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Cancer survivor says emotional toll of diagnosis changed his perspective on men’s mental health

Click to play video 'Coping with cancer in the grips of a pandemic' Coping with cancer in the grips of a pandemic
One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer sometime in their life. It’s slow progressing but as Jayme Doll reports, in part three of Strong But Not Silent, it can have huge implications on mental health – Nov 25, 2020

Aran Lee was born in Hong Kong and adopted by a couple in British Columbia. He has no idea what his birth family’s medical history is, but so far his own medical experiences have been trying.

Twelve years ago he beat a rare form of neck cancer after gruelling rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. He travelled to Calgary’s Tom Baker Centre every month and suffered through all the symptoms that come with it.

“At the end of it, I lost 40 pounds … I couldn’t eat anything,” he said, recalling the taste of lead in his mouth.

Read more: Navigating a new cancer diagnosis during a pandemic: ‘Everything is upended’

Cancer-free for over a decade, the fitness enthusiast made his health a priority. But then, two days before Christmas of last year, he got another call from his doctor — with a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

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“I think I was in denial for a couple of days and then it just kind of hit me: Oh, here we go again,” he said.

Dreading having to go through chemo and radiation again he opted for surgery and had his prostate removed just a couple weeks before the pandemic hit.  Unfortunately, there were post-op complications and he spent nearly two weeks in hospital.

“It’s tough — obviously you get the bad days, you feel down sometimes you have your good cry and your moment and then you pick yourself up again,” he told Global News on a breezy Sunday afternoon while on a walk near Calgary’s Peace bridge.

Lee is sharing his story as part of our series Strong But Not Silent, taking a pulse of men’s mental health.

Click to play video 'Putting men’s health in the spotlight' Putting men’s health in the spotlight
Putting men’s health in the spotlight – Nov 19, 2020

Lee says he was what he called a “typical guy” before cancer.

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“I was the guy that wouldn’t share anything — I was the guy that wouldn’t talk about anything.

“We are supposed to be strong, we are supposed to be carrying the weight on our shoulders, fix everything. So we don’t share. I don’t know if you call it a burden or our struggle,” he said.

READ SERIES: Strong But Not Silent

But cancer changed his perspective and ultimately forced him to break his emotional silence. Lee said with encouragement and support from his girlfriend and family, he’s now sharing his story with anyone who asks about his journey.

“I think it helps both ways, helps them and helps me,” he said.

“I don’t like keeping it inside of me, I think keeping things inside is the worst thing someone could do to yourself. You need an outlet.”

Lee said he counts himself incredibly lucky, and doesn’t look too far into the future but rather feels grateful and embraces every new day.

Click to play video 'Living with cancer through the COVID-19 pandemic' Living with cancer through the COVID-19 pandemic
Living with cancer through the COVID-19 pandemic – Apr 14, 2020

According to the Calgary Prostate Centre, one in six Albertans will have a diagnosis of prostate cancer in their lifetime.  While it’s normally a slow-progressing cancer, doctors say it can have an impact on a man’s mental health.

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“To hear a diagnosis of cancer is often quite frightening,” said Dr. Geoffrey Gotto, urologist with the Prostate Cancer Centre in Calgary. Gotto said while there are many support groups available to patients to help navigate through the stress of a diagnosis, the pandemic is making things more challenging.

“Delivering news about cancer diagnosis and things like this over the phone, it’s not easy to see how your patients are impacted by the information you are giving them and to feel the emotional parts of how that information is affecting them,” he said, adding that some patients had to wait longer for testing and diagnosis.