Josh Lerman found out this year that he has prostate cancer. He’s scared, of course, but not as much as one might think. That’s because, in a way, he’s been preparing for this diagnosis for years.
“I got to learn the real hard way what prostate cancer is,” said the 53-year-old Bensalem resident. “When I was 27, my father was sick and didn’t know what was going on. And I heard for the first time, the word ‘PSA.’ ”
In this case, that stands for prostatic specific antigen, and it’s what doctors test for in a patient’s blood as an indicator of prostate cancer.
Lerman learned this, and much more, about the disease as his father “withered away” over the next two years. Since then, he’s done his “due diligence,” as he often says, to mitigate his own risks.
That meant learning about the disease treatments options, and making sure he got a definitive diagnosis as early as possible, should the situation arise.
When it did, that due diligence rendered Lerman’s own struggle as almost an afterthought to the work he’s done and is still doing.
He’s already scheduled for a treatment that’s new in the U.S. called high intensity focused ultrasound — HIFU for short — it’s relatively non-invasive and boasts a quick recovery time. His trip to California for treatment is this month, which is also Prostate Cancer Awareness Month nationwide.
For now, Lerman’s spending his time now doing whatever he can to help others get diagnosed quickly, too.
“I decided I’m not going to be shy about it. I want the world to know,” he said.
He’s gone on radio shows, sent mass emails and posted announcements about his own process and the need for testing on social media. Perhaps most comprehensively, he’s posted all his own research for free online on a Gofundme page, complete with citation links.
He’s gotten plenty of views, likes and shares, but says there are still challenges to the campaign.
Men are often reluctant to discuss the subject and apprehensive about a rectal exam. Then, there are the potential side effects of treatments. Since the prostate is so close to the sphincter and nerves, common treatments come with the risk of bladder incontinence and erectile dysfunction.
It’s enough to keep many men from doing their own due diligence, Lerman found. But, his own story mirrors what experts say can make big differences when it comes to treating prostate cancer.
“You try to diagnose as soon and as quickly as possible. But, I think men are notoriously quick to deny things, and quick to put things on the back burner,” said Dr. Marc Lavine, a urologist with Aria Health in Lower Bucks. Still, “You want to know how aggressive it is and, with the patient’s age, how to treat it.”
That last part is important, he noted: “The thing with prostate cancer is, there’s no one right way to treat it.”
Treatment options range from active surveillance if the cancer is not spreading or causing any symptoms, to radiation therapy, where the prostate is exposed to external radiation beams over several sessions, to removing the entire gland.
They all come with potential side effects, and none are guaranteed to eradicate the problem — especially since prostate cancer is slow-growing and could take a while to resurface.
An early diagnosis gives a patient more treatment options and possibly longer to decide how best to proceed. Most doctors recommend getting checked starting around age 40. Lerman, due to his family history, began at 35.
He even pushed for more testing when his test results showed increased levels of prostatic specific antigens in his blood, but not enough to normally warrant concern. In this case, it led to a very early diagnosis and a much wider range of options.
And, in a few weeks, he’s heading to California for his HIFU treatment. It’s an option he and Lavine agree will soon play a much larger role in prostate cancer treatment in the coming years. For now, however, it’s still new and not covered by most insurance plans. Lerman is paying the $25,000 or so out of pocket.
He’s confident the price tag is worth it, however. There’s no surgery, less risk of side effects and it leaves him open for other treatments if the cancer comes back.
Meanwhile, at home, Lerman continues to do everything he can to urge men to educate themselves, get checked early, and push for a definitive diagnosis. He sings his refrain of “due diligence” loudly and often, in person and online, and it’s starting to pay off.
“When someone emails me back and says, ‘Hey Josh, I’m on the phone with my urologist right now,’ that’s music to my ears,” he said.
For information, visit http://www.gofundme.com/28w66j7p