‘Don’t Wait:’ The Golf Driver, a Cash Incentive and One Man’s Invaluable Lesson on Early Detection

Greg Clark with his wife, Cathy, and daughters Beth (right) and Erin.

If you want a poster child for men’s health and initiatives like Movember, look no further than Greg Clark. It took a $150 incentive from his employer and the promise of a new golf club to convince the Okemos resident to finally see his doctor in a visit that would lead to triple bypass heart surgery, a brush with prostate cancer and the discovery of pre-cancerous polyps on his colon.

Several years later and blessed with good health, Clark has a new perspective on the importance of early detection.

“Don’t wait. Maybe that’s the message,” the 60-year-old says. (Clark is the father of Beth Clark, a Communications writer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.)

‘Gauntlet of Three’

The diseases that his doctor discovered are common ones among men, especially of Clark’s age.

Prostate cancer is the second most common form of the disease among men after skin cancer, affecting about 1 in 6 American men. The risks increase with age and family history.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common form, with a lifetime risk of developing it at about 1 in 20. Death rates have been dropping in both men and women in part, experts believe, because of early detection through screenings.

And heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women, with blocked arteries the most common cause.

Clark’s voyage through the “gauntlet of three,” as he calls it, started when his employer, Indiana Michigan Power, offered employees a $150 incentive to get a physical examination with a doctor. Clark, a lobbyist for the company, said he had a family history of prostate cancer but no other real symptoms of any disease, save for one.

“I was working ‘til 7, 8 o’clock at night routinely,” he said. “I was working like a dog. And I remember thinking, boy I’m tired.” Looking back, he thinks his heart was being starved for oxygen.

Physically ‘Knocked Down’

It had been seven years since Clark had last seen a doctor, yet the cash incentive got him thinking about a new golf driver he’d seen.

“Basically I had seen the opportunity for the $150 incentive, and here at work we were working really hard, I mean really hard, on energy legislation,” Clark said. “So I just blew it off initially. But as the weather got warmer, my driver got really old, and my understanding is the technology had gotten a lot better for drivers.”

When Clark finally went in for his checkup, his doctor told him his cholesterol reading was higher than it should be. He also directed him to undergo a cardiac stress test, a colonoscopy and a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test to look for the possibility of prostate cancer.

After a series of tests indicated heart disease, Clark said his doctor told him that while his heart appeared undamaged, he had 90-percent blockage in one artery, 80 percent in another and 50 percent in a third. He underwent open-heart triple-bypass surgery three weeks later.

The procedure forced him to take six weeks off of work, part of what he said was a full six to eight months of recuperation.

“You’re basically laid out,” Clark said. “The nurse’s description, which I think was quite apt, she says you’re going to be better instantly. You’re going to have more oxygen pouring through your body than it’s had in years and years. So you’re going to feel a lot better, but you have a big wound in your chest.”

Clark said the procedure left him with massively diminished energy levels. “Physically you’re just knocked down,” he says.

More Problems

Once recovered, Clark traveled to the University of Michigan Health System for a PSA test with expert urologists, who made a sobering discovery.

“I had prostate cancer,” he said.

Doctors had caught it early, and it was fortunately isolated within the prostate. Following their advice, Clark had it pulled.

Fast forward to this fall, and Clark went in for a colonoscopy, his last of the three recommended procedures, where doctors discovered the presence of precancerous polyps, just like the ones his father had before him. The doctor told him it was a flat type of polyp, a more dangerous version that can easily spread into the body.

“He says, ‘We need to watch you closely and we need you to come back in a year,’” Clark said. “I have a feeling I’m going to be on a once-a-year program. It’s not that bad.”

In Hindsight

Clark says he feels “great relief” after having addressed his health scares and said he’s made an attempt to improve his diet and exercise more: “I’m not big on walking on a treadmill, but I’ll walk on a golf course and chase after a white ball.”

His top regrets, he says, were not having taken more seriously his doctor’s warning years before to take steps to lower his cholesterol levels, including a recommendation to take a cholesterol-reducing drug, and having blown off getting a checkup for so long.

“Looking back I dearly wished I would have gone on this statin drug seven years ago like my doctor suggested,” Clark said. “I could have been far better off had I heeded my doctor’s advice earlier.

And that new driver?

“Oh, I got that right away,” he said. “I got the follow-up since. It’s been retired.

“I can confirm that technology had improved. The first driver was better and the second was better than that, even.”

Fellas, have you been putting off getting a routine checkup? What’s keeping you from making an appointment?

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