“Do you want to live or do you want to die?”
That’s a question Brian Custer asks men, especially African-American men, when they aren’t sure whether to get checked for prostate cancer. As an Emmy Award-winning sports anchor at SportsNet New York (SNY) and host of Showtime Championship Boxing, Custer is known for his affable personality, quick wit and healthy lifestyle. (He has a black belt in taekwondo and trains five times a week.)
Custer is also a prostate cancer survivor. And he’s fearless about raising awareness of the disease and encouraging men to get screened regularly. “Getting checked saved my life. Now, it’s my mission to save lives.
“As men, we have this ego … we think we’re too macho to go to the doctor and undergo this type of check-up,” says Custer. “But the truth is: If you don’t get checked, you’re cheating your family out of having a husband or father around. And you’re cheating yourself out of life.”
Custer knew something was wrong after his doctor felt a lump on his prostate during a routine screening. “After a few tests, my doctor told me, ‘Brian, you’ve got cancer and it’s very aggressive…you need surgery as soon as possible.’” That was the summer of 2013. Custer was 42 years old.
At first, Custer questioned whether surgery was the best option. His doctor’s reply was sobering. “Without surgery, you’ll probably die within a year or two.”
Telling his family was hard. Custer and his wife of 14 years, Carmen, have three sons. At the time, the boys were 10, eight and three years old. His middle son asked, “Does this mean you’re going to die?” This crushed Custer.
“I had to give my sons confidence,” he recalls. “I told them, ‘It’s a fight and Daddy’s a fighter. We’re going to be ok.’” Shortly after, Custer underwent surgery to have his prostate removed. Today he is cancer free and continues to get tested every three months.
For Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in September 2015, Custer partnered with PCF to create a public service announcement about his experience. He believes organizations like PCF are important to increase awareness and connect people to inspiring stories. “I hope when people hear my story, they’re motivated to take action by saying, ‘I’m going to get checked’ or ‘I’m going to make sure my dad, husband or son gets checked.’”
Originally published within Prostate & Urological Health campaign by Mediaplanet Publishing House Inc., September 2015