Portrait of Henry McKee Jr.

Community Spotlight: Henry

As a licensed counselor and retired school administrator, Mr. Henry McKee has spent his life supporting others. After losing several men in his professional circle to prostate cancer, Henry received his own shocking diagnosis in 2002. True to Mr. McKee's character, he stepped into the role of educator and counselor, this time directing his energy to support men and their loved ones in their battle against prostate cancer. It's only fitting to feature Henry's story about survivorship, his dedication to raising awareness about African American men's unique health challenges, and highlight his encouragement to the community during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

In November 2002 I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. This was a shock because I had a complete physical each year that included a PSA. Surgery was scheduled for May 2003 because of some commitments I had made. At that time I was 64 years old.

Earlier, prostate cancer had taken five men in my professional circle. That was an earth-shaking experience. Two were administrators in my building.

My unexpected post-surgery complications

I asked my urologist about robotic surgery. He told me that my case was too advanced and left no margin for error. Robotic surgery was very new. I had read about the procedure as I began preparing myself for surgery. My PSA and Gleason numbers were very high.

The surgery took place with no problems, but three weeks later I was rushed back to the hospital with pulmonary embolism in both lungs. The first 72 hours were very critical. After 10 days I was discharged.

Early detection is critical in the fight against prostate cancer

During my research, I found out that prostate cancer treatment is usually 95% successful, but it was nearly my luck to be in that 5% who does not recover. Today I am 81.

The key to a successful campaign is early outreach. Today over 3 million are still alive because of early detection. Each year approximately 29,500 new cases are detected. Approximately 4,400 deaths take place because of late detection or other health factors.1

A united community fully supporting each other

July 2018 I attended the International Conclave for the Omega Psi Fraternity in New Orleans for an 0830 session that was held regarding prostate cancer. Over 500 sharply attired African-American men sat in rapt attention Dr. Rodriquez, of the University of Michigan Cancer Center, made a presentation on the importance of early detection for prostate cancer. As she spoke she had the full attention of the audience as if she was teaching a class in Calculus.

Outreach regarding prostate cancer has long been a focus of the fraternity. It filters down to the individual chapters. I have had the pleasure of publishing several newsletter articles and addressing our chapter on the importance of early detection.

Hosting a workshop on prostate cancer awareness

My surgery was in May 2003. May 2004 I co-chaired a workshop regarding prostate cancer awareness. The objectives of the workshop were:

  1. The importance of annual physical exam and being screened for prostate cancer.
  2. Prostate cancer does not mean the end of your life.
  3. The role that significant others play in this battle.
  4. Available treatments when detected in the early stage.

Our workshop was an overwhelming success

In contacting the American Cancer Society, I was told that we would be lucky to have 10 participants in church on a Saturday morning. We had 120 participants, verified by the number of pre- and post-tests administered.

Presenters included two urologists and five presenters who had undergone surgery, seed implant, and radium treatment. We had planned for a 1.5 hour session that lasted 2 hours.

The planning committee consisted of 2 males and 1 female. She appealed to females to encourage significant males in their lives to be checked on a regular basis. This resulted in a significant number of females in attendance.

Stepping back into my role as a counselor

It was thru that first workshop and my speaking engagements that I began to receive contacts for counseling. As a licensed counselor and retired school administrator client, confidentiality is of prime importance.

On an individual basis, most sessions were with males only. Very few have included their mate.

A point I stress to them is that the treatment for prostate cancer has made tremendous strides. What I experienced is history. There are far more options today.

The main focus of the session, at no cost to the client, is to put the client's mind at ease for what they are facing and not attempt to offer medical advice.

African-American men face unique health challenges

Major challenges to African-American men are:

  1. Access to jobs with adequate income and health benefits.
  2. Being marginalized by politics and health care facilities.
  3. Disparities in treatment by the criminal justice system.
  4. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I wrote an article citing the many challenges African-American males have faced from slavery to the insanity of today. I closed the article with a phrase from Dr. Maya Angelou, "And like air, still we rise."

My words of advice and encouragement

My advice to the greater community is very brief and succinct:

  1. If at all possible, have a physical exam every year. When problems are discovered early the chance of success is greater.
  2. Live a healthy life and do things in moderation.
  3. Include exercise in your life.
  4. Involve others in your life.
  5. When concerns arise do not allow them to hang around. Take care of them as soon as possible.

- Henry McKee, Jr.

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