Is it OK to Just Put a Sticker on It When It Comes to Cancer and Other Health Issues?


When it comes to a physical exam, you don’t know how much of an impact it could make.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Joe Bullock

Is it OK to just put a sticker on it? Yes, my car has needed an oil change now for a couple of weeks. Many of you might remember this discussion from a popular television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” This is how most younger men approach their regular health screenings. They just put it off because they believe they are too young to get sick or they will just tough it out. I felt this way during much of my young adult life because I did not have any health insurance during those years, and I worried about the expense. As I got older, I avoided going to the doctor most of the time out of fear and worried about what the ultimate outcome could mean for me. 

The Mayo Clinic states the following: "Men older than 50 should have a yearly physical exam, and men younger than 50 should have a physical exam every three to five years. Even if you're feeling healthy, a regular checkup is crucial to maintaining good physical health or to catch any abnormalities early that may affect your long-term health.”

In 2019 surveyed men and found that older men were better about caring for their general health. About 74% said they had annual physicals, compared with 43% of those between the ages of 35 to 54. The percentage was lower for men under the age 35. It is true that your healthier younger men typically don’t feel they need to see a doctor.

In my mid-twenties, I was having a bit of back pain and I decided to have a routine physical. A friend of mine who was a doctor did the physical at little cost to me because again,I had no health insurance at the time. During the physical exam, the doctor noticed I had an undescended testicle. This increased my chances of being diagnosed with testicular cancer. He encouraged me to have it removed and check if any other cancer could be found. Luckily, I was getting married soon and my soon-to-be-wife was a nurse at a local hospital. I would be joining her health insurance plan to pay for the procedure. This can be a major hurdle for younger adults to seek treatment. 

After I got married, I went forward with an MRI scan and surgery to remove the undescended testicle. When the pathology report came in and it was found that no cancer was present in my body. It is known that young men between the age of 15 and 35 should be doing regular testicular cancer screenings. This is the typical age range for this disease and all men should be doing routine self-checks for testicular cancer.

In my early 40s my doctor, who happens to be my dad’s doctor as well, noted that I had a history of prostate cancer in my family. He told me my dad had been diagnosed with the early stages of prostate cancer. Sincethen, I had received a PSA blood test screening yearly to detect possible prostate cancer. There was a mistrust of doctors in my family, especially with the men. My dad was a stubborn and proud man. He was afraid of losing his manhood so refused treatment for his cancer. He regretted that decision when it was too late to seek treatment. I truly did not understand his reasoning till I was diagnosed with cancer myself a few years later.

In early 2018 and at the urging of my wife, I had a routine physical. I explained to my doctor some of the symptoms I had been having for a few months at the time. I was having irregular bowel movements, unexplained fatigue and found blood in my stool. Because I had just turned 50 years old at the time, he referred me to a GI doctor who performed a colonoscopy. Because of that routine screening, my diagnosis of colorectal cancer was found in the early stages. I truly understood my dad's fears of treatment as many men do, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from seeking support. I’m a survivor of Stage 3b colorectal cancer today because of early detection. After the surgery to remove a tumor found in my colon and six months of chemotherapy, I have been found to have no evidence of cancer in my body these past five years.

Today the age for a routine colonoscopy has been lowered to the age of 45. It is known by the year 2030 that the No. 1 cancer killer between the ages of 20 and 49 will be colorectal cancer. Getting screened can save your life and it saved mine! 

Today, I now get my routine physicals yearly from my doctor right around my birthday. It’s a gift I give to myself, and I encourage others to do the same. It’s important to have a good relationship with your general practitioner if possible because just remember you cannot put a sticker on your health.

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