Surgeon uses personal life to raise cancer awareness

Alex Di Pietro
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Men need to be less reluctant to talk about health issues and more open to getting tested for cancer, Parkland Health Region surgeon Dr. Randy Friesen said at an informal gathering on Monday. 

Dr. Randy Friesen encouraged men to be more transparent and open when it comes to health-related issues as part of a forum to increase men’s cancer awareness on Monday at the Prince Albert Golf and Curling Club.

“If you catch colon cancer at an early stage, you have a 98 per cent cure rate. If you catch it at a late stage, you have a three per cent cure rate,” he said. “So, you want to be proactive. You want to be checking out the changes in your body functions.”

While the cancer mortality rate is declining for Canadian males in most age groups, Saskatchewan has the highest prostate cancer mortality rate, according to Canadian Cancer Statistics 2012.

With it being Men’s Cancer Awareness Month, the Canadian Cancer Society organized a luncheon at the Prince Albert Golf and Curling Club and brought Friesen in as the guest speaker to raise awareness.

Friesen spoke to a table of seven men. He had initially planned to give a PowerPoint presentation but elected to sit down to create a more comfortable atmosphere with the small group.

He began by asking all of the attendees whether they’ve been affected by cancer — either directly or indirectly — and most raised their hands.

Friesen then discussed being proactive, alluding to the symptoms of colorectal, prostate and lung cancer and encouraging regular checkups. He also shared his personal experience of coping with a diagnosis.

Friesen said he believes it is acceptable to an extent for men to be in denial and fearful when they or their loved ones are diagnosed with cancer.

“My wife was diagnosed last January with stage four breast cancer, and as you can just imagine, it threw me on my head,” he said.

“There’s part of me that has to deny it because when I’m at work, I have to think about my work. So, denial can be a good thing,” he added. “But there is also a facing of the facts.

“While on one hand I have to deny it to a certain extent, I also have to admit that my wife has got stage four breast cancer (and) it is not curable at this stage.

“Does that mean we run in a hole and hide?” he asked. “No. You do what you can … You’ve got to be afraid, but the fear that paralyzes you is not the fear that’s healthy. So, denial and fear — you maybe want a little bit of both, but not too much.”

“My wife was diagnosed last January with stage four breast cancer, and as you can just imagine, it threw me on my head.” Dr. Randy Friesen, surgeon with the Parkland Health Region

Juxtaposing his wife’s attitude with his own, Friesen’s next pointed to the importance of staying positive.

“She’s just been a great example to me about how just being forward, up front and honest about everything is fantastically helpful,” he said. “Given that just about everybody in this room has had some close touch with cancer, you know what I’m talking about.”

One of the things that cancer teaches, according to Friesen, is that being healthy does not necessarily mean one is powerful or in control. Instead, he said, health means having a positive outlook on life.

“I’m amazed at patients who come to see me and say, ‘Doc, I’m a vegetarian. I do triathlons. How can I possibly have cancer?’” he said. “A positive attitude constitutes health and I think brings health.”

For Friesen, a second word that denotes health is prosperity.

“And I don’t mean being a millionaire,” he said. “By being prosperous, I guess what I really mean is an optimistic attitude.”

Toward the end of his speech, Friesen touched on a few things that can increase life expectancy, including selecting the right lifestyle choices, maintaining a happy family life and staying physically active.

“I don’t mean you have to go to the gym three times a week,” he said. “Being active can be something as simple as having a garden that you tend regularly … It doesn’t have to be strenuous.”

Friesen concluded by saying that he believes men see their health as an extremely personal matter and that it should be treated as a community matter.

“The truth is our health affects everybody around us,” he said. “Health is a community affair … When people find out there is cancer in your house, it’s amazing how many people actually care.

“Let’s show the way by being unafraid.”

Organizations: Canadian Cancer Statistics 2012, Canadian Cancer Society, Prince Albert Golf and Curling Club PowerPoint

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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