Bill Schwing isn't hesitant about letting people know he had prostate cancer. After all, anyone whose picture has been emblazoned on a billboard above I-95 can't be too concerned about keeping secrets.
"Unfortunately, I found it's something a lot of men don't want to talk about," he said. "They think if they don't, it will go away. But the only way to cure prostate cancer is to acknowledge it and confront it, so that's why I'm willing to talk about it, to encourage other guys to get treatment and save their lives."
Schwing lost both his parents to other forms of cancer, so he's familiar with the initial reaction of fear and confusion that follows a positive diagnosis. But fortunately, prostate cancer is a relatively slow-moving malignancy, allowing patients a chance to research and weigh their options before taking action.
"I felt the same way Jim Calhoun did," Schwing said, referring to the UConn basketball coach. "If it's in me, I want it out of there as soon as possible." But Schwing's doctor at Norwalk Hospital, Jonathan Bernie, advised him to look into the various treatment possibilities and come to a decision he was comfortable with.
"He didn't rush me into one treatment. He coached me through the research and decision process, gave me the names of other specialists so I could make an informed choice."
Ultimately, Schwing opted for surgery, performed by Dr. Bernie using Norwalk's DaVinci robotic operating system. "But it was my choice," said Schwing. "He definitely didn't stack the deck in his favor. But robotic surgery was definitely the way to go for me personally."
Prostate cancer is one of the most curable malignancies when it is detected early, which is why Schwing is such a strong proponent of education and regular testing for men over 50. "The thing that saved my life was having a yearly PSA test to establish a baseline," he said. "Without that, I might not have found out I had cancer until a lot later, maybe when it was too late."
And thousands of motorists would never have seen Schwing's face beaming down at them from that I-95 billboard.