Mens Health

News, Men's Health | 11 months ago

Yearly Physical Likely Saved Young Father’s Life

When Jonathan Alef went for his annual physical, he felt great and never suspected his checkup would lead to a cancer diagnosis. Thanks to the dedication of his primary care provider and oncology team, Jonathan got an accurate diagnosis and treatment that likely saved his life.

Wesley Chapel resident Jonathan Alef, 37, says his dedication to getting yearly physicals likely saved his life. In January 2023, Jonathan went for his annual checkup with Dr. Jody Holler, a family medicine physician at Atrium Health Primary Care Waxhaw Family Medicine.

Jonathan has seen Holler for several years and says, “Dr. Holler is a wonderful guy. He makes you feel like he’s your friend. He wants to listen. He treats the whole person, not just symptoms.”

Jonathan is motivated by his young children to take care of his health.

“I have a 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter,” he says. “Being there for them is important to me. I want to walk my daughter down the aisle. I want to see my grandkids.”

An Unexpected Diagnosis

Jonathan’s appointment—including bloodwork and a urinalysis—went smoothly. Since he felt fine, he assumed all was well. But the next day, he got a call from Holler’s office telling him the urinalysis detected blood in his urine.

Holler explained it isn’t normal for someone Jonathan’s age to have blood in his urine, so he ran additional tests to screen Jonathan for infection and injury. Everything came back clear. But because Jonathan has a family history of kidney stones, Holler recommended he see a urologist for further examination.

The urologist ordered a CT scan and an ultrasound.

“I got a call the same day from the urologist,” says Jonathan. “He said everything was fine with my kidneys, but the CT scan showed a mass in my body.”

The urologist referred Jonathan to Dr. Malcolm (Hart) Squires, a surgical oncologist at Atrium Health Levine Cancer. Squires recommended surgery to determine if the mass was cancerous or benign.

On April 28, Squires removed the baseball-sized mass from Jonathan’s midsection between his kidneys and intestines. The mass tested positive for liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer that develops in the body’s fatty tissues.

Thankfully, Jonathan says the surgery removed all of the cancerous tissue and he needs no additional treatments.

Since his surgery, Jonathan has returned to Holler’s office for follow-up care.

“He cares about me as a person and wants to make sure I’m as healthy as I can be,” says Jonathan. “As of April 28, I’m a cancer survivor and all of that happened because I went to my annual physical. Dr. Holler knew blood in my urine wasn’t normal for someone my age and ensured I got the best care possible.”

Why Men Need an Annual Physical

All men need to get a physical every year, says Holler.

“For most men, a yearly preventive visit is just routine, but there are occasions where we detect something abnormal and that may lead to the prevention of something disastrous, as it did in Jonathan’s case,” Holler explains. “Conditions that can be life-changing or life-threatening can often present as small symptoms on an exam that lead to an early diagnosis and cure of the disease.”

If you have any unusual symptoms, it’s important to see your primary care provider (PCP). Holler says any of the following symptoms warrant a trip to your PCP’s office:

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • A small lump
  • Headaches
  • Blood in the urine
  • A general sense that something isn’t right

Your exam may vary based on your insurance coverage and may include:

  • Bloodwork
  • A head-to-toe skin cancer screening
  • A urinalysis
  • A full-body exam
  • A testicular exam for men between ages 18 and 30

“One of the things we look for during preventive visits is obesity and a risk for heart disease, vascular disease and diabetes,” adds Holler. “We’ll address those as needed.”

If you have a question or concern about your health but are embarrassed to bring it up to your provider, know that your provider has likely heard it before and is there to help you, not to judge you.

Holler recommends starting the conversation by saying, “I have something I’d like to talk about.”

“Most providers will recognize that you’re uncomfortable and the conversation will go smoothly after that,” he says.

In addition to getting a yearly physical, Holler recommends men:

  • Eat a healthy diet with as few processed foods as possible.
  • Sleep for seven to eight hours per night.
  • Exercise regularly.

“I always remind my patients that there is physical health, mental health and spiritual health,” he says. “All three need to be addressed.”

Jonathan’s Encouragement to Other Men

“Going to your appointment might take an hour of your time once a year,” he says. “Look at me. I don’t know how much time it has given me or how much worse the treatment would have been if we hadn’t discovered the liposarcoma for 10 more years.” 

He adds, “If we can get one more dad [to get an annual physical] so he can walk his daughter down the aisle, it’s worth sharing my story.”

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