STATEMENT OF NEVADA GOVERNOR BOB MILLER
BEFORE THE UNITED STATES SENATE
SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AGING
SEPTEMBER 23, 1997
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Committee:Good Morning.
I am Bob Miller, Governor of the State of Nevada. Thank you for allowing me to speak on one of the most important health issues facing American men.
I come before you as a survivor of prostate cancer. My main mission today is to speak to the importance of early detection of prostate cancer and to urge that additional resources be brought to bear against this often fatal disease.
I am a living example of the benefit of early detection of prostate cancer. Had it not been for early detection, I would probably be walking around today with a malignant time bomb inside of me, ready to spread lethal cells throughout my body.
Instead, due to the diligence and alertness of my personal physician, Dr. Elias Ghanem of Las Vegas, the time bomb was quickly defused. I am free of prostate cancer, and my prognosis is excellent.
It was just about a year ago that I had my annual physical examination by Dr. Ghanem. He told me my PSA level was up a little: 4.1. On his advice I visited a urologist. That examination and the ultrasound proved negative. But Dr. Ghanem, ever diligent, prescribed that a biopsy be performed...just to be overly cautious. The results would almost certainly be negative, too.
It was early October, 1996. I had just delivered a eulogy for a friend who had died of cancer. I was no stranger to the terrible toll of the disease, having lost both of my parents to it years before .and having worked actively in support of the American Cancer Society for 25 years. A cancer education center in Las Vegas bears my family name.
On that October afternoon, I placed a call from my car phone to get my biopsy results. The only word that describes my feeling is shock. There was no doubt. I had cancer.
But I also had a better than fighting chance of beating this thing because of early detection. And that early detection was made possible through a simple, painless blood test called the PSA. This is why the word must go out to all men of middle age or older that they get a PSA test. It can be, as I know so well, a matter of life, rather than death.
I had the tremendous advantage of early detection, but I realized I was totally uninformed about treatment options. A close friend who survived prostate cancer asked me what my Gleason was. The only Gleason I knew was Jackie. Later I would learn that the Gleason results tell you the severity of your case.
With the steadfast help of my wife, Sandy, I embarked on a search for answers that would lead to the best choice of treatment for me.
The search led us to Dr. Stuart Holden of Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Dr. Holden is Medical Director of CaPCURE, a foundation dedicated to conquering prostate cancer.
He presented a variety of treatment options, including surgery and also radiation seed implants. He urged me to take some time and weigh my options. My father-in-law, also a prostate cancer survivor, had chosen radiation implants. I chose, however, a radical prostatectomy, even though there is some risk of long-term impotence or incontinence despite recent surgical improvements that spare critical nerves.
One of the cruelties of prostate cancer is that it strikes not only the body, but at our self-esteem and self-image. No one likes to be stigmatized by a disease that brings to mind the chance of impotence or incontinence. And, certainly, it's not a discussion you like to have in public.
But as a governor, I had the responsibility to share my diagnosis--and the medical ramifications--- as publicly as I could. A few days after learning of diagnosis, I held the longest news conference of my life...the reporters were sensitive to the personal nature of my condition and reported it responsibly...but the news conference got down to the nitty gritty. Let me say that the questions demanded answers that were, how shall I say? anatomically correct.
But my candor paid off. It attracted a great deal of attention in Nevada to prostate cancer .and to the critical importance of early detection. Men by the droves went in for PSA tests. Some of those tests were positive, detecting the disease and giving these men the advantage of time in fighting it. This is why I never turn down an interview on this topic, and why I speak about it whenever I can.
In turn, I have received the support of hundreds of people with whom I have the common bond of experiencing the fear and uncertainty of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. I continue to be deeply moved by the advice and support that comforted me so much.
Today, my PSA is zero and I feel great. The surgery limited my activities for a while, but within a few months I was back to the gym and the basketball court. As I approach the anniversary of my bout with prostate cancer, I have no significant remaining problems. I feel I'm a walking billboard for why men should have the PSA test. At age 52, they say my life expectancy is not changed by the fact I had prostate cancer. Again, early detection and treatment made this possible.
It is my belief that those of us who've had prostate cancer must talk about it and publicize it as much as we can. Even today, men typically do not know enough to protect themselves against it. Overcoming ignorance and misconceptions about prostate cancer is one of the keys to reducing the large number of those who die from it. 41,000 men lost their lives last year. 317,000 new cases were diagnosed. Those are numbers we don't have to put up with. Early detection and treatment can dramatically reduce this tragic toll.
Those of us who've survived prostate cancer can take our lead from survivors of breast cancer. Like prostate cancer, breast cancer was once a topic to be avoided. But the brave women who have stepped forward to confront the disease publicly and urge support for early detection, treatment, prevention, and research have saved countless lives. While breast cancer remains a formidable enemy, and we need all the resources available to fight it, progress is being made.
Members of the Committee, I urge you to do all you can to advance the cause of beating prostate cancer, through early detection and research. I understand that promising research is under way which deserves more of this nation's support. The grim toll of prostate cancer is not a specter future generations have to face, if public awareness, prevention, and research are supported to the best of our ability.
Again, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today and share with you my experience.