A running diary of my awkward attempt to prove that getting checked for prostate and testicular cancer is no big deal.
As I get ready for work, I tell my girlfriend about the piece I’m writing pegged to Movember—a first-hand account of having prostate and testicular exams.
I tell her that getting checked as part of your annual physical is easy, or at least easier than finding out something’s seriously wrong down the road.
She can tell something is on my mind, though. I explain that the prostate exam involves a foreign object in my butt, and I’m feeling a little uneasy about going through with it.
She gives me a kiss as she heads off to work. “Have a good day.”
She’s a keeper.
As I’m filling out my patient information at the front desk, Dr. Alukal comes out to introduce himself, his moustache in full force. He’s a dapper guy with a lean, muscular build and a great handshake. I feel better already.
I’m introduced to the head of the facility, Dr. Lamm. We dig into my medical history and chat about all my healthy (and not-so-healthy) habits.
He reminds me that it’s hard enough to motivate guys to take control of their own health, let alone to make them visit multiple facilities to receive a battery of routine tests, so they designed NYU Langone to be a one-stop shop that allows patients to cover as much as possible in one session.
For Dr. Lamm, the trick to getting guys to take an active role in improving their lives is “connecting with the patient before you connect with the disease. It’s important to avoid scare tactics and criticism; guys don’t want to be told what’s wrong with them.”
Buying his philosophy, I allow myself to be coaxed into a host of additional tests checking for everything from STDs to Vitamin D.
Now that the physical has begun in earnest, I note my surroundings. This is a decidedly ‘male’ office—the exam room has an Audioslave poster.
I’m ushered back to Dr. Alukal’s office. He’s the urologist. I start to feel the nervousness creep up my spine. We both know what I’m here for.
We chat casually about risk factors for prostate and testicular cancer and my family’s history; about prostate testing best practices and the mixed results of PSA testing (centers like NYU are at the forefront of diagnosing anomalies in the prostate using a non-invasive MRI, rather than a biopsy).
He pauses. “You ready?”
“Drop your pants and underwear. Lift your shirt up.”
With my pants around my ankles, I try to maintain the confident-sounding small talk while he puts on the gloves. He starts prodding at my abdomen, then moves on to the main event.
“Can you turn your head for me and cough?”
That’s a real thing? Thought it was just a doctor’s office cliché. It turns out that when you cough, you’re clenching your diaphragm, moving your nuts out of the way so that he can feel for any hernias. But why turn my head? “So you don’t cough on me.”
A minute later and that’s over. All normal. If that’s all it takes to get piece of mind about being testicular cancer free, sign me up.
I move to pull my pants up, forgetting I’d still yet to receive the prostate exam I had been dreading all week.
Dr. Alukal changes his gloves, grabs an industrial size tube of lube, hands me a box of Kleenex and unceremoniously (not sure what fanfare I expected) asks me to bend over the examination table.
The first swipe with the lube is shocking and cold. My hands clench up in fear of what’s next. Deep breath and try to focus on anything except my butthole, but who am I kidding? It’s not painful or anything, but definitely a bit startling. It kind of felt like I was taking a shit, but wasn’t in control of it. One more deep breath, on the exhale things are back to normal and I hear the snap of a latex glove and Joe (we’re definitely on a first name basis now) saying “totally normal.”
Just like that it was over. As I leave the office, there’s a slightly uncomfortable, greasy feeling of having a little lube left on my butt cheeks, but I’m otherwise alive, healthy prostate in tow.
Let’s be clear about something. There’s no other way to get your prostate checked. If there was I might have opted for it, but alas the things I do for you, dear reader.
It’s really a tradeoff, and an easy one at that. A little embarrassment and discomfort annually for perpetual peace of mind.
Home. I’ve almost forgotten all about the procedure.
My girlfriend walks in a bit later and, reminded by the band aid on my forearm from the blood work, asks me what I did today.
“I found out that I don’t have prostate or testicular cancer.”