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How a Car Show Saved My Life

Or, Why Don’t Men Take Care Of Their Bodies Like They Do Their Cars?

I am a lucky guy, luckier than I should be.

But it really isn’t luck, it’s being blessed. It’s just easier for people to think of it as just luck, removing all the religion stuff. If you’re lucky, you don’t have to pay anybody back. It is very obvious to me, and hopefully to you as well, after reading this.  It truly IS blessings, and I have only one person and a car show to thank. We’ll call it what it is and move on.

Through my job at Mattel Hot Wheels, I was fortunate enough to go to lots of cars shows, the big ones like SEMA and the Detroit Autorama, all the way down to the little local Saturday morning Donut Derelicts. I never really know if I am going for work or fun, as the two have been fused into a passion without a clear line between them. One of the newer car shows I really enjoy attending is Cruisin’ for a Cure at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Cool show, great organization, lots of cars (over 2000) and all done and over in one day. It is one of the few shows that encourage hot rodders to drive their cars—through the show. The fact that the event supports a great cause was cool, but that didn’t really concern me at all.  At least, not at first.

WHAT IS THE “CURE”?

The “Cure” they are Cruisin’ for is a cure for prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the #2 killer of men behind heart disease. Many men are affected and don’t even know it. Besides all the cool cars, great food and quality entertainment, the event has secured the services of the Drive Against Prostate Cancer Van from Washington D.C. It is staffed with physicians and phlebotomists from the UCLA Johnson Cancer Center and has a screening rig to test men for prostate cancer right there on the spot.  This testing is the main focus of the show, and last year, they raised well over $200,000 for the cause.

MEET DEBBIE BAKER

Debbie Baker is the founder and organizer of Cruisin’ for a Cure, along with Ross Kroenert.  Debbie can be found blazing all over the fairgrounds in her patriotic golf cart, telling every man she sees, “Make sure you get your PSA blood test!” So, what drives this lady to organize a huge event, using 100’s of hours of her personal time to pull it all together? This cause is very personnel for her.

Her husband, Jim, is a prostate cancer survivor. Jim is a great guy and doing well, but he went through hell getting answers and treatment. The biggest “answer” is that prostate cancer is very treatable in the early stages, but if you wait or ignore it, you could be in big trouble. Debbie is a lady on a mission, and it’s clear to everyone that comes in contact with her:  If it were up to her, there wouldn’t be another death EVER AGAIN due to prostate cancer.

JUST MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS…..

For the first three years that I attended, I went with my buddies from Hot Wheels, Larry Wood and Steve Turton. We would bring out Steve’s 30- foot long Hot Wheels Raceway Track and spend the day organizing races for the kids on the track, looking at cool cars and handing out Hot Wheels. And every year, I would see Debbie. The first words out her mouth were always, “Did you get your PSA blood test yet?” I would blow her off every year with excuses like, “ Leave me alone, I’m young and healthy”, and “I’d rather go check out that chopped Merc!”

It’s now my fourth year attending the show, and it’s bigger than ever.  After three years of avoiding Debbie, she tracks me down like a guy looking for a numbers-matching intake manifold for a 409. This time, she is not talking any brush-off crap answer from me. She comes up, grabs me by the arm and commands, “Come with me, we are getting your blood test NOW!” She pushes me into her golf cart, and in less time than it would take John Force, we arrive at the Diagnostic Trailer. The whole time, I am popping off sarcastic remarks like, “I hope this makes you feel better ‘cause there isn’t anything wrong with me”, and “Gee, Mom can’t we just forget all this stupid test stuff?”

GETTING TESTED FOR PROSTATE CANCER

At the event, you can choose the level of test you are comfortable with. The PSA blood test is simple, as they draw a small amount of blood and check for prostate specific antigens, an early indicator of prostate cancer. She waits as I get my blood test, and I exit the trailer with her telling me that now that we’ll both feel better. I am still thinking, “what a waste of time”. I’m quickly deposited back to my car and she is off like a bat outta the bad place to grab some other unsuspecting post-40 male.  I enjoy the rest of my day, checking out the cars, racing kids on the Hot Wheels track and settle back into my normal little life.  That is, until two weeks later, when I get a strange envelope in the mail from some medical testing company.

REALITY SETS IN….

Oh yeah, no biggie.  It’s just the results from my blood test at Cruisin’ for a Cure. I tear through the envelope, and then my eyes stop on the large printed numbers 5.6% PSA. I read on to discover that anything over 4.0% PSA means you could be at risk. Right below are the bold typed instructions:

SEE YOUR DOCTOR.

It’s reality time.

The message: I might have prostate cancer.

Cancer doesn’t care about how often I tried to blow off Debbie Baker, it doesn’t care about me, my family or the person I am, good or bad. It certainly doesn’t care about the next project I want to complete on my ride. It wants to consume my body and waste it away. Cancer really doesn’t care about anything else. Eventually, I get scheduled for a biopsy, where they will use a needle to remove small pieces of tissue from the prostate gland and check it for cancer. Just the thought of somebody taking little sample chunks of my internals gets me a little more than concerned. But, it is the one near-absolute way to find out what the heck is going on in there.

GETTING THE CALL

They take five samples and I wait 10 painfully long days to get my results. One of the things I have learned is when the nurse calls you, it’s probably good news. When the doctor himself calls you, it isn’t going to be good.  I finally get my phone call, and it starts with, “Hello, this is Doctor…”

My news is not good.

Of the five samples taken during my biopsy-ONE just ONE, comes back positive. That’s just 20%! Hey, not bad, right? Its only ONE little sample, right? Well, its kind of like being 20% pregnant. YOU STILL ARE GOING TO HAVE A BABY, AND I STILL HAVE CANCER!

GETTING IT HANDLED

Through Debbie Baker, my physician Dr. Scott Shiffman and the UCLA Medical Center, I get a referred to Dr. De Kernion, who just happens to be the top dog at the Prostate Cancer Center at UCLA. We discuss the many options, and I decide that surgery to remove the cancerous prostate gland is the best answer for me. After the surgery, I AM CURED! I will just need to get regular PSA checks, just in case one tiny little microscopic SOB cancer cell got through. The chances are highly unlikely as the cancer was only in one small location.

During my follow up visit, Dr. De Kernion asks what it was that lead me to have my blood test, after all I was young, healthy and had no symptoms. I tell him the story of Debbie and her persistence. Dr. De Kernion then tells me if I had waited for a symptom, it would have been about 10 years until a symptom appeared, and at that point I would have been fighting for my life.

GETTING BACK TO NORMAL

I take five weeks off, and then I’m back to work, almost like it didn’t even happen. Heck, I hardly had time to even feel sorry for myself. If I hadn’t gone to Cruisn for a Cure, Debbie Baker would not have pushed me to get the PSA Test. Most men avoid that test…and that’s precisely why we die. It’s really pretty stupid. You see, fear is a big reason guys do nothing…and that is what kills them. Fear lets cancer take over. Fear and stupid pride. With early detection, most men will return to a full normal life within a matter of months. “Normal” as in your wife will still smile when you pass her in the hallway, and when it’s time to go to the bathroom, you aren’t emptying a bag.

GET TESTED!

The advances being made in prostate cancer research are unbelievable. But if you don’t get tested and stay stupid, you’ll die. In the case of prostate cancer, fear and stupidity equal death. So make your choice, get checked regularly if you’re over 45. Remember, September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month! Debbie Baker worked diligently with others to get that passed through Congress, and it was officially enacted with the President’s signature. In recognition of this, Cruisin’ for a Cure will always be held on the last Saturday of September. Come out this year to Costa Mesa, California at the Orange County Fairgrounds on September 23rd for a show that’s a lot more than just a show.

This one saved my life, and it might just save yours!

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Carson Lev

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