Derrick Butts was 53 years old when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Following his successful treatment, he teamed up with his father and fellow prostate cancer survivor, Thomas, to write about their experiences battling the disease. Prostate Cancer: A Family Affair, published in 2019, told the tale of three generations of prostate cancer (Derrick’s grandfather, Thomas Butts, Sr. passed away from the disease in 1995) and two generations of survivors. Derrick and his father were intent on sharing how they increased their chances for longevity post-surgery and to have a quality-of-life after prostate cancer.
Derrick has continued his advocacy as co-founder of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Alliance-DMV, a Washington, D.C.-area nonprofit designed to reach local men with proactive prostate cancer education. He spoke to Black Health Matters about his prostate cancer journey and serving as a resource for other Black men dealing with the disease.
Black Health Matters: How were you first diagnosed with prostate cancer?
Derrick Butts: I have a family history; my father, grandfather, and uncle all had prostate cancer. Because of that, I had been tracking my prostate health since I was 38. In 2015, I noticed my PSArose from 3.32 to 4.32. But I had no side effects—I was asymptomatic. Because I had been getting my PSA checked annually, the rise caused me to get a biopsy, but the first doctor didn’t give me a clear indication of anything. A second doctor didn’t give a clear answer either but sent me to a specialist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That was the first indication that I had prostate cancer. Getting diagnosed took seven months.
In July 2021, PCAA-DMV did a podcast related to prostate cancer, men’s health and outreach to the underserved communities with Dr. Moyez Jima who is an associate dean and professor of Health Innovation at the Melbourne Clinical School, University of Notre Dame (Australia).
In April of 2016, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and successfully treated. My latest checkup (April 16, 2021) confirmed that my cancer remains undetectable, and I remain cancer free. I am most grateful, and while I focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I am passionate about advocating for men’s health and prostate cancer awareness.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, except for skin cancer. In 2021, an
estimated 248,530 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.1
I wasn’t surprised that I was among some of the most common cancer cases in the country. Knowing that I have a strong family history of prostate cancer, it was just a matter of time before I would be diagnosed. I’d been planning for 15 years for the day that I would be diagnosed. I began getting screened at age 38 after speaking with my physician, Brother Dr. Charles Franklin. He was very proactive and began my screenings so we could get a baseline of my numbers to track changes in my prostate health.
Yes, I was fearful leading up to my diagnosis. Preparing for the unknown, I could not see the cancer and hopefully wouldn’t feel it. I thought that if I ever began to experience symptoms, the cancer would likely be in an advanced stage. On March 10, 2016, the day of my diagnosis, I received the call from the nurse telling me I had prostate cancer. At first, I was scared, even after the years of preparation. But then I felt calm, and a sense of relief, knowing that because I had prepared for this day, I was ready to take action. When the nurse asked me to come in for a consultation to discuss next steps, I reacted with a simple, “no, thank you.” She was taken aback by my response. I then said, “I’d like to schedule the surgery to remove my prostate.”
As I reflect over the last five years, I’ve had a range of emotions. I was relieved and grateful after my successful treatment (I chose to have a radical prostatectomy, where they remove the entire prostate and any adjacent glands that may be cancerous.)
During my first year, post treatment, I concentrated on establishing my new normal of living. I was optimistic that prostate cancer wouldn’t return but what would my day-to-day life be?
· Would the minor leaking I was experiencing go away, or would I always need a pad?
· How will my marital intimacy be impacted?
· What would be the limitation on thing I could or could not do?
· How was it going to be traveling on long trips?
· How was it going to be on my first airplane flight?
These questions and emotions filled my mind, but I knew I had to be patient as it would take time to heal. Although I was in good health, I began to ask myself, how could I live better and increase my health regimen to maintain good health – eating well and exercising. After the first year, I no longer needed a pad, and I had control of all my muscles. I started Kegel exercises before surgery and have continued up until now, along with my morning core workout. I’m sure I’ll continue them for the rest of my life.
During my second year, regular checkups allowed me to stay optimistic that cancer was in my rearview mirror. I continued focusing on increasing my quality of life. I was comfortable with my work-life balance and began talking about my journey to others as I’d been keeping a journal of my experiences since my surgery.
In my third year, I turned to more advocacy and decided to contribute as a co-author for the book my father began writing about his prostate cancer experiences years before I was diagnosed. “Prostate Cancer – a Family Affair” was written from a non-medical point-of-view sharing our experiences as a black family surviving two generations of prostate cancer. This was also the year that my immediate family decided to become vegetarians, eliminating the poultry and fish, and many processed foods. Additionally, my annual screenings for prostate cancer continued to indicate undetectable levels.
In my fourth year, I was eager to start promoting our book (it’s a quick read) that provides information to help men ask more questions of their physician and provide insight on possible experiences based on treatment options. As we began ramping up to connect with churches, organizations, and social groups, COVID-19 stopped us in our tracks – no more in-person interactions. With the desire to still help men become more proactive with their prostate health, I connected with three other men who had the same interests, and we formed the Prostate Cancer Awareness Alliance-DMV (PCAA-DMV). The goal of the non-profit organization is to reach men with targeted messaging, primarily in the DMV region, with hopes they can stay ahead of any prostate cancer diagnosis. We focus on education, information, and knowing where they can go to get prostate cancer treatments and cancer support services within the mid-Atlantic region.
Like many people, COVID allowed me to laser focus on life’s most important things, so I sought to improve my quality of life even more. This included my health & health regimens, my wife and family, and the organizations I belonged to with a strong focus to help others.
The five-year survival rate indicates the percentage of people who live at least five years after
cancer is found. The five-year survival rate for people with prostate cancer is 98%. The ten-
year survival rate is also 98%.1
As a second-generation survivor of three generations of prostate cancer, the five-year mark is major milestone. It means that my long-term survivability is much more likely. The five-year mark for me gave me a reason to celebrate; it was like a new lease on life with April 19th being my second birthday.
Today, I am overcome with joy knowing when I leave this earth, it will not be because of prostate cancer. My energy level seemed to jump when I met the milestone, and I decided to celebrate. I consider cycling to be my ‘two-wheel therapy,’ so that weekend, my goal was to ride ten miles for every year I’ve been cancer free. During this 53-mile ride, it was a great day to reflect and rejoice.
My Message to You
Life after any cancer treatment is about increasing your chance to survive and thrive. If you find yourself in this ‘club that no one wants membership in,’ I encourage you to change your lifestyle, concentrate on what’s important in your life, and then make a strong effort to pay it forward.
Work to help other survivors see and live their lives to the fullest potential – spiritually, mentally, and physically. If you don’t know your PSA numbers or the status of your prostate health, schedule an appointment at your first opportunity – don’t wait. Take someone you love with you to the appointment. Cancer doesn’t recognize machismo, and it doesn’t discriminate.
To all of you who’ve supported me on this journey, thank you. Your outreach, prayers, and encouragement mean more than I can express.
When you can, check out my organization’s website. Diane, my wife, captured my story on video in the Survivor's Stories section. I’m grateful for her and my sons – Jamel and Jared – for continual love and support. I love and am grateful for my Dad's spirit and insight on life and living - he is still here. 😇🙌🏽 I’m also appreciative for the DMV Spartans cycling team for their support. And to you, my brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, your spirit in continuing to hold up manly deeds….and love for all mankind – in the community reminds me of why I decided to cross the burning sands.
Get yourself checked, and please remember, there is life after prostate cancer! 💙
Derrick A. Butts - April 2021
My Dad - Thomas A. Butts and me sharing a copy of our book on our prostate cancer journey's.
Washington, DC - On Wednesday, January 27th, the Prostate Cancer Awareness Alliance – District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (PCAA-DMV) hosted a panel discussion entitled Sources of Support During the Prostate Cancer Journey. The event was co-sponsored with Hope Connections for Cancer Support and the DC National Pan-Hellenic Council (DC NPHC). The discussion focused on how any difficult journey can be made easier with support from family and friends. For men dealing with prostate cancer, from diagnosis through treatment and recovery, support when and how it’s needed can make a huge difference overall.
“When Richard was diagnosed with prostate cancer, we took it as we did everything else that came our way, we would fight it together and we would win.” – Pat Jackson, wife of Richard Jackson, prostate cancer survivor
The discussion focused on the experiences of four strong women whose partners survived prostate cancer. In addition to being a survivor’s spouse, Pat Jackson is Outreach & Development Manager with Hope Connections, an organization providing cancer support services. Stephanie Harris, Diane Butts, and Dr. Linda Holifield-Kennedy also participated. The event was moderated by Valerie E. Robinson, President of the Washington, DC chapter of the National Pan Hellenic Council.
“We managed his recovery with healing and medical appointments being the number one priority. Mark watched his PSA for 14 years.” Stephanie Harris, wife of Mark Tolliver, prostate cancer survivor.
This discussion was the third in the ongoing series sponsored by PCAA-DMV. “We are shining a spotlight on the importance of proactive prostate health. Spouses and family members play a large role in the support and encouragement of the men in their lives. Our panel discussions allow free-flow exchanges and everyone comes away with more information they can use.” Derrick Butts, President, PCAA-DMV
Click on the PCAA-DMV website to watch survivors share their journeys. PCAA-DMV events provide educational information about local support programs and services for prostate health and cancer journeys. Panel discussions are typically held every other month.
On Sept. 30, 2020, James Wright, of the Washington Informer, wrote an article on me and my dad's book. To read the entire article, click on our photo above.
Health statistics reveal prostate cancer afflicts African American men at a higher rate than their White counterparts, but a Washington, D.C.-area father and son have beaten the disease and have written a book about their experiences.
Thomas A. Butts Jr. and his son, Derrick A. Butts, are the co-authors of “Prostate Cancer: A Family Affair” published in 2019. The book talks about the Butts’ struggle with the disease and the coping mechanisms they embraced after treatment. In the disclaimer, Thomas makes it clear “this book is for information and inspiration only.”