One PSA to Another

Categories: Spring 2008

I am the Secretary of the URF Board and a patient of Dr. Catalona. He performed my radical prostatectomy in September 1997. I’ve written in Quest for over 5 years. I study, write, counsel, and lecture, but I am not a doctor.


Finding Out

Jess Smith was 62 years old and had never taken a PSA test even though PSA was part of his entire adult life.

For the 38 years he had been in radio and broadcasting, PSA meant public service announcement.

At the urging of a friend who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Smith asked for the test during his annual physical in August.

The result came back a little high. He repeated it again in October and the value was higher.

That October was a hallmark month for another reason. Smith, who had been single for 17 years, got married in October.

In December, after another PSA test and a biopsy, his doctor told him he had prostate cancer.

He’s grateful to his friend for pushing the issue and to himself for realizing the test was long overdue, no matter that his insurance didn’t pay for it.

“ I had quite a learning curve to overcome, but I can tell you that now I use my profession’s PSA, the public service announcement, to get out information on prostate PSA every chance I get,” Smith said.

jesseDanceCelebrating His Anniversary

March 16 of 2008 will be his eight-year anniversary of the operation and his eighth year of clear PSA test results.

His way of celebrating each anniversary is to prepare a public service announcement on the Monday closest to that date.

Smith, at age 70, is the news director for four local radio stations in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He had worked in Missouri, Louisiana and Texas in the 1960s, covering the civil rights movement in Louisiana and Mississippi, and then worked in Dallas, Texas for 16 years.

In 1982, he bought a station in Fayetteville. He sold it in 1988 but, by then, he had fallen in love with the town and with Arkansas and there he would stay.

He goes to work at 3AM to look at the news reports coming in. He writes the newscast beginning at 5:20AM and delivers the last one at 8:30AM. He goes home after that, takes a nap, and goes back early in the afternoon just to check in and record newscasts for the after work drive time.


Celebrating Life

While that schedule might seem challenging, even to someone younger, Smith sees it as a piece of cake.

“I’ve been in radio and broadcasting for 46 years and I tell people I’ve never gone to work a day of my life.”

His wife, Debbie, a public school principal, shares in all aspects of his life. When he was diagnosed, even though they had been married only a couple of months, she went with him to all doctor appointments, researched options, and insisted that he go to Dr. Catalona for the operation.

“We’ve had a close and loving marriage and I think our sharing of that experience helped us,” Smith said.

They started their research with word of mouth and found out that several men they respected had been operated on by

Dr. Catalona.

“ We learned, in our internet research, that a skilled and experienced surgeon makes all the difference in quality of life issues later on,” Smith said.

Debbie slept in his room at the hospital. Four days later, he was back in Fayetteville. Now, he gets his every six months PSA test done by his local internist.

“Hearing that diagnosis, prostate cancer, is so scary but – if you catch it early – I’m evidence that you can have just as full and complete a life after the treatment as before,” Smith said.

Smith always enjoyed life but that diagnosis came so quickly and so unexpectedly that he knows he’s made some changes. For one, he does more volunteer work in the community.

And every weekend, he and Debbie go to Branson, Missouri, just two hours from Fayetteville, but they don’t go to see the shows.

“I’m the “Far Cheef” in an 1880s theme park every weekend. I dress the part and bring my Dalmatian dog with me.” Jess and Debbie were married at Silver Dollar City. He was wearing his 1880’s fire chief costume and Debbie wore an 1880 style wedding dress. The Dalmatian, Buckets, was the ring bearer.

“ Somebody in the world might have more fun than I do, but I haven’t met them,” Smith said.

Teaching Others

Emotionally, Smith doesn’t think too much about what he went through or what might have happened. Still, he has the scar on his stomach and those every six-month PSA tests to remind him.

And that’s why he makes sure his two sons, ages 40 and 41, have already established their baseline PSA and take an annual PSA with a digital rectal exam.

And that’s why he does the public service announcement every year and also makes sure that a regular topic of his weekly commentaries and 30-minute interview programs includes prostate cancer information and experiences from those who have been diagnosed and treated.

Now, he’s hoping to help start a support group in the area with the help of the American Cancer Society

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