Raising Funds and Awareness For Prostate Cancer Patients and Survivors
It’s been 23 years since Ed Eyford heard what 65 Canadian men hear every day.
“You have prostate cancer.”
Shortly after turning 50, Eyford had been under stress and was concerned about his heart. After passing a physical, he felt relieved to know he was in good health. The next year, his wife scheduled a follow-up appointment, but this time, the results were disturbing. During a digital-rectal exam, the doctor noticed something irregular and scheduled Eyford for a needle biopsy in Vancouver.
Although Eyford’s father had died from prostate cancer, he wasn’t concerned for himself. “I didn’t really think about it. I wasn’t expecting anything serious to come out of it,” he says.
But when he received a call from his doctor and the specialist on the same day to review the results, he began to worry. Eyford was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 51. “It wasn’t even on my radar,” he says, “although it should have been.”
Eyford resolved to learn as much as possible about the disease.
“I bought a book and read it cover to cover.” From the start, Eyford decided his best option was to have surgery. “All I could think about was that I wanted it out of my body.”
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian men and is the third leading cause of death from cancer. About one in seven Canadian men is expected to develop prostate cancer during his lifetime and one in 28 will die from it.
Although Eyford was eager to know about prostate cancer, he was equally reluctant to discuss it.
“It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about, so when I went home and my wife asked how the appointment went, I told her everything was fine.”
However, keeping his concerns bottled up led to increased stress for Eyford, who suffered a heart attack one month before his scheduled prostatectomy. “That’s when I realized, I had to let it out.”
Now at 74, Eyford has become somewhat of a crusader for the cause. After his experience he thought about other men going through the same thing. “If there were a way someone going through this would be able to talk about it with others who have been there, it could really help them.” He heard about the Vernon Prostate Cancer Support and Awareness Group (PSA Group) that was being formed by Les Ashbaugh and Al Appleyard, and in 1994, went to the group’s first meeting.
Although Ashbaugh has since passed away from the disease, his legacy has been kept alive through the ongoing efforts and dedication of the PSA Group.
“In the past 22 years I’ve missed a few meetings, but only a few,” says Eyford. The PSA Group meets the fourth Monday of each month from September to June at The People Place, providing men and their families with information and support.
“We all have a different story to share. When a new guy comes in who has just been diagnosed, we can let him know about the options out there. Some have surgery, some have hormone therapy, and some have chemo. We can only give our story, and the decision is up to the individual and he has to live with the decisions he makes.”
Ed is also a committee member of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation’s ‘Do It For Dad Run/Walk’ that takes place each Father’s Day. “We raise money to buy equipment for the hospital, to support the Vernon Prostate Support and Awareness Group and for PSA screening vouchers.” PSA screenings are not covered by medical services unless a man has a history of prostate cancer.
Now 22 years cancer free, the once reluctant Eyford never misses an opportunity to talk about prostate health. Since men with a family history of prostate cancer have a fifty per cent increased risk of developing the disease, he makes sure his two sons get tested, carries a stack of free screening vouchers to give out, and advises men to get the PSA test (prostate-specific antigen, which measures the level of PSA in a man’s blood) and the digital-rectal test. “You have to have both. And for the test, you need to have a doctor, because the lab has to have somewhere to send your results,” he says.
Unlike Ed Eyford, Tony Hutchinson was always well aware of the risks of prostate cancer. Due to a family history of the disease, he would diligently get regular PSA check-ups and even encouraged his friends to get the PSA test.
Six years ago at age 64, the Kal Tire employee was living a healthy, active lifestyle. He loved to ski, work out at the gym and was looking forward to enjoying retirement. While his PSA numbers had been elevated, the diagnosis of stage four prostate cancer was unexpected.
“It was a complete shock,” says Mabel Hutchinson, Tony’s wife of 30 years. “You don’t know what to do. Soon you are in the system and it becomes your way of life. When one person has cancer, everyone in the family is living with it.”
The Hutchinsons were embarking on an unfamiliar journey, but they were not alone. “The support system we had was very important,” says Mabel. “Our church, Kal Tire, and all the medical staff were very helpful and here for us. Tony knew Ed Eyford through work and he told us about the PSA Group. We went to meetings together and received a lot of information from there. We learned that talking about it is the biggest key.”
Mabel and Tony never gave up hope. “You keep going and make sure every day is a blessing. You grab on to the care that is all around you, and you have to be open to it, in order to receive it.”
Tony underwent extensive treatment, receiving hormone therapy, chemotherapy and radiation. However, a subsequent bone scan revealed the cancer had spread.
“The doctors told me it was time to prepare myself and set me up with weekly counselling sessions at the Cancer Centre,” says Mabel. “It helped me to understand that changes are coming and you have to embrace them. I would be facing a new life and had to hold on to what’s important.”
Within two years of the diagnosis, Tony sadly passed away at age 66.
“Everybody is on a journey in life. This is mine,” says Mabel. “You have to keep those good memories and know there is something out there for you.” She advises others who are going through this experience that others understand and are there to help.
“It’s not easy, and it takes time, but I feel so blessed for those who walked beside me through it all, for the little things and the big things.”
On Sunday, June 15th, the North Okanagan community walked and ran for the men in our lives who are currently or may be affected by prostate cancer. The VJH Foundation ‘Do It For Dad Run & Walk’ presented by Interior Savings at Coldstream Ranch, raised more than $33,000 for new equipment at VJH, as well as free PSA screenings for North Okanagan men and to support the Vernon Prostate Cancer Support & Awareness Group. For information about the group, contact Ed Eyford at 250-545-6220.