November is here again, and while the Movember movement of people sponsoring men to grow moustaches has lost popularity, it is just as important as ever to raise awareness and funds for prostate and testicular cancer.
The Movember movement began with a concentration on prostate cancer and has expanded to incorporate testicular cancer and mental health issues.
In Canada alone it is estimate that over 21,000 men will be diagnosed with the cancer and 4,000 will die from it — despite all efforts to date, it remains the number one diagnosed cancer among Canadian men.
Just as important as raising funds, is raising awareness. Kevin Higgins, chair of the Prostate Cancer Support Group Canada, knows all to well the importance of early detection. Higgins had surgery to remove his prostate in 2006 because it was cancerous. He has been cancer free since then.
At that difficult point in his life, there wasn’t a support group for men dealing with prostate cancer in Cranbrook — there had formerly been one but it had disbanded. So in 2008 Higgins, along with Peter Whiteman from Kimberley, started a local support group with the help of the Canadian Cancer society and the national organization, at the time called Canadian Prostate Cancer Network (CPCN).
There is also Prostate Cancer Foundation BC, started in the late 1990s and the national group Prostate Cancer Canada with a subsidiary called Prostate Cancer Canada Network. Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has become the voice of prostate cancer in BC.
Quite a few people came to that first support group meeting, including East Kootenay’s only urologist, Dr. Steve Schiemen who still is incredibly supportive of the group that’s been going ever since.
The group meets on the third Wednesday of every month at the College of the Rockies. The two hour meetings begin at 7:00 p.m. and are usually divided into two parts. The first hour consists of a presentation by a health care worker, usually concerning some aspect of prostate cancer or treatment.
“Then following that we ask the ladies to adjourn to another room,” said Higgins, “and the guys can sit around and talk about the kinds of things that men just don’t usually talk about when they bump into their buddies at the mall or at the coffee shop.”
Higgins explained that people who don’t catch their cancer in time go on androgen deprivation therapy: a hormone therapy treatment that attempts to stop the testosterone from feeding the prostate. This is accompanied by side effects that include breast enlargement, lack of muscle tone and urinary incontinence.
“We have an opportunity here for guys to hear from other fellas how they cope with these problems. How do you go into a store and purchase products necessary to stop you from wetting your drawers and so on. You can’t get that in any other environment really.”
He added that nobody is forced to share anything, or even identify themselves if they won’t want to. It’s simply an opportunity to hear about these uncomfortable, awkward problems from other guys going through it.
“We don’t dispense any medical advice, we’re not doctors. But likewise the doctors that we see have most often not been through the process. They don’t know what it’s like to walk into the store and be looking for products and having to ask some young clerk that’s the age of your granddaughter to help you look after your very personal and private needs. So these are the kinds of things that a support group can help you with.”
Higgins explained that the campaign for Movember, particularly the number of guys growing moustaches, has been losing steam over the last couple of years. And so last year, Prostate Cancer Foundation BC put together a campaign called Pubs for Prostates.
“I guess they think there must be a lot of guys that hang out in pubs and we’re trying to get the message to men that they need to be aware of their own bodies and how they’re doing,” said Higgins.
Last year, Don Cherry’s Sports Grill here in town participated by giving 10 per cent of sales on a particular day in November and will be doing that again on November 21. Additionally, The Heidout will be joining in this year, donating $1 from every Heidout Burger sold.
“The foundation uses that money to support our local support groups for one thing and they also fund a lot of research,” Higgins explained. “A lot of this research is being done at universities by doctorate students and they’re getting into a lot of pretty exciting research and on the cutting edge of finding ways to combat the disease and to stop the growth of this cancer.”
The survival rate has increased substantially due to advances in drug work and better uses of surgery and radiation, and Higgins said that while there exists the idea that men can die with prostate cancer rather than die of it, the fact remains that 4,000 Canadian men are expected to die from it this year. And people can survive if they catch the disease early enough.
His group advocates the PSA test (a simple blood test) for every man ever 40, saying it’s the best test available.