One thing I have been neglectful in is saying thank you to Karen Smith for all her time and hard work helping me get this rolling. There were times I got emotionally overwhelmed with telling my story. She always picked me up and took over where I didn’t know how to go forward. She is the one who wrote the beautifully written article that appeared in the local community magazine, Life At The Points. She wrote every word, start to finish and was not given the byline. This was wrong, I am hoping the editor might make a correction in the next issue.
So, without any more blabbing from me, here is Karen’s article about my story:
MORE THAN A ROAD TRIP
Life At The Points bills itself as a “social magazine”. The definition of “social” includes; of human society, it’s organization, or quality of life. Our focus today will be quality of life. Our August 2016 Sponsor Spotlight featured Madera Furniture, and the owner, Carlos Taylor-Swanson recently suggested that we introduce one of his employees, and resident of Dash Point, Steve Birdsall, in our Meet Your Neighbors segment. I recently sat down with Steve over coffee and found his story to be poignant, educational, relevant and courageous, so I’ll let him tell it in his words:
I’d like to share with you my story and a critical message that could save your life or the life of someone you love. It’s not an easy story, but if you see me in the neighborhood, you’ll know it to be my story and you’ll understand my mission to save even one person from walking in my shoes.
I’m the 59-year-old dad of two amazing, grown sons who I love spending time with. I am an artisan custom furniture builder, a craft I’ve been honing for 40 years now. I am a former business owner, baseball coach and hobby mechanic, friend, son and brother. Like everyone out there, my life has been marked by joys and sorrows, successes and failures, hopes and dreams. Like you, I have plans for the future; road trips, camping, fishing, retirement, being there for my sons, watching their lives unfold. Not an unusual description, right?
In May of 2016, it all changed. I found myself sitting in a chair opposite my urologist as she explained the results of my recent prostate biopsy. “Steve, I wish I had different news for you, but I don’t. It’s bad. Really bad. You have a very aggressive, advanced prostate cancer. This is a game-changer.” As I tried to digest what she was telling me, she patiently explained that this kind of cancer is scored on what’s called the Gleason grading system, based on the pathology. Essentially, the lower the number, from 1 to 10, the better. Mine is a 9. Prognosis? Best case survival is likely only 5 years, worst case, 2 years. My mind reeled! I thought prostate cancer was always treatable, never fatal, I was wrong.
Here is the reality, according to the American Cancer Society:
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men in the US
About 1 man in 7 will be diagnosed with it in his lifetime
About 161,360 new cases of prostate cancer expected in 2017
About 26,730 deaths from prostate cancer expected in 2017
As I drove home, my mind struggled to grasp at fragmented thoughts; my boys, the things I’ve wanted to do and won’t have time to, and the harsh realization that I had wasted precious time by not confessing my symptoms to my doctor earlier. By that time, I had been having escalating symptoms for at least 8 months. And in the back of my mind, it was prostate cancer that I feared, and in my fear, I tucked my head comfortably in the sand and let time pass, possibly time that would have spared my life.
Next came surgery, hormone suppressing therapy and the constant cycle of appointments, tests, scans and the education that goes with it. I feel the disease changing my energy level, I carefully plan my time and I think about how I might be able to help others to learn from my mistake. My denial. My fear and embarrassment. Those were the driving forces behind my delayed diagnosis.
What would I do differently, given what I know now? (And this applies to every disease!)
- I would be brutally honest with my doctor about every symptom or suspicion of symptoms. Having to go to the bathroom more frequently, day OR night and painful ejaculations are the ones that would have made the difference for me. I was embarrassed and I was afraid of what would be found, that I would never be able to have sex again, or that I would be incontinent. Waiting made the outcome worse than any of the fears that had kept me silent.
- I would have someone I trust at every appointment, biopsy, surgery and follow up. I didn’t want to impose, thought I should be able to handle things on my own. There is too much to absorb to do it alone. That person can help you get clear answers, take notes and explain things that you might not have gotten the first time around. They can clarify discharge instructions and medications, be another set of eyes in the hospital and they can be there in silence when you need it. All of that matters.
Be honest! Be bold! It is selfish not to. I have stolen my sons’ father by keeping my symptoms to myself.
So, now I have a new purpose. If I can save one life while I still have mine, this journey will not be in vain. On August 15, my dog, Janie, and I are embarking on a two-month road trip to spread the word. We’ll travel to many places in the US that have long been on my list, and, with a prostate cancer ribbon on my truck and my fishing kayak on top, I’ll be speaking to people along the way – individuals and groups – and documenting it on my blog, mybleuribbon.com. Feel free to follow along! Hopefully someone who is hiding from their symptoms will become bold, be treated, and be there to watch their kids’ lives unfold.
That is a purpose worth pursuing! At the end of our conversation I asked Steve to share something we don’t know about him, and his answer was that he loves to watch Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. I’m with him on that – I wonder how many he can sample on his road trip! Thanks, Steve.
You can reach Steve at: