I remember the day like it was yesterday.
It plays out in my mind like a black-and-white film now, but it’s as vivid as ever.
“I have cancer,” my dad said unexpectedly as we sat at the dinner table at my family home.
This was back all the way back in 2011 when I was finishing my final year of university. I only lived about an hour and a half from home, but didn’t make it back all that often.
He’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer, stage 4, months before but had only worked up the courage to tell me when I was home.
At the time, it bothered me he waited so long to tell me. Turns out, he didn’t want to tell anyone, even waiting longer than he should have to tell my mom. I think I understand better now– it’s a hard thing to share with people. You don’t want them to take pity on you, you don’t want to burden them with the difficult news. My dad is always thinking of others, always trying to find ways to be less of a burden on everybody else.
The reason I’m sharing this more than decades old story is two-fold. First off, November has been coined “Movember” since 2003. Changing the face of men’s health, by growing a moustache.
That cause started all in the name of men’s health, whether it be mental health, suicide prevention, prostate cancer of testicular cancer. The organization’s aim is to bring awareness to all those issues and make men more comfortable with talking about them.
I’ve been growing (in most cases trying) a moustache every November since 2011. They’ve been scraggly and awful most years (even broke out the Just for Men moustache dye one year), but last year, it seems my facial hair finally decided to catch up to my age. In that vain, I’ve raised money for the cause, not a lot, but a little bit.
So, when I asked my dad if I could tell his story in this column, he simply said, “no worries”. Maybe it’s nothing, but I think that’s his subtle way of trying to allow me to help bring more awareness to people who have been through a battle like his all those years ago and didn’t quite know how to talk about it.
The other reason– the cancer is back.
In 2011, my dad underwent radiation and had a prostatectomy to remove the prostate in hopes of stopping cancer from spreading.
After he was declared cancer free, he underwent regular PSA tests to make sure the cancer hadn’t returned. That was until COVID-19 hit and the visits weren’t quite as regular.
In a recent PSA test, they found traces of cancer in his lymph nodes.
So, with early detection, doctors believe he’s got an excellent chance of fighting off the cancer again.
Our family has a tough history with cancer, which is why this so important to me.
My dad’s sister passed away from breast cancer too young. He believes there’s history further down the family tree of cancer as well, although it was never confirmed.
October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and like Movember, so much progress has been made in raising awareness about early screening and detection and the fight for a cure, yet, more can still be done.
The more we share the stories of people who have battled cancer and come out the other side or even of those who didn’t make it, the more awareness grows. With awareness comes responsibility and action.
Fundraising efforts have made huge strides in helping understand the disease better in the search for a cure.
When a pair of Blue Jays broadcasters, Jamie Campbell and Buck Martinez both announced that they were in a battle with cancer, it brought back memories of that 2011 conversation with my dad. That conversation was much easier this time around, or at least it seemed it was. Those guys using their platform to show they weren’t backing down from the disease, I’m sure, gave unimaginable strength to a whole host of people who were facing a similar or worse fight than theirs.
While I think we’ve got an extremely long road before we have a cure for cancer or we can find a way to eradicate it completely, I find solace in the fact that far more people are talking about the devastating impact of the disease but also, sharing how positive they are in their fight because of the advances we’ve made in technology even over the past 10 years.
Thirty years ago, I don’t know what the chances of survival would be for someone like my dad. Frankly, I try not to think about it, but when I do, I’m hopeful about how far technology has come and how far the awareness of different types of cancer has come.
My dad has so much great support in his life from friends and family alike. He’s so positive about his fight and is so upbeat about the prospects of beating cancer again – you wouldn’t know anything is wrong.
His strength is just another reason to be hopeful. Those who have battled cancer, regardless of whether they are still with us or not are stronger than we’ll ever know. They were all a symbol of hope because they didn’t give up, even if the odds were against them. They put on a brave face, get treatment and do all the things necessary to keep on living.
When I worry, I think about what that resiliency means. What that positivity means.
Hope in and of itself can’t fix anything – it can’t find a cure, it can’t detect cancer. But its powers go far beyond anything quantifiable.
If we are to win this battle with this horrible disease, I think we’ll need a helluva lot of hope along the way. And it’s easy to find, if you know where to look.
Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.