Fluke or the hand of the Big Guy upstairs?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 1, 2003

Vance Ventress didn't consciously think about the possibility his

having cancer, but it was always in the back of his mind.

He had lost his father, an uncle and an aunt to the disease, but he didn't want to dwell on that. After all, he was as healthy has a horse. Why should he worry?

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Last September, Ventress

and his wife, Jennifer, were getting ready to leave for a "short little getaway" and he decided he'd better get his glasses changed. He had begun to have a little difficulty seeing, so he called Dr. Allen Dunn's office and asked if he could run by before leaving town.

"I noticed that Allen was scratching on his pad more than usual and he asked me if I was diabetic and I told him no," Ventress said. "He said my vision had decreased a good bit since the last checkup and he recommended that I see my doctor and get my blood sugar checked before leaving town."

Ventress is not one to visit doctors and he openly admits that he is "scared of needles."

"I told my doctor

while they were drawing blood to get enough to check everything that needed to be check," he said. "I didn't want to have to go back again."

Ventress ' blood sugar was high, an indication that Dunn might have been right about his being diabetic. He left for New Orleans reconciled to the fact that he had "high sugar."

Little did Ventress know that was the least of his health concerns.

When he returned from his trip, the results were back from the blood work that was done.

"My PSA was high, 4.3, and normal is somewhere around 2.5," he said. "The doctors thought I might have a bacterial infection and I was treated for that for about a month or more."

After treatment, Ventress' PSA had soared to an alarmingly high 5.7. An ultrasound was ordered followed by a biopsy that revealed prostate cancer.

"The doctors gave me three options - radiation, surgery or doing nothing," Ventress said. "Doing nothing is always an option when facing cancer, but it was not

an option for me."

Ventress' options then were narrowed to radiation and surgery, but his wife, who is chief nursing officer at Edge Regional Medical Center, quickly and assuredly, eliminated radiation.

"All Jennifer said was, 'Get it out! Get it out!' and I took her advice," Ventress said.

In January, Ventress underwent

the surgery to remove the cancer and was told that followup radiation was not necessary.

"I was very fortunate, " he said. "Because of early detection, they were able to catch mine in time. My PSA is now .01 which clears me. The diabetes had my vision thrown off. I take a pill for that and my vision is back to where it was."

Ventress knows that some might think it was by a fluke that

his cancer was detected.

"If I hadn't gone for new lenses that day, I don't know when the cancer would have been detected, " he said. "I thought I was as healthy as a horse."

And, even then, if Ventress hadn't been "scared of needles" his cancer might not have been detected as early as it was.

Ventress is now an advocate for early detection. No one should leave cancer detection to


"Early detection saves lives," he said. "It probably saved mine. I had prostate cancer and that's not something that you readily talk about, but every chance I get, I encourage

everyone to get annual checkups."

Ventress is a captain with the Troy Police Department and he's in a male-oriented occupation.

So, when he preaches

annual checkups for the detection of prostate cancer, he's not preaching to the choir.

"I do a lot of talking and encouraging and, because of what I've been through and I think I'm being heard," he said. "I have two friends who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer since I was and another who has been diagnosed with another type cancer.

I can't say enough

about the importance of annual checkups. If anybody wants to talk to me about what I've been through, I'm willing.

Ventress also knows how important encouragement and support are to cancer patients.

Ventress said his family and friends gave him much needed love and support and he'll never forget them for all of their care, concern and prayers.

"And, I know that the Big Guy upstairs was keeping his eye on me," he said. "I know that he was. How else could you explain it."