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“Get checked under the hood. Be a responsible grown-up.”

So, you’re 42.  You’re into health and fitness, and fairly attuned to your body:  you know something’s not right with your urinary tract, and you go to the doctor to get it checked out.

Prostate cancer’s not on your radar.  Why should it be?  You’re young, you’re healthy, you have no family history of prostate cancer – or any other cancer, for that matter.

Your doctor did actually check your prostate – an experience that was “a party in itself,” as you described it – but wasn’t really looking for cancer.  He never even ordered a PSA test – maybe because of your age, and maybe, also, because the USPSTF, the government task force that advises family doctors, has discouraged PSA screening, saying that it does more harm than good.  (This approach was completely wrong, by the way; the USPSTF has since changed its position on PSA screening.)

The doctor seemed to chalk up your problems to just getting older.  Who isn’t?  It happens to the best of us: we drink a lot of water, and then we have to go to the bathroom more often at night.

Two years later:  Your symptoms haven’t gone away; in fact, they’re getting more noticeable.  You’ve just switched insurance companies, and you go in for your yearly physical.  No big deal.

Nine more months go by.

This is the story of Stevie Dupin – stand-up comic, TV producer, book author, husband and father.   The new insurance company reminded him to get his routine blood work, which included a PSA test, which he had forgotten to do after that yearly physical.

“The PSA came back very high.  I didn’t know what a PSA was.”

At age 44, with no family history or other risk factors like cigarette smoking, Stevie suddenly became a member of the club nobody wants to join:  Not only did he have cancer, it was on both lobes of the prostate.  (This is stage T2c cancer, still confined to the prostate but very close to moving beyond it.)  “The urologist said that if it were two years later, he wouldn’t be able to help me.”

Stevie did what we at the PCF hope all men with prostate cancer will do – he talked to people, did his own research, figured out the doctor and the treatment that would be best for him.

Let’s take a brief detour here to talk about what happens when Stevie sets his mind to something.  Stevie grew up in Owensboro, a small town in the rolling hills of Western Kentucky (which, incidentally, is famous for its mutton barbecue).  “I had a crazy hillbilly upbringing,” he says.  “I had a single mom and three sisters; we were really poor.”  In the 11th grade, he went to Panama City Beach for Spring Break; so taken with the nightlife and a local restaurant, Spinnaker’s, was he that Stevie vowed he would move to Florida after high school and become a DJ there.  Two weeks after his high school graduation, he packed up his worldly goods, a couple suitcases and a poster of Elvis in “King Creole,” lied about his age, and got the job he wanted.  He was a DJ there for three years.

Then he decided he wanted to move to California and become a comedian.   His dream was to get his name on the marquee at the Laugh Factory on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.  Check.  Then he executive-produced and starred, with some of his fellow comedians, in a live concert film called “Rockstars of Comedy.”  Even more important, Stevie got married and had two young kids.

Life was going great.  There was no way in hell that Stevie was going to let cancer ruin it.   “I was angry.  I thought, ‘I’ve worked too hard.  I’m not going out like this.’”  He decided to “tell my crazy story, and weave cancer as a narrative through the crazy stories of my life.”  He decided to write a book.  “My wife said, ‘You can barely read a book.’  I said, ‘I know, but I’m going to write a funny book about cancer.”

He did.  It’s called “The Trans Am Diaries: A Hillbilly’s Road Trip from Stand Up Comedy to Cancer…and Back Again.”  The Trans Am, by the way, is his “Kentucky Porsche.”

Stevie decided to get a robotic laparoscopic prostatectomy.   The problem:  In his insurance system, Kaiser Permanente, the surgical robot, made by Da Vinci, is only offered at two locations, and Stevie had to apply to be accepted as a patient there.  “I took a picture of my family, my wife and babies, with me.  I said, ‘Look, dude, I’ve got to be around for a long time.’”

He was accepted, he had the operation, and it was nerve-sparing: the cancer had not yet reached the nerve bundles on either side of the prostate, which are responsible for erection.

He told no one outside his family.  His “Rockstars of Comedy” special had led to a TV development deal.  “We signed Tommy Lee of Motley Crue to host.  I was afraid to tell anyone I had prostate cancer.  It was like there would be a chink in my armor; I would lose my edge.”  Instead, Stevie told his business partners, “I’ll be out for a few weeks.  When I return, we’re going to rock and roll and hit the networks.  I came back in three weeks.  I wasn’t exactly moonwalking, but I was shuffling around – hitting the gym with big three-pounder weights.  I said, ‘Yeah, it’s this Crazy Atkins diet.  I just lost a little weight.’”

Recently, he reached a big milestone:  His PSA has been undetectable for more than five years.  “I used to think the five-year mark meant we were good to go,” that he would never have to worry about prostate cancer again.  Then he appeared on Dr. Drew’s podcast.  Dr. Drew Pinsky, a celebrity physician, is a prostate cancer survivor, too (and member of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s Board).  “He said, ‘Not necessarily, Steve.’  So I’m not comfortable saying I beat cancer.  You’re never really in the clear,” although the odds of being cured go up with every passing year of undetectable PSA.

But now Steve is talking about it.  To anyone who will listen.  In fact, he has joined the PCF’s Many vs. Cancer Movement and given interviews about his experience to radio and TV stations across the country.  “I dodged a bullet,” he says.  “I want to encourage men to go get checked under the hood. Be a responsible grown-up:  Early detection is everything.”

Janet Worthington
Janet Farrar Worthington is an award-winning science writer and has written and edited numerous health publications and contributed to several other medical books. In addition to writing on medicine, Janet also writes about her family, her former life on a farm in Virginia, her desire to own more chickens, and whichever dog is eyeing the dinner dish.