University City

Free health screening saved a life

This story could have had a very different ending.

In September 2007, Walter Burke had a life-changing experience. He learned he had prostate cancer after attending a free screening sponsored by the 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte and the Brotherhood of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

Burke, who had practiced optometry for 22 years in New Jersey, had moved to the Charlotte area with his wife in 2004. They were new members of Friendship church. He is the father of four grown children and has a granddaughter. He enjoys golf, travel and classic jazz.

He had always been proactive with his health. So attending a free health screening was pretty routine.

The event was called "Know Your Numbers." It will be held again this year on Oct. 8. It's a free health symposium that provides a wide variety of health screenings, as well as the opportunity to talk with a physician.

Burke was impressed with the quality of the event.

"This was the first time I had ever heard of or witnessed such a comprehensive and well-attended men's health event," he said. "Each attendee made every possible effort to go through every station available."

After receiving the results of his prostate screening, Burke knew the situation was no longer just a normal checkup. He was notified privately by one of the facilitating doctors that his PSA level (prostate-specific antigen) was high and that he should see a urologist. (The normal range is below 4.0.)

The urologist tested him again, then did a prostate biopsy. The results revealed positive evidence of cancer cells, and his PSA level was 5.2.

Burke said, "The good news was that my urologist said the early detection put me in the best possible position to choose treatment options that could provide high-quality results."

He was encouraged not to wait too long to make a decision about the method of treatment. Within weeks, Burke connected with the US TOO prostate cancer support group, based in Charlotte with the Buddy Kemp Cancer Caring Center. His goal was to learn more about prostate cancer.

He also sought a second opinion from a urologist/oncologist. Burke then selected a specialist to perform his surgical treatment.

After the surgery in March 2008, Burke's physician told him the cancer had spread just outside his prostate, which had not been evident in earlier tests, and that the surgery had removed all cancerous cells. Since then, Burke's PSA has been 0.0.

Because of his challenge with prostate cancer, Burke has been a driven advocate. Since July 2008, he has served as chairman of a prostate cancer support group at his church. He also serves on the church usher board.

Burke said, "I want to help as many people as I can, especially as it relates to gaining knowledge to become proactive about men's health."

Burke learned how critically important it is to take control of your health issues. His advice: "Be proactive about your health. No one else can or will be able to do a better job of this than you."

As a prostate cancer survivor, Burke is now on the planning team of the "Know Your Numbers" health symposium.

The event is scheduled for 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road. No registration is required, and it's free. It opens with a panel discussion among local physicians. Participants will be offered a question/answer segment.

After that will be screenings for prostate cancer, heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma, obesity and HIV/AIDS. Educational handouts, snacks and giveaways are part of the event as well.

Burke, who will turn 60 in October, feels extraordinarily blessed by his life-changing experience in 2007.

He said, "It has taken me to a deeper spirituality and a deeper compassion of my fellow man. I took inventory of my life and set some new rules."