By Bren Witt, Facilitator, Kelowna Prostate Cancer Support & Awareness Group and formerly the Executive Director of the Okanagan Prostate Resource Centre Society
"I never thought prostate cancer would be a reality for me — until I was diagnosed in 1995, at the age of 53. I had my first PSA blood test in 1992 and my score was 7.0 ng/mL. My urologist advised me to have regular PSA screening tests every six months until my levels were near or above 10. In 1994, my PSA reached 9.2. A TRUS (transrectal ultrasound) biopsy showed high-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), a noncancerous growth of the cells lining the internal and external surfaces of the prostate, which may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. Again, I was advised to continue with PSA screening every six months. One year later, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, with a PSA of 14.3, Gleason score of 5 and Stage T1C. I’ve been told that my Gleason score would probably be upgraded to a 6 or 7 today.
I realized how ignorant I was about this illness, the different treatment options and my chance for a healthy recovery. Following a radical prostatectomy six weeks after my diagnosis, I resolved to seek out support and educate myself.
In the spring of 1996, I connected with the local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) to inquire about prostate cancer support groups. I was informed that no such group existed locally and was encouraged to start one. With so much still to understand about this illness and other male health issues, I was reluctant at first. But gradually, after reading books and getting information and advice from local urologists and others, I began to feel more comfortable with my understanding of this disease. With the encouragement of friends and family, I ran the first Kelowna prostate cancer support group meeting in November 1996. Eighteen men and four women attended that meeting, and I’ve facilitated monthly meetings since then.
Those monthly meetings continued to the present. We now have between 70 and 100 people attending our meetings. I’m proud to say that several of the men, including myself, have the support of their partners, who also participate. Since starting these meetings, I’ve attended forums in Seattle (Washington), Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto and presentations by pharmaceutical company representatives on new products and treatments, and greatly appreciate the wealth of knowledge and resources I’ve been able to gather from these events.
We regularly exchange this information — as well as what we learn from guest speakers at the support group meetings — in our monthly newsletter, started for our group members in August 1997. Today, it’s distributed to several urologists and other medical professionals.
Extension of the Urologist’s office
Men approached me to borrow the literature I had acquired in my personal library, and also had questions that they wanted to discuss with me privately. In addition, three local urologists informed me that their patients would benefit from having direct personal support and information outside of what they were able to provide in their practice. These experiences inspired me to establish the Okanagan Prostate Resource Centre, a facility devoted to prostate cancer and men’s health, which opened on February 1, 2001, under the name Okanagan Prostate Resource Centre Society.
The OPRC closed down on Dec. 31, 2017, but I will continue doing what I was doing for the OPRC Society, although now through the Kelowna Prostate Cancer Support & Awareness Group. Many men come to me for support after receiving a diagnosis from their urologist. I might spend two or three hours with a man who has been newly diagnosed, allowing him time and freedom to express his concerns and ask questions (for example, how long they’ve likely had cancer, how will treatment affect their sexual function, their eligibility for nerve-sparing surgery etc.)
I am not a doctor. I don’t diagnose or treat prostate cancer, but I can talk about different treatment options and possible side effects. Often, I can assist men in formulating questions to direct to their doctors, so they can become better informed of the specifics of their personal situation.
I have an excellent relationship with the local urologists as well as the radiation oncologists at the BCCA centre in Kelowna. Both are regular speakers at our support group.
Looking forward to the future
I’m appreciative of the many people I’ve met throughout my journey. I’ve learned a great deal about this illness and continue to educate myself today. I hope that I’ll be able to continue to share this knowledge and support for a long time.
I encourage all men who’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer to look into attending an awareness group in their area. Meetings are generally open to partners, and provide information on the disease as well as much needed support.
Bren Witt is the long-time facilitator of the Kelowna Prostate Cancer Support and Awareness Group. He was born and raised in Kelowna, British Columbia, is married and has two grown children. Bren is a 20-year survivor of prostate cancer.