“We change the oil in our car every 3,000 miles,” says Walter Burke. But when it comes to monitoring our health, men can be careless. They read the notices for free health screenings and put it off – for later.
A couple of Sundays ago, at the 7:30 a.m. service, Burke told the congregation at Friendship Missionary Baptist that he's glad he didn't wait. A year earlier, a screening for prostate cancer at the Charlotte church saved his life, he believes. Now, Burke – an active member of Friendship – was back to encourage support for the church's second annual men's health symposium on Sept. 6.
Last year's testing was routine for Burke, 56, who had been getting regular checkups for 11 years.
He didn't give it a thought until he received a certified letter that told him tests revealed elevated PSA levels and recommended he see a urologist. A biopsy later confirmed a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
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Burke told church members of his journey – through research, additional tests and the support of others – that resulted in surgery in March and “an excellent quality of life.” And he encouraged them to reach out beyond the walls of the church to their communities and workplaces with details of next month's health screenings.
The event – sponsored by the 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte and the Brotherhood of Friendship Missionary Baptist – will feature doctors, registered nurses and health care experts, and will focus on prostate cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and HIV/AIDS.
After his initial diagnosis, Burke combed through books and the Internet to learn everything he could. He e-mailed members of the Charlotte Social Connection, a casual group of African American couples who meet for lunch, and received more than 20 responses from men who shared their own experiences.
“They cleared up or dispelled some of the things I had learned,” he says. “It was profound to find out how common prostate cancer is in both the male population, and at a significantly higher rate in the African American community.” According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, African American men are 61 percent more likely to develop the disease and are nearly two and a half times as likely to die from it.
Burke sought a second opinion from a urologist/oncologist. Everyone needs to investigate before deciding on a course of treatment, he says.
He also was fortunate to have Lillian, his wife of 14 years, with him at every step. “She was at the dinner table when I received the letter; she was there for each medical appointment, right there at my side.” Burke, who lives Denver, N.C., was able to return to his work as an optician in Charlotte about a month after his surgery.
He discovered a prostate cancer support group at the Buddy Kemp Caring House, 242 Colonial Ave., in Charlotte, the second Monday of each month. Now, Friendship sponsors a support group every second Tuesday, at 3301 Beatties Ford Road, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., open to men and women.
“Right after being truly, truly blessed by my faith in God who guides my life, the next important thing is early detection,” Burke says.
He hopes that this year, men will care for themselves more than their cars.