Like father, like son, like brother, like son: Ian McFadyen’s prostate cancer story

As I sat patiently during one of my recent visits to a Doctor’s office waiting room, I glanced up at a television playing a loop of health promotion clips. Almost as if the monitor itself were a crystal ball into my own, personal reflections, the clip that happened to be playing was a Prostate Cancer Canada spot involving a number of NHL alumni encouraging men to proactively talk to their doctor about their PSA number.
Like many men whose risk of prostate cancer increases with a family history of the disease, my journey with prostate cancer began well before I was diagnosed myself. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in his late 60s. Because his cancer wasn’t deemed to be aggressive, he was put on active surveillance rather than having to undergo treatment that might not be necessary. In the end, my dad died with, not of prostate cancer.

Knowing I was at an increased risk to develop what is already the most common cancer in men, I proactively engaged my doctor to stay ahead of things. Based on my experiences with dad, I was armed with the knowledge that prostate cancer is over 90 per cent treatable when detected early. Getting a baseline PSA reading and measuring for change over time would be our mutually agreed upon strategy.

As it turned out, my proactive approach paid off. I was diagnosed in my early 60s, and, like my father before me, placed on active surveillance to keep a close eye on things to avoid hastily resorting to treatment.

Prostate cancer survivor Ian McFadyen with his son, Andrew
In my case, the PSA test not only helped me detect cancer early, but also, through active surveillance, helped me stay on top the cancer’s increasing threat. When my PSA level began to steadily rise a little over a year and a half into active surveillance, I had a second biopsy that revealed the need to undergo treatment.  And while my wife was understandably worried, I reassured her by repeating what the doctor had told me: “The bad news is that you have cancer. The good news is that we caught it early and it’s treatable.”

After doing my research, I opted to have my prostate removed altogether. Upon completion of the prostatectomy, I began receiving some targeted radiation treatments to get my PSA level down to zero. As of today, all signs point to good health.

Like me, my brother and son understand the importance of proactively taking charge of their own health. Seven years my junior, my brother, who has an enlarged prostate, is currently undergoing active surveillance. My 34-year-old son is already planning to initiate a conversation with his doctor about getting a baseline PSA reading.

Even though our increased risk of prostate cancer spurred both myself and my brother into action, my advice to all men would be the same it has been to my son: when the odds are one in seven, all Canadian men are at a significant risk of developing prostate cancer in their lifetime. Whether or not there is a family history of the disease, we should all be proactively starting that conversation with our doctors.  

The NHLers were right. My PSA number proved to be my most important statistic. Thankfully, I can now look forward to another important stat – my 40th wedding anniversary with my beautiful wife.

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