When sports commentator Brian Custer was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 42, he felt like he was wearing a scarlett letter on his back.
“To be totally honest with you, I was embarrassed,” said 50-year-old Custer, an anchor for SportsCenter on ESPN. “I really didn’t want anybody to know. I had always been so healthy. I participated in sports, I worked out, I was the healthiest person in the family.”
Now, he knows the power of speaking out about his personal experience with cancer. Custer, who is Black, wants to use his platform as a public figure to encourage more men, including men of color, to get regular checkups at the doctor, including a PSA blood test if needed.
Custer received an initial warning sign of his diagnosis in the form of a PSA test result at a health fair for work. The result was over the threshold of four, a number that may signal prostate cancer. A subsequent digital rectal exam and a biopsy confirmed he had prostate cancer.
The diagnosis saved his life. A top surgeon removed his prostate in a way that allowed him to avoid some of the side effects that men who undergo prostate cancer treatment experience. Those side effects may include incontinence and erectile dysfunction, according to the American Cancer Society.
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If men aren’t motivated to see their doctor regularly, he encourages them to go for their families.
“You’re doing it for your spouse. You’re doing it for your children,” Custer said. “That’s the way I look at it, and that’s what I always try to tell men: It’s bigger than you.”
Overcoming difficult emotions like those was the biggest challenge of Custer’s journey with prostate cancer, he said. “What you come to realize is cancer is really a fight mentally more than it is physically,” he explained. “And so you have to really get your mind right that, A.) I’m going to beat it. And B.) I’m going to be all right and live a long, healthy life. And once you get that mindset, things will look up for you.”
Indeed, research shows that although African-American men are two times as likely to die of low-grade prostate cancer than white men, that risk is still small.
Overall, the average five-year survival rate for a man diagnosed with prostate cancer is nearly 100 percent, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The averages fall shortly at the 10-and 15-year marks to 98 and 95 percent, respectively.
“Just know that you’re going to be okay,” Custer emphasized. “Prostate cancer is a cancer that is treatable as long as you catch it early.”