Gogs Gagnon was was 57 and living a healthy life when he got a shock. He’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
That he’d been diagnosed was a bit unexpected, as he’d been active and healthy. He also didn’t expect to be writing about the experience, but that’s just what the Comox Valley resident, turning 60 next month, has done.
He’d had blood work done to test for levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which the prostate produces. As is practice, he was tested to check for levels and eventually had a biopsy done, which came back negative. However, the cancer was lurking in an unexpected area, out of reach of the biopsy. Ultimately, it was an MRI test that pointed to the need for treatment. The MRI, itself, does not find the cancer but produced enough warnings signs for doctors to diagnose cancer. Surgery revealed the prostate was enormous, about the size of four-and-a-half golf balls, and almost half – two golf balls – was the cancer. The good news was that it was contained to the prostate.
“Once it escapes the prostate, it’s a different story,” he says.
The world of cancer and cancer treatment, Gagnon has found, can be full of gray areas, statistics and probabilities for diagnoses, treatment and follow-up testing. He has spent a lot of time on social media sites for prostate cancer to understand there are competing views on all of this. In the UK, for example, some are pushing to skip the biopsy as a test and go right to the MRI.
Another example is radiation. One of the people he’d encountered during his experiences, Ted Butterfield, chair of the BC Prostate Cancer Foundation, spoke to him a few months ago, and only a week died, years after surgery. He did express to Gagnon he wished he’d had radiation post-surgery to make sure the cancer was gone.
As with the lead-up, post-surgery now means more blood work to test for PSA, though over time, depending on the results, these tests reduce in frequency, but in light of his friend’s death, Gagnon has questions about whether more needs to be done in terms of frequency of testing.
In short, there are endless questions – ones he faced when he was diagnosed, ones through he hopes he can guide others if they face prostate cancer. The key is to start asking them, and this is where the book comes in. Gagnon had read about 30 books on the disease, many by doctors, but they tended to be big and overly technical. He recalls how difficult it was to absorb any information when he first found out he had cancer.
“At that moment, he was in shock,” he says.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and Gagnon is hoping his book can be a good starting point for people when they find out they have the disease, or even for support groups. He admits, like many men, he was reluctant to share his story. A lot of this, he says, had to do with wanting to avoid worrying his wife.
“A lot of men are suffering in silence,” he says.
He now realizes through talking and through the writing process that sharing the story is an important part of the sorting out the mess of emotions and information, especially when first diagnosed.
“The best thing you can do is live your life,” he says.
Gagnon worked as a computer programmer and technology consultant, and he never expected to become a writer. In fact, he only started with the aim of writing a journal, but it soon turned into a first-person account and resource for others.
“Writing a book was certainly not on my mind when I was first diagnosed,” he says. “There was nothing on my mind other than I thought I was going to die.”
The book is published by Granville Island Publishing and came out in June. It’s also available in e-book form. He’s even making it available for free download on Amazon on Sept. 7 and 8 and Sept. 26 through 30. (To do so on these days, Gagnon notes people should hit the “Buy” option and the price will show as $0.00 on those days. He notes the Kindle edition is currently the number one bestseller for cancer books in Canada.)
His hope is to take what he has learned further, and he is taking part in the Prostate Conference Cancer in New Westminster from Sept. 6 to 8.
As far as the writing goes, he even plans to do more, as he has started working on a memoir about his life growing up in the Lower Mainland in the 1970s. He also has a website to provide more information at www.gogsgagnon.com