How the Scouts Saved My Life From Cancer

This story was submitted by Scott Ward.

A Scout saving someone’s life whether told in the local newspaper, internet or Boy’s Life is usually dramatic. A younger person has ingested poison, someone fell off a bike and hit their head. Perhaps a fire was about to get out of control and an alert Scout warned bystander and called 911.

As I read these stories in the paper or Scouting Magazine during my 14-year volunteer Scouting career, little did I know the Boy Scouts of America was throwing me a small lifeline every year. A small lifeline that over the years braided itself into a rope that pulled me back from an early death. 

Scouting saved my life. I was 47 years old.

           I am a Second Class Scout. That’s the highest rank I earned up to the point my parents divorced. After that, I didn’t return to Scouting until my child was in first grade and we joined Cub Scouts. I say “we” because as most parents know Scouting can pull families in.

And I was all in.

I didn’t realize I missed it so much: the camaraderie, the outdoors, the teaching moments and the community service

I participated in as much as possible while also having a job that required working half the weekends in a month. I took the trainings and got involved at the unit, district and council levels.

Life Saver

As we know, a requirement of the yearly volunteer commitment is to get a physical. Part of the yearly physical is a PSA test. PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen. There’s been a bit of confusion about the significance of a high or elevated PSA level. Just because it’s higher than normal doesn’t mean you have cancer. See, your “normal” can be someone else’s abnormal. PSA levels can rise temporarily for many reasons. Anything that messes with your prostate can cause your PSA level to rise.

After ten years of physicals and PSA tests, my doctor knew my normal PSA level. One year the PSA measurement came out a tiny bit high. No big deal. The next year it showed just a tiny bit higher than the previous year. Hmmm, still no big deal. The third-year the PSA test came back just a bit higher again. Now, none of these three measurements were very elevated. They were nothing taken as a measurement on their own, but I was showing a trend. It just didn’t seem right. There was no up and down in the measurement now as in previous years. Plus I had no symptoms. No enlarged prostate, no urinary or other functional issues. My doctor said, “I think you need to have this checked.” So off I went to the urologist for a biopsy.  No fun but the local lab couldn’t quite make a determination of what they saw so they sent my samples to the MAYO clinic and they determined that I had a very teeny tiny bit of cancer. Less than 4% in one of 12 needle samples taken from an item the size of a walnut.

There are two things accomplished with the biopsy. First is a positive or negative identification of the presence of cancer. Even with the increased detail that doctors can see with MRIs and other scans, every urologist and surgeon will want to actually see the cancer cells visually ID’d. 

Second, a visual ID is the only way to determine what kind of cancer cells exist. The best analogy is a car. Are your cancer cells a Corvette or a skateboard with one wheel? Meaning, will they grow quickly or are they just putzing along? Depending on what cell is observed, the cells are given a Gleason score. Low score, slow growth. High score faster growing.  My Gleason score was the lowest and slowest type of prostate cancer. Basically, I could live to be 90 and it may never have grown or caused me a problem. I almost went right into surgery based on my first urologist’s information. But we had just started training for Philmont with my daughter’s Venture Crew and I was the Quartermaster for an upcoming Wood Badge course. After my initial shock of hearing the “C” word diagnosis, I was thinking a little more clearly. I got a second opinion. One that supplied me with another option, active surveillance.  So, I elected to do a “watch and wait” or “active surveillance” treatment. Active surveillance entailed conducting PSA tests more often and biopsies once a year.

“This enabled me to continue with my active lifestyle and complete many things I had planned in the near future,”

like experiencing Philmont with my Venture Crew!  I stayed on “active surveillance” for five years. The cancer then began to grow. My junkie skateboard cancer cells turned out to be a faster-growing type cell. Another plus to discovering my condition early was that I could carefully schedule treatment. I was still young and active. My choices were various types of radiation or surgery. I decided to have a complete robotic non-invasive prostatectomy. For me, it wasn’t going to kill me yet but I just wanted the whole thing off and gone.

Thank you, Scouting! I sit here a year later thankful for the 14 years of Scouting life I’ve had. Yes, those yearly checkups are a pain. Scouting may just save your life.

Thank you for saving mine.

Thank you to Scott Ward for submitting his story. If you would like your story featured please click here.