Guardian reporter Joel Julien prepares to get the Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) done by Dr Asante VanWest-Charles-Le Blanc inside the T&T Cancer Society’s mobile bus.

Joel Julien

Three years ago I entered a pharmacy at Trincity Mall when a mature woman walked up to me and said: “thank you.” This was a time when COVID-19 was nowhere on our radar, so when she stretched out her hand, I graciously accepted it.

The problem though is I had absolutely no idea what she was thanking me for. She probably realised this from my facial expression and quickly apologised.

She said for years she had been asking her husband to get his prostate checked out. He was 59 years old at the time and had been experiencing most of the symptoms associated with prostate problems. But like many men, he felt it was not manly to get it tested. However, she was able to finally convince him to put all machismo aside and submit to the medical experts.

So how did I factor into this entire equation? Well, weeks earlier I, like many men each year, got my prostate tested. However, the only difference is that I wrote about my experience in the T&T Guardian. The woman said her husband felt if I was willing to tell my story without embarrassment, he would be able to at least get his test done since there would be much more privacy.

The article about my experience was published in the Sunday Guardian on September 16, 2017. Facebook reminded me of this earlier this week.

September is celebrated throughout the world as National Prostate Health Month and the newspaper planned to dedicate a series to prostate cancer and help break the unnecessary taboo associated with it. And so, I volunteered to have my prostate examined.

The night before the examination I spent Googling how to prepare for it. It was of little help and actually made things worse because I stumbled upon a video from the Family Guy cartoon that perpetuated the false narrative about the prostate examination.

On the day of the exam, I met photographer Dion Roach at Guardian’s Building in Port-of-Spain, where I was supposed to be tested inside the T&T Cancer Society’s mobile bus. When Dion and I walked into the bus there were four women inside. One of them introduced herself as Dr Asante VanWest-Charles-Le Blanc.

As we shook hands, I noticed how small hers were. “Thank God,” I thought. I had to fill out a medical form stating my age, emergency contact and whether I had any family who had been diagnosed with cancer. It was then that I realised that a recent health scare in my family had helped me make up my mind to be tested.

The first test was the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test. As a regular blood donor, I wasn’t fazed. I then interviewed VanWest-Charles-Le Blanc as part of the series, who had a very calming presence. Then the moment that most men fear about the prostate examination came. It was time to do the Digital Rectal Examination (DRE). Off came my jeans; knees to my chest. Then VanWest-Charles-Le Blanc’s calming voice repeated what would take place. “Relax,” she said.

She then placed lubrication on her gloved hand and inserted her finger into my rectum.

In probably 20 seconds the examination was all over. “That’s it?” I asked her when she said she was finished. Some fear that getting tested, being placed in a fetal position and having your prostate tested are a sign of weakness.

In fact, when it was all over, I actually felt stronger. Knowledge is power and I know now that my prostate health is fine so far.

Prostate cancer is a battle that can easily be won with early detection, please don’t wait until it is too late because of some foolish mindset. Thankfully that relative whose cancer diagnosis spurred me on to get my prostate tested has been able to beat cancer because of early detection. And that is the defence a prostate exam gives you because early detection could be the difference between life and death. Cancer does not care who you are.

And so, to all the men who make the wise decision to get tested, I thank you.