The death of a cherished family member spurs a call to action

Jim Cline and his wife, Sharon
Jim Cline and his wife, Sharon, at a Seahawks game Photo courtesy of R.E. Winn

My late brother-in-law Jim and my sister Sharon were married and in love for more than 30 years. If you had to compress those decades into a single word, it would be this: happy.

Jim loved his two girls: you can see it in every picture of them together on Facebook, and there were a lot. Jim loved his toys. He and Sharon would go out on their boat and “scare the fish,” not often catching much but enjoying the water together. He towed the boat with his big red pickup that he named “Clifford.”

Jim loved the Seahawks. He was a season ticket holder for decades. The only time he ever got in trouble that I heard of, he was thrown out of Seahawks Stadium [CenturyLink Field] for making too much noise cheering. Think about that.

Jim could afford all of this because he was really good at his job. When he got out of the Army, he started as a file clerk in a title-search office and worked his way up to managing the whole place. He was smart and affable, learned everything about the business and trained up the next group of clerks.

Even as he got sicker, he came into the office and worked as hard as he could as long as he could. Jim lived his life well, and loved his family, friends and work. He didn’t know about the assassin inside him. Jim had prostate cancer that metastasized when he was only in his 50s. It sent out colonists to invade other organs and start cancers there. He fought the good fight and did not complain about the cosmic unfairness.

His last posting on Facebook was:

“Quick reminder gentlemen: Get that PSA test to check your cancer levels. It’s critical.
My love to you all.”

Then he left at the age of 58. 

Jim Cline was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 56. He died two years later.
Jim Cline was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 56. He died two years later. Photo courtesy of R.E. Winn

PSA stands for “prostate-specific antigen.” The prostate is a walnut-sized gland essential to male urinary and reproductive activities but with a tendency to go cancerous.

Two disclaimers: Every man here has a prostate, and none of the women. I ask the indulgence of the ladies on the basis that most of you know some male about whom you care.

Secondly, I am not a doctor or a scientist. All the medical information is from Google, mostly from the National Institutes of Health or American Cancer Society. Don’t rely on this without doing your own research and talking with your own doctor!

That said, about one in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime and one in 41 men in the U.S. will die from it. One study of men age 70 to 79 who died of other causes found undetected prostate cancer in 36 percent of whites and 51 percent of African Americans. If caught early, treatment yields a high survival rate: a 96 percent, 15-year relative survival rate.

How do you detect prostate cancer? The PSA test — just a blood draw — generally accompanied by a DRE, or digital rectal exam, which is undignified but brief. (Men, do not complain about DRE to your lady friend; she might tell you what's in a gynecological exam, and that, my friends, is a discussion you will lose.)

Jim told me he’d never heard of the PSA test. By the time his cancer was detected, it was too late. His process of dying took about two years and whenever he got a public voice — such as once when he was interviewed over a Seahawks game — he made sure to recommend the test.

It would seem to be a no-brainer. It’s not a huge expense, and while the DRE is a pain (you know where), so is cancer — so what the heck.

BUT there is a controversy. Studies do not indicate that early detection of prostate cancer changes overall life outcome looking at the whole population. How can this be? It is so counterintuitive!

  1. Part of the issue is the problem of false positives. Screening is not magic. With a false positive, you think you have the cancer when you don’t [so] you would undergo the risk of seriously negative urinary or reproductive issues for nothing.

  2. If you get a positive test, you have to decide whether to treat. Remember that 30 to 70 percent? You may be in a place in life where something else is going to kill you before prostate cancer, so why do the treatment? Why even take the test?

As for me, I am only in my 60s and in good enough health that I need to plan for another 30 years of life. There is time for prostate cancer to kill me, so I went looking for it: I got the test.

Due to your age and other factors, your analysis may differ from mine. You have to live with the consequences, so you have to make the informed choice. I cannot ask you to get the test. I will not ask you not to get the test.

I am asking you, today, to calendar a talk with your doctor about the PSA test. Talk with him or her about your own personal risk factors. You’re thinking “Good idea. I’ll get to it later.” That’s what I would say if I were sitting in your chair. Life is busy, I have a job and a family and I’ll get to it later.

Gentlemen: For Jim, later came before he knew. The reasons for waiting — family and friends — are the reasons to go now. Calendar a time to talk to your doctor. Put your plan on your calendar right as soon as we’re done here.

Jim did not have the opportunity to put this on his calendar because he didn’t know about the test, but thanks to him, we know.

He left so much behind — family, friends, work, a big red truck named Clifford. Let’s not do the same.

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