Calgary doctors are crediting a local man with raising prostate cancer awareness in the community, celebrating his final fundraiser event almost two decades after it was launched in memory of a close relative.
Bill Brooks pumps his fist a couple of times before he gets a needle to test his prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels—part of his an annual visit to Calgary’s Prostate Cancer Centre to ensure he’s not at risk for the most commonly diagnosed cancer for men.
Brooks’ uncle died of the disease in the 1990s when he was in his 40s.
“In those days, you never got tests, guys didn’t even talk about it,” Brooks told Global News.
“It obviously had a powerful impact on me.”
A few years later when the Calgary social scene columnist was approached by a friend to host a fundraising dinner at a local hotel, Brooks immediately picked prostate cancer researchers as the beneficiary group.
The 60-person sit-down dinner was held on March 11, 1999, and raised nearly $6,000.
It was the first Bill Brooks Prostate Cancer Benefit. On Jan. 27, 2017, the 19th annual event will be the last.
To date, the fundraisers have garnered close to $8 million and all of it has gone to the Prostate Cancer Centre.
The community-funded facility is a “one-stop shop” for men at risk or fighting the disease.
“We don’t enjoy at the centre any government funding whatsoever,” Brooks noted.
“So were it not for events like the Brooks benefit, golf tournaments, our donors, and so on, we wouldn’t be able to keep our doors open.”
Brooks has been fortunate never to hear the “c” word, but one in eight Canadian men will be given that news.
Gareth Morgan was one of them.
Diagnosed in the early 2000s, Morgan had never heard of a prostate or a PSA test.
Doctors discovered he had late-stage prostate cancer, but thankfully it was caught just in time.
“It would have metastasized, spread into the rest of my body, and I wouldn’t be here talking to you today.”
Ninety per cent of men can survive a prostate cancer diagnosis if it’s diagnosed early, but for a few, it’s a silent killer.
“In most cases, there’s no indication that anything is wrong,” Morgan said.
Urologist Dr. Bryan Donnelly is founder of the centre, where staff have already tested some 30,000 men.
He credits Brooks’ event for helping educate fathers, brothers, uncles and sons about their health.
“We were trying to learn from our sisters in the way they had brought breast cancer out in the open,” Donnelly said.
“We wanted to do the same for prostate cancer.”
The poor economy in Alberta is part of the decision for the final fundraising evening, but mostly it’s because they’ve achieved their goal of awareness.
“It’s unusual for a fundraising benefit to last for that length of time and so the work that he’s done is enormous,” Donnelly said.
Despite the financial challenges, tickets and sponsorships are nearly sold out for the finale.
Brooks credits the community for the success and downplays his contributions.
“The hero in this particular situation is my committee and it’s also all the people at the prostate cancer centre; the staff, the volunteers, the doctors. They’re the ones that save lives.”