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You can’t judge it The only way to detect cancer is to get checked regularly

Dave Moller

Carl Bryan’s life was on cruise control. With 22 years as an innovative Nevada County judge, a great family with grandchildren and precious fishing trips, he seemingly had it made. So when he went to get his annual physical last year, the last thing he expected to hear was that he had cancer.

“I couldn’t believe it was me,” Bryan said, but it was, despite his excellent physical condition and no signs of having prostate cancer.

Soon after doing his research, though, he decided he could use his situation and prowess in the community to warn others.

“Every man over 50 should be tested every year,” Bryan said. “It’s just a simple blood test” that can be compared from year to year to show if your PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, has risen, which is a sign of prostate cancer.

Many men shied away from testing for prostate cancer for years because it meant a doctor had to do a rectal exam, a painful and often embarrassing thing for many men. Prostate cancer surgery can also lead to sexual impotence, and/or incontinence.

“In the first month when I learned more about the downsides, I was depressed, but then you catch your breath, start learning and you have to make the choice” of surgery or radiation.

Bryan, 57, chose a new robotic surgery that uses a smaller incision than a surgeon using a scalpel. It will also decrease the time after the surgery when he will need a catheter.

“I wanted to eliminate the cancer, so eliminate the prostate,” he said.

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that produces seminal fluid, the liquid that propels and feeds sperm, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disease does not exhibit symptoms until it spreads to other parts of the body and those include urination problems, pain in the pelvic area and uncomfortable ejaculation.

The cancer does not have a high death rate, particularly when it is caught early.

According to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, about 230,000 American men were expected to get the disease last year, the most common form of cancer in males. About 30,000 men the U.S. die from prostate cancer every year and one in six is at risk of getting it.

After Bryan’s blood test showed he might have prostate cancer, a biopsy revealed that he did, but barely.

“Of six samples, only one showed cancer,” Bryan said. “It’s not pervasive” to other organs in his case, “and it’s a slow-growing disease. More men have this at a given age than women have breast cancer.”

About 99 percent of those diagnosed are still surviving after five years and almost 98 percent live 10 years if they have an early diagnosis. When it spreads to other parts of the body, the survival rate goes down to 34 percent living after five years.

“It sure as heck is beatable and curable,” Bryan said. “All that it takes is to be caught early on.”

Bryan’s son, John Bryan, of Chico, and a Nevada Union High graduate, did not know how curable his dad’s disease was when he was first told.

“When you first hear it, you’re shocked and concerned,” the son said. He had known a man who initially had prostate cancer that spread to other parts of his body and killed him. Then John did his homework and felt better.

“It won’t kill him, but it’s something men have to think about,” John said. “We got the bad news, but the good news is he went to the doctor” and found it early.

“Men don’t talk about this much,” Judge Bryan said. “They haven’t been prodded and probed as much as women, and men have a psychological condition called ‘I don’t want to hear about it.'”

After his initial depression and subsequent education, Bryan elected to get the robotic surgery in April.

Until then, “I’m working hard to get in shape so I’m mentally, physically and psychologically ready for this,” the judge said. “I’ve got grandkids I want to see grow up.”

Bryan said he will retire from the bench at the end of the year when his term expires. The cancer influenced his decision and now he wants men to know they must be tested for the disease, no matter how.

“Women say they can’t get their men to get a blood test,” the judge said with a grin. “Yes they can, they have ways to encourage them.”


To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

Prostate cancer Web sites

• The Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com

• Prostate Cancer Foundation, http://www.prostatecancerfoundation.org

• National Prostate Cancer Coalition, http://www.fightprostatecancer.org

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