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Cancer Survivor Story - John F. Smith

Call it unconventional, but John F. Smith celebrates his birthday each year with a complete physical and wellness check with his doctor. It’s what saved his life years ago, when a “sick visit” turned into a full work-up and prostate cancer diagnosis.

John says that while he had access to great healthcare, as a busy husband and father working long hours, he wasn’t great about scheduling (and showing up!) for his yearly physicals. And in his early 40s, prostate cancer wasn’t even on his radar.

One night, John felt so sick that there was no more putting it off, and to the doctor he went in the morning. While there, the doctor did a full physical and bloodwork, and found that his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels were elevated. A PSA test is a simple screening used to look for possible signs of prostate cancer. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

As John puts it, he then “lived through the best and worst diagnosis all at the same time.” During tests, doctors saw a lesion on his skull and initially thought the cancer had spread. If so, it would mean he could have less than a year, up to 10 years, to live. For a couple of weeks, he lived thinking this was his fate, but thankfully the lesion was from a fall during his childhood. Feeling grateful, he underwent surgery to have his prostate removed, and hasn’t had any setbacks since.

If you catch prostate cancer early, John says, your story could be like his. If not, and the cancer spreads, your story could turn out like his false alarm situation, a moment in which he thought his time was about to be up. With prostate cancer behind him, John stays busy with his family and community outreach work, after retiring from a 30-year career with ExxonMobil. For the past five years, he’s coordinated the Fair Share Program, which connects minority- and woman-owned businesses with opportunities within the East Baton Rouge Parish School System.

What John’s cancer journey helped him understand might seem like a matter of semantics, but for him, it’s turned into a very specific message that he’ll share with anyone who will listen. When having conversations about health, don’t ask, “Have you been to the doctor?” Why? Because you probably have been to an urgent care for a sinus infection or had a quick visit for a flu test at your doctor’s office, which may feel like you’re taking good care of yourself. But, that’s a far cry from a full wellness check.

Instead, he likes to ask people, “Have you had a complete physical?” With that comes comprehensive bloodwork and exams tailored to you and your personal risk factors.

Even if you think you’re perfectly healthy – or are scared to hear you’re not – do it for your family, John stresses. “At the end of the day, you want to be there for them.”

Click here to learn more about cancer care at Baton Rouge General Pennington Cancer Center.