and will make a difference.
PT: For the record, my name is Donovan Simons speaking with my uncle Dudley “Unkie” Simons and his wife June “Rock” Simons in regards to prostate cancer and how it has affected him and the family.
In a situation like this it doesn’t affect only the individual who has it, but the whole family because it changes schedules, it changes…
Dudley: A lot of things.
PT: Yes. So hopefully the things highlighted and brought to the forefront in this interview will help keep someone else from having to experience some of the hardships you’ve had to deal with or at least provide a road map on how to best deal with them.
So, my first question to you is, what is your current age?
PT: When did you first get checked for prostate cancer?
PT: How long have you had it?
June: For five years.
Dudley: You know Troy, (that is the name used by my family) me personally, I don’t know when it really started.
June: When he first went to the doctor.
Dudley: I went work one day in the taxi. I waited my turn and when my turn came, the people got in and I hardly went from here to Ras door [approximately 200 feet]. I found myself in the electric light pole in the wall. Now, what happened, I don’t know.
June: That was late, you know. [to Dudley]
June: That was late. The medication that was given him, he didn’t take it.
PT: So you had already been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but weren’t taking your medication?
June: Yes. In fact, the doctor told me, “your husband has prostate cancer”. He [the doctor] looked at me and said, “It’s not threatening, death threatening…it can be cured…controlled”. So I said, “How come you don’t tell him?” [the doctor replied] “You don’t tell men that.” “Men don’t accept it well…some men.”
PT: [to June] Did you go with Unkie when he got tested for prostate cancer or did he go because he felt bad?
June: He went for a physical and from the blood test they could tell. His PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) was getting very high.
Dudley: One thing I remember, I was in the bedroom and I fell down. Now, how I fell down, I don’t know but I busted up my wife’s ironing board and what not, so….
June: Dudley’s forgetting, cause all this was late. He had refused his medication. I told him, had you taken this medication when I gave it to you, you wouldn’t have to be going through all this now. [He] totally refused it. [He said] There’s nothing wrong with me, nothing wrong with me. [He] Wouldn’t accept it.
PT: Had you heard that men should start getting checked for prostate cancer beginning at the age of 40?
Dudley: No. I never heard of prostate cancer being in my family, number one. So, if anything happened with my lil’ pea brain, I didn’t think anything was wrong with me.
PT: So, when they gave you the medication, what was your reason for not taking it?
Dudley: I didn’t think anything was really wrong with me.
PT: You didn’t feel anything in your body?
Dudley: I thought I…the medication when I went to the doctor, they gave me a test and my kidneys…
June: [To Dudley] Baby, that was way late. That was like last year.
June: Last year when we went away to Bailey Clinic, his PSA was way over 200, then. Before he went, it was one something and it kept going up and up. When he left here, it was over two hundred and it was in the 4th stage of cancer. So that was pretty bad.
PT: [To June] Did Unkie go to the doctor on his own and his doctor called you or…
June: No, we went together (for our physicals). I went for mine. He went for his.
June: He told me I was doing good, but your husband has prostate cancer. And I’m like… [expression of shock and disbelief on her face]. So why can’t you tell him? And he said, “You can’t tell men that ‘cause they don’t accept it.”
PT: And that came from the doctor?
June: That came from the doctor.
Dudley: [Chuckles] Some doctor, ain’t he?
June: And he [Dudley] didn’t believe him anyway. He didn’t think anything was wrong with him. And he has very strong [pauses] beliefs. So, he didn’t accept it. He didn’t accept it until I think he went to Langley last year, I believe. You know, when he fell down in the road.
Dudley: I didn’t go to Langley. You lot took me to Langley. My daughters decided you are going to Langley clinic and they took me to Langley clinic.
June: And if he hadn’t have gone, I think he would be gone by now. ‘Cause he’s getting some injections. They are hormone injections. And it’s nothing to do with chemo or anything like that. That [the hormone injections] has shrunk the tumor. So now it’s down to 3…3½. And that’s a normal man’s prostate. And the doctor told him “I don’t need to see you for another 6 months.
PT: How long ago was that?
June: July. He has to go back in January.
PT: Aunt June, did you or the doctor tell Unkie that he had prostate cancer?
June: We never really said the word, like cancer. Because he couldn’t accept it or didn’t accept it…didn’t want to accept it.
PT: Unkie, have you accepted that you have prostate cancer and if so, at what point did you accept it?
Dudley: About a year ago.
PT: Had you told the rest of the family?
June: Yes, that’s why we took him away.
PT: Ok. Unkie, at the time you finally did accept that you had prostate cancer, do you recall what you felt? Do you remember some of the thoughts that ran through your mind? Did you wonder what your future was going to be like?
Dudley: I didn’t know what my future was going to be like, but if I’m not mistaken and I need correction, but I think I accepted it. But on top of that, I couldn’t sit down. My rectum wouldn’t permit me to sit down. I had to keep standing up all the time. And if I sat down, I would only sit down for a short period. Until later, I could sit down for a long time.
When they started giving me medication and stuff, my wife use to keep telling me, “what’s wrong with you?” I used to find myself crying. I just couldn’t help myself. Not that I wanted to, but it automatically came.
June: That’s the side effects of the medication.
Dudley: And it got to the point I started having hot flashes
PT: That was from the medication as well.
Dudley: Yeah. My wife started laughing at me, making fun, right. She said, “Now you know how I feel.” [Laughs]
June: Me and everybody else…women. Now he knows how we feel. [Giggles]
PT: Aunt June, having been informed that your husband has prostate cancer, how were you able to adjust to the new “norm”, knowing that life as you knew it would not be the same?
June: Well, they say, you know they call me “Rock” right? Well, they don’t call me “Rock” for nothing. [Chuckles] So, I could accept things like that, even with my own situation [brain tumor]. I didn’t get upset. But he did cry and all that stuff. I don’t think I ever cried, even after I heard about him [Dudley]. I haven’t cried yet. You know, I feel sad. I feel like there is nothing I can do, but I don’t cry. But I have the feelings. And um…but, I don’t know. [Chuckles]
Dudley: You do know. [Chuckles]
June: What? I don’t. [Chuckles]
PT: How did your children accept the news?
June: I don’t know. They were anxious for him to get treatment. There were two Chinese doctors that came down [to Bermuda] and they were working down here by the pond and selling alternative medicine, so before he went in the hospital or anywhere else, these people were giving him treatment for his prostate. They were giving him a special tea, health tea…very expensive. And I think he took one box. Deits thought she would buy all this stuff and get it for her Daddy and he refused to take it. Refuse to take the stuff, cost $50 for a box.
Dudley: I might have wanted to die.
PT: You said “might have wanted to…” You used the word “might” as if you were unsure.
June: No, he was just hardheaded.
Dudley: At one stage I got down I thought I was gone.
June: Yeah, well that’s when you fell off the bed and we were trying to help you. I was the only one home that night…
Dudley: [There was] nothing wrong with me. [I was] Stubborn.
June: Yeah, all day, with me.
PT: Once you were told of your diagnosis and even at the point you accepted that you had prostate cancer, did you find it difficult to embrace the fact that sometimes you would have to have help from others to do the things that you ordinarily would do yourself?
June: He did. And he still does. [Laughs] Because he was trying to get up that tree the other day.
Dudley: [Laughing] Bullheaded….hardheaded
June: Thinking he can do it. The doctor said, “you can’t do that now.” Your mind –and your Momma told him too- your mind can tell you that you use to do that but you can’t do that physically. But he never once accepted it. Then he says I treat him like a child.
PT: Unkie, what makes you feel like you are being treated like a child?
Dudley: Well, because it seems like they are taking something away from me. And I guess it’s maybe because over the years I have been so use to…
June: Doing for yourself and everybody else.
Dudley: I think your Daddy’s a lil’ bit like that.
PT: A LOT like that. [Everybody laughs]
Dudley: [Still laughing] A lot like that.
June: [It must be] a Simons’ gene.
Dudley: They’ve [my family] been good to me…been really good.
PT: With that being said, would you say that it is easier now accepting help from your children and wife?
June: Yes, and his nurse. He loves her [his nurse] to death.
[To Donovan] Do you go to the doctor?
PT: I do. For a while I didn’t. I wouldn’t take medicine. I wouldn’t go to the doctor or anything. And then I started going to the doctor and asked him to check EVERYTHING. He said, “you want me to…” I said, “check everything. If it can be checked, check it.” I have no qualms at all. They have been monitoring my Dad’s levels [PSA]. I’m not sure if he told you.
June: Your Mom told me.
PT: Well, Unkie has been diagnosed with it, my Dad is being monitored for it and I could very well be next in line. I pray that it doesn’t happen to me, but that isn’t to say that it won’t happen to me. So, in the event that it should happen, I plan to be as best prepared as possible.
People make jokes regarding the prostate exam causing others to…
June: Your brother said that he isn’t going to no doctor to get his bum stuck. [Laughs]
PT: That’s unfortunate because there are many individuals who allow society to negatively influence the choices we should make to protect and maintain the quality of our lives. Just because we allow someone to put their finger up our backside does not mean we are walking on that side of the fence. All it means is that we are doing whatever is necessary to guard our health and quality of life.
Dudley: [Laughing in the background] Don’t mind me laughing. I’m only laughing because I have a friend who the fellow wanted to put the finger on him. [He] said, “that man ain’t gonna put the finger on me, boy.” But that is something that had to be done.
PT: So true. We must ask ourselves, what would my life be like should I fall prey to prostate cancer? A healthy person can easily say, “Well, I’ll just deal with it or die”. But should they actually get prostate cancer, then the tune changes. They start thinking not only of the loss of their health but also their future. They question if they will ever live to see their son or daughter graduate. They ask if they will have the stamina to teach their child how to ride a bike. They concern themselves about the success of their new business that is designed to provide a residual income to sustain their family should anything happen to them. They wonder how much of a burden they will be to their family and friends who will have to care for them when they aren’t able to care for themselves and the pain and discomfort reeks havoc on their physical and mental stability. When our health is not jeopardized, we really don’t give it much thought. We subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) think, “that is someone else’s problem.
I’m hardly concerned about the next person’s opinion when it comes to my health. If something is going on with me and someone ask me about it, I have no problem being candid with what I know if it would improve the quality of their life or prevent them from future harm. I once was overly concerned about what others thought, would say or how they would look at me. I incorporated the “code of silence” for my life, but later learned that my secrecy and denial only left the door wide open for others to encounter the very same pitfalls that I had to opportunity to prevent. Knowledge is power! There is a saying, “ignorance is bliss.” Ignorance is NOT always bliss, because what you DON’T know CAN hurt you. Ignorance does not eliminate adversities from happening. It just puts an individual in a position of being caught unprepared.
Unkie, for our closing thoughts… if you were to give any advice to a man who has reached the age of 40 who has not yet had their prostate checked, what would it be?
Dudley: I think I will tell them like I told Raul [my son], I don’t remember anybody in my family having prostate [cancer], but the information I could give you is GO GET CHECKED! And don’t wait til next week or the week after ‘cause it could be too late.
One thing that is almost certain, your family who can seem to be the hardest on you, do what they do because they truly love you and are looking out for your well-being. Even though they can be brutally honest at times, they band together to create a united force for the physical, mental and spiritual survival and betterment of all. Some may contribute finances, some advice/knowledge, some a helping hand and some may only be able to be there for moral support. Collectively, UNITED we stand!