Prostate cancer survivor John Maitland says he wouldn't be alive today had his wife not nagged him about getting a checkup.
He didn't think he needed it. Four years earlier, he had undergone an examination for the cancer and passed with flying colors.
Nevertheless, Marilyn Maitland continued to insist on checkups.
"She saved my life," he said, two years after undergoing surgery to remove part of the gland. "She nagged me. Thank God she did."
The couple recently spoke at a prostate cancer education seminar at Howard County General Hospital to increase awareness about the disease -- among men, the second most fatal cancer after lung cancer.
Their message: Early detection is prevention, and life does exist after cancer.
"One of the things men fear is impotence," said Mrs. Maitland. "The bottom line is, if you love each other, you can be creative."
"We feel very strongly about early detection and awareness, and we have the benefit of a life together," Mr. Maitland said.
The prostate gland is just below the bladder in the genital tract. Although prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men over 40, it is one of the most ignored diseases in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. More than 100,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer a year, and close to 30,000 will die from the disease.
Symptoms sometimes don't appear at all, as in Mr. Maitland's case. But when they do, they include frequent urination, especially at night; difficulty controlling urination; painful or burning urination; blood in the urine; painful ejaculation; and continuing pain in the lower back, hips or upper thigh.
A yearly rectal examination is important because it can help doctors detect a nodule that can be a sign of cancer.
"Any abnormality is important," said Dr. John Kishel, a urologist at Howard County General Hospital.
A blood test to gauge the level of prostate antigens can also help detect the cancer. Both tests, coupled with an ultrasound X-ray, which shows almost every dimension of the gland, give a pretty good picture whether a patient has the cancer, according to Dr. Kishel.
"Early detection may save your life," he said.
It did for Mr. Maitland. "I can remember being in the office, and watching Marilyn crying, and going in my mind, I wonder what's wrong," he said.
Mr. Maitland knew nothing about the cancer, but his wife, afraid that something was wrong when the doctor called, checked out some medical books and read up on the disease.
"When you have a couple like ourselves, it's important not only for a man to understand what's going on, but for the wife to know too," Mr. Maitland said.
He implores every man over 40 to get a yearly rectal exam. For those who haven't, "do it now."
The Maitlands' tips:
* Always get a second opinion. Doctors may misdiagnose, and others may specialize in alternative treatments such as hormone injection or laparoscopy surgery.
* Make sure there is a person who acts as an advocate for the prostate cancer patient while he is in the hospital. "When you're drugged, you need somebody there who heard the diagnosis and who is assertive enough to protect you, or care for you," said Mr. Maitland.
* Pick doctors who specialize in treating prostate cancer. Ask how many prostate cancer operations they do a year, their success rate, their death rate. Don't be afraid to ask questions or go to another doctor if you feel uncomfortable with the one you have.
* Find support afterward. It'll help the patient's spouse or family understand the changes that may occur until life returns to normal.
The Maitlands want to start a prostate cancer support group to help other survivors and their family members who are trying to cope.
"I had waited because I didn't have any symptoms at all," said Mr. Maitland.
Others shouldn't. "You never know what's going to happen."
Low-cost prostate cancer screenings will be offered from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday at the Florence Bain Senior Center on Beaverkill Road in Columbia and from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Howard County General Hospital's outpatient testing center.
No appointment is necessary. Cost is $7.50 and includes an exam and a blood test. The screening typically costs at least $50. Call 740-7800.