Health

Father and Son Take on Prostate Cancer — and Win

Health statistics reveal prostate cancer afflicts African American men at a higher rate than their White counterparts, but a Washington, D.C.-area father and son have beaten the disease and have written a book about their experiences.

Thomas A. Butts Jr. and his son, Derrick A. Butts, are the co-authors of “Prostate Cancer: A Family Affair” published in 2019. The book talks about the Butts’ struggle with the disease and the coping mechanisms they embraced after treatment. In the disclaimer, Thomas makes it clear “this book is for information and inspiration only.”

“It is not intended to be medical advice,” he said. “My son and I are not physicians and we have never worked in the medical field. My purpose is to share my family’s experiences. We are survivors and there is life after prostate cancer.”

Derrick echoes his father’s assertion of the book’s educational purpose.

“We want men to understand prostate cancer isn’t a death sentence,” he said.

In 2019, the National Cancer Institute estimated the number of new prostate cancer cases to be about 174,650, compromising nine percent of all new cancer cases. The number of deaths from prostate cancer has been estimated at 31,260 in 2019, which comes out to 5.2 percent of all cancer deaths. Between 2009-2015, the number of prostate survivors over five years stood at 98 percent, meaning men who have the ailment are living longer, according to statistics from the cancer institute.

For Black men such as the Butts, the disease can be more fatal than in Whites. The institute, in a Jan. 28, 2019 study, “African American Men More Likely to Die from Low-Grade Prostate Cancer,” reported Black men are more likely to die from low-grade prostate cancer than White men. The study cited White men possessing 105.7 new cases of prostate cancer per 100,000 men while 178.3 per 100,000 men for Blacks.

Overall, African American men are 1.8 times more likely to be diagnosed with — and 2.2 times more likely to die from — prostate cancer than White men, according to the website “Zero: The End of Prostate Cancer.” The website also reported African American men slightly more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with advanced disease. However, the website said, “the racial divide for prostate cancer is narrowing.

“Overall, the five-year relative survival rate for African American men diagnosed with prostate cancer is 97 percent, which means that if an African American man is diagnosed with prostate cancer today, at any stage, there is a 97 percent chance he will be alive in five years,” the website said. “When the disease is caught early, the rate increases to nearly 100 percent.”

Thomas, 86, has survived prostate cancer 26 years while Derrick has lived four years since his battle with the affliction. Derrick said the advances in technology determined the treatment he and his father sought to fight the disease.

“My father decided to undergo removal of his prostate when doctors told him of the problem,” Derrick said. “When they removed the prostate, it was determined to be 70 percent cancerous and that could have been fatal. You have to remember the technology nearly three decades ago wasn’t the same as it is now.”

Thomas said he did suffer some side effects such as nerve damage, incontinence and impotence.

Thomas said his brother Carl received a diagnosis of prostate cancer at the age of 67 and opted to try a different tactic to fight the disease.

“At the time, he was advised that the Proton Radiation option was the most exact method of treatment for him,” he said. “The treatment consisted of 44 treatment sessions of one minute each for five treatments a week. Carl said he had no side effects but nine years later he was having problems with his bladder and it had to be removed. Carl has survived the cancer more than 16 years. I asked Carl if he had to do this over again, what treatment option would be select. His answer was doing nothing.”

Derrick said he opted to have his prostate removed robotically, one of the latest technological advances in fighting the ailment. The surgery resulted in success and he said, after a while, he engaged in sexual intercourse with no signs of erectile dysfunction.

In the book, the Butts advise men to get tested for prostate cancer annually to get detected early, ask the doctor questions about the disease and if applicable, options for treatment. Derrick said a quality of life can be had after prostate cancer treatment.

“No matter your journey, you can still have a quality of life when choosing the best treatment for you and your family,” he said. “And after you have gone through this experience, please take the time to share your experiences with someone else who has yet to begin or is in the middle of their prostate cancer journey — like my dad with me.”

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