Kent Davis wants it known, especially among vulnerable veterans, just how important regular medical checkups are, and for good reason.
Davis, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, on Friday will undergo surgery for an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
September is also National Prostate Health Month, when health care provides work to increase awareness, provide access to screenings and advocate for more research into prostate cancer.
Davis, 56, was lucky, if anyone can be after such a diagnosis, because from about the age of 40 he was regularly tested for prostate cancer, and he and his doctor caught the cancer early. The disease runs in his family. The PSA tests, which stands for prostate-specific antigen, looks for evidence of elevated levels of the protein in the blood, which can indicate the presence of prostate cancer.
Davis’s father was diagnosed and treated for the more aggressive type of prostate cancer in his 60s, but the diseased returned and later took his life. Davis’s brother got the same diagnosis in his late 50s, caught it a bit late and had a rough go through the treatments, but is doing fine 10 years later, Davis said.
Davis went in for his regular PSA blood test over the summer and results showed elevated levels of the protein. A subsequent biopsy came back positive for cancer, and genetic testing showed it was likely the more aggressive form.
“And talking to a couple of specialists, my only real option for treatment was radical surgery. Otherwise, my risk of it coming back and metastasizing was pretty high,” Davis said.
In a letter to state Department of veterans Affairs employees and board members on Wednesday Davis told them about his diagnosis and pending surgery, and spoke about Gov. Kay Ivey’s “brave public announcement that she is undergoing treatment for cancer.”
Ivey announced publicly last week that she was to be treated for lung cancer, which she and her doctor has described as a “tiny” isolated malignancy.
“Using Governor Ivey’s noble example, and as a courtesy, I wanted to let you know that I was recently diagnosed with a potentially aggressive form of cancer,” Davis wrote. “…Much like Governor Ivey, I want to reassure you that my recent diagnosis and upcoming medical treatments will not affect my long-term ability to serve you and the great veterans of Alabama. My long-term prognosis is superb, and I look forward to getting back to full duties at the earliest moment possible.”
Davis expects to be out of his office and recovering for about two weeks, during which time Assistant Commissioner Mike Northcutt will serve in his place.
This year an estimated 174,650 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Approximately 60 percent of those diagnosed are over 65, and the average age of diagnosis is 66.
Davis said he hopes to use his own diagnosis to help other men by encouraging them to get regular checkups. Veterans of the Vietnam War who may have been exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange are especially at risk of prostate cancer, he said.
“I want to get the word out to fellow veterans, and especially men my age. You need to get checked pretty regularly,” Davis said. “I suspect those regular checkups will end up saving my life.”
Davis’s advice for regular checkups also comes as the Davis family just overcame another cancer diagnosis. His wife, Lisa, discovered she had breast cancer during a regular checkup, and underwent a year of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. This past summer her doctor gave the family the good news that she was cancer free.
“We’ve faced this with a positive attitude, and she has been an incredible trooper,” Davis said. “I’ve tried to use this as a teaching moment … with both of us, we can prove that going in for regular checkups is very, very important. If either of us had waited a little while longer our cases would have been much, much worse.”