For far too many men, conversations about the prostate are avoided like the plague. But Ronald Galvin, a prostate cancer survivor, actively seeks opportunities to share his story and encourage men and those who love them to make discussions about prostate cancer and treatments a healthy part of our regular dialogues.
Though Galvin has had many job titles, including entrepreneur and minister, at the core of his work is community building and empowerment. Part of that empowerment work involves making sure Black men are knowledgeable about prostate health and the importance of having a partner and support system around them. For Galvin, his wife, Dr. Yanique Redwood, executive director of the Boston University Center for Anti Racist Research, and author of “White Women Cry and Call Me Angry,” has been a huge part of his journey to health.
Galvin openly shared that journey with the Defender.
DEFENDER: What is your prostate cancer story?
RONALD GALVIN: What had happened was, I was minding my business, Yanique and I were in Atlanta, and I was having some discomfort in my prostate area. Now, prostate cancer, particularly early stages, is a slow-developing cancer. It’s on you and you don’t even know it’s there. But I was having some inflammation. I was going back and forth to the doctor, and they gave me some antibiotics. I took the antibiotics, and I went back for a follow-up with my general practitioner doctor. Just a checkup. But he asked was I still feeling discomfort. I said, “Nah; it’s gone.” He said, “Tell me about your family history.” My father had prostate cancer when he was in his late fifties, maybe early sixties.
The doctor told me to get another Prostate-Specific Antigen Test, and it was just slightly high. He said, “You know what? Let’s do a biopsy.” I got the biopsy, and I’m thinking, “Whatever.” But three, four days later, I get a call from Emory Hospital: “We found some things that are concerning in the biopsy.” And just like that, I found out I had prostate cancer, and I was lucky.
DEFENDER: Lucky? How so?
Galvin: I was lucky because they caught it super early. They said, “We don’t usually even see it this early.” I was 40 years old. The guy at Emory told me to get a second opinion from a guy I should talk to over at Piedmont Hospital. The guy was Warren Buffett’s doctor. He tells me, “It looks like you’re gonna have to deal with this because your father had it.” The study had just come out from Harvard University, and there was evidence that said if your father had prostate cancer, sons were getting it 10 years earlier.
I went to a third doctor over at Morehouse. He talked about how vitamin D deficiency, not getting enough sun because I was in offices working all the time, could have been a factor.
DEFENDER: How blessed were you? Not everyone has a doctor who would’ve asked the questions your doctor asked.
GALVIN: And the blessedness and good fortune in all this kept compounding throughout the whole process. You know how pastors say, “Surely goodness and mercy, will follow me”? It was hounding me all through this process. And, that’s what I wanna convey to the brothers who are wrestling with this. It does not have to be a traumatic, painful, stress-induced process.
I mean, there’s certainly concern when there’s cancer in your body. But there’s so much technology out there today that didn’t even exist when I was diagnosed. And the technology was actually pretty good when I had my surgery. But it can actually be a healing process. You can actually come out better on the other side.
DEFENDER: How did the news hit you emotionally when you found out?
GALVIN: First, I was like, “Nah; not me. I’m 40.” That lasted for about, believe it or not, an hour or two. And I don’t know if this is a coping mechanism for me, but I quickly moved to, “Okay, I have it.” And that’s where I got stuck. I was like, “What do I do?” That’s where a lot of people get stuck. Today, there’s so many options, but literally, I was like, “What do I do next?” But emotionally, it hit me like a ton of bricks initially.
But I wasn’t stuck long. And a lot of it had to do with my partner who has a PhD in public health who, at the time was doing epidemiology work at the CDC and understands how to move in and out of the health system.
DEFENDER: How did you move from being stuck to taking action?
GALVIN: So again, I wanna say to the brothers out there, it is a blessing to either have a partner that either you’re married to or booed up with who is in it with you.
And if you don’t have that, a community of brothers who’ve been through this, who can move with you. Yanique was the X factor in this. Matter of fact, it was Yanique and my mother who went through this with my father, they both were like, “We gotta take action.” I didn’t even know what action looked like. They said, “We got the second opinion.” We did. Then we got a third opinion. Part of the strategy with prostate cancer is, “Let’s just see what happens,” because it’s a slow-moving cancer.
The Emory doctor, however, said, “You’re young. It’d be good to actually just have it removed so you don’t have to worry about cancer in your body.” We went back and forth and settled on “radical prostatectomy,” having it removed.
DEFENDER: What next?
GALVIN: So, of course, what’s the first thing I’m thinking about now that I know my prostate’s gonna get removed? Sexual function. I’m 40 years old. Yanique kept saying that’s the least of my worries right now. We need to get this cancer out of your body. I had a partner that was reassuring me. Then she said, but if that’s your big concern, let me see what’s out here. And man, she kicked into research mode. And here’s where the grace kicked in.
At the time, robotic prostatectomy was still a new technology. But the developer of the technology, the folks at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, pioneered it. And at the time, the robotic tech and the guy who invented it was my surgeon. She found him. And here’s the thing. So, me, with my backward, not knowing what to do self, said, “We live in Atlanta. The hospital’s in Detroit. Aren’t we supposed to go over here to Emory or Grady?” She said, “No. We’re gonna find the best doctor, the best technology in the world, and we gonna get that.” I had no paradigm for that. And I just said, “Okay; help me.” So, I ended up going to Henry Ford Hospital.
The surgeon who actually pioneered the technology ended up being my surgeon. And the whole clinic was there to support me through the process. And the payoff with that technology at the time (2009-2010) is the robotics precision – magnifying technology that allowed them to see the nerves closely and this technology called nerve-sparing where they actually spared the sexual function nerves. That was in 2010. It’s now 2023. So, the technology has to be 10 times better now.
PART 2 OF THIS 2-PART SERIES COMING SOON