Men are notoriously skittish about admitting they have plumbing problems. But not Tom Amson.
The retired addictions counsellor says the loss of sexual function after surgery to remove his cancerous prostate took some psychological adjustment.
“There’s thoughts of being ‘less than’ in my own mind at times,” he admits. “But I’ve been through lots in my life, so I take this as part of the plan and continue to do what I’ve always done.”
Because cancer is prevalent in his family, Amson started getting regular check-ups for prostate cancer when he was 40.
Before that, he says, he knew little about the disease.
“I had heard views from the extremes. I knew a couple of guys who have died from prostate cancer, and I know a couple of docs that say the likelihood of you dying from prostate cancer is slim to none.”
Seven years ago, his doctor noticed something unusual during a rectal exam.
“What he said was, ‘I’m going to send you to Vancouver to a guy with a more experienced digit.’ So I went to Vancouver and was diagnosed with prostate cancer.”
At that stage, he had three treatment options: active surveillance, radiation, or therapy. He chose active surveillance, which meant going for an annual biopsy. After a few years, however, a change in pathology meant having to choose between radiation and surgery.
“Living with cancer, knowing it’s in me, just wouldn’t work for me. I’m 63 years old, and the research I did said it would take 10 years for them to positively say there was no cancer, through radiation,” he says.
“Surgery was an exact measurement. You take it out, it’s gone. And that was pretty clear to me.”
Having done about 150 hours of research into the disease, Amson was aware that erectile dysfunction is a common side-effect of prostate surgery, especially in older men. Still, he didn’t hesitate.
“The price that you pay is a cheap price to pay for the quality of life that I have,” he says. “And really, I guess I’m the best-case scenario, because I’ve been cancer-free since.”
While confronting cancer is a “life-changing ordeal,” Amson says it can have positive aspects.
“As far as my wife and I go, our relationship has gotten stronger and closer, if anything. My wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010, so our relationship grew closer through that, also. It’s really amazing.”
Amson says the experience has also enboldened him to be frank with other men about the potential risk.
“Every man I meet who’s between 40 and 60, it’s, ‘Hi, how are you doing? Have you had your prostate checked?'” he laughs. “Some are quite stunned, and some are like… you know, they’re men.”
Some guys he confronts tell him not-so-politely to mind his own business. Most ask what he means.
To them, he explains, “Well, one in seven men are going to get prostate cancer, and it’s like any other cancer; the sooner you know about it, the more your odds are of living your life out in a good way.”
Another way Amson spreads the word is by taking an active role in the annual motorcycle Ride For Dad to support prostate cancer research and raise public awareness of the disease.
Being a biker since his teen years, Amson got involved in the Yukon ride long before his own diagnosis seven years ago. He remembers attending a meeting at Northwestel about the time the local Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) was disintegrating.
“They were getting together to see what they could do, and Ride for Dad came up. Since then, it’s just taken on a whole new life. Each year, it has grown exponentially,” he says.
Last year, approximately 300 bikes took part in the Yukon event, and Amson hopes there will be even more this year.
He’ll be there on his hefty 2006 Yamaha Midnight Venture touring bike when the riders gather in the parking lot at Shipyards Park at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 11.
From there, they’ll ride through downtown Whitehorse before assembling again at the Yukon Transportation Museum to begin a nine-stop poker run of the Carcross-Tagish loop.
The day will end with a barbecue and motorcycle games, a few speeches and possibly some entertainment back at Shipyards Park.
Since its inception in 2000, the nation-wide Telus Ride for Dad has raised over $18 million for the Prostate Cancer Fight Foundation.
As a prostate cancer survivor, Amson doesn’t mince words about the message he wants other men to hear.
“Your only defence is early detection, so you should be paying attention,” he says.
“What, you think you’re not one in seven? Those are pretty small odds. You might want to think again.”