Senator Angus King (Independent, Maine) is no stranger to cancer. As he was approaching his 30th birthday in 1973, he was diagnosed with melanoma, a very aggressive skin cancer. He was treated, and survived. He went on to become Governor of Maine. Later, he changed his political direction: in 2012, he ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate as a political independent, and was elected.
At age 71, four decades after his melanoma was cured, Sen. King was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the time, he was told it was caught early. He chose to have radical prostatectomy to surgically remove the gland. In his statement to the press about his decision, King declared, “I’m looking forward to a full recovery and to continuing my service in the Senate… And no, this does not affect my intention to run for re-election, except my poor little prostate won’t be along for the ride.”[i]
Since his pre-surgery scans showed no evidence of cancer outside the gland, it must have been a shock when he was diagnosed with recurrent prostate cancer in 2018. He began eight weeks of beam radiation to treat “some small, localized, residual prostate cancer.”[ii] We wish him 100% success!
Putting aside politics
Regardless of one’s political views, anyone who has ever had cancer, or is in treatment for cancer, or has a loved one dealing with the disease should have compassion for a fellow human confronted with it. Research shows time and again that the emotional responses to a diagnosis of cancer are practically universal. Prostate cancer—any cancer—goes ignores political views, religion, economic status, gender, ethnicity or any other way of categorizing individuals. In that sense, it is a “great equalizer” because no one is 100% immune to it.
In dealing with his prostate cancer, Sen. King occupies a unique position because he is a public servant. In fact, his willingness to be open with the press about his cancer serves the needs not only of his constituents, but all of us. Helping to bring prostate cancer out of the shadows of ignorance and misinformation overcomes the historic hush-hush norm of not talking about cancer.
Raising awareness about prostate cancer is important in the search for a cure. This is especially true for men. Unlike women, who are comfortable discussion their bodies with each other, men don’t get into sharing personal health information with each other. This puts men’s health at a disadvantage. Many of my patients over the years have commented on the difference between funding for breast cancer research vs. funding for prostate cancer research. They note the huge attendance at breast cancer events, and how many female celebrities are featured for speaking frankly about their experience. Have you ever noticed that “mastectomy” and “lumpectomy” are household words while “prostatectomy” or “focal laser ablation” are rarely heard in men’s discussions?
Personally, I have a great deal of respect for the honesty and positive attitude of prostate cancer patients who speak out like Sen. King has. In my opinion, he is doing all men a great favor by raising awareness, just as other men in U.S. and international politics, sports, entertainment, religion etc. have done: Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Palmer, Frank Zappa, Francois Mitterand, Roger Moore, Desmond Tutu, Colin Powell and others.
It’s a great start. I hope many others follow such “prostate cancer poster boys” to keep the momentum strong.
NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and
does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if
you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or
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[i] Brogan, Beth. “Sen. Angus King to have surgery for prostate cancer.” Bangor Daily News, June 22, 2015. https://bangordailynews.com/2015/06/22/politics/sen-angus-king-to-have-surgery-for-prostate-cancer/
[ii] Rodrigo, Chris. “Sen. Angus King begins treatment for prostate cancer.” The Hill, Jan. 18, 2019. https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/426113-sen-angus-king-begins-treatment-for-prostate-cancer