Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A poke in the behind 'better than alternative'

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Linn and Jeremy Groen and  three-year-old daughter, Eve, run up the steps at Shaw Park as part of the prostate cancer fundraiser.

DARCY FINLEY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Linn and Jeremy Groen and three-year-old daughter, Eve, run up the steps at Shaw Park as part of the prostate cancer fundraiser. Photo Store

I'm not proud of it, but I seem to have a unique ability to get strangers to burst into tears.

It happens whenever I attempt to conduct journalistic-style interviews with people taking part in heart-tugging charity events.

Take Sunday morning, for instance, when I arrived in a steady rain at Shaw Park, home of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, to co-host the first annual Do it for Dads Step Up Winnipeg, an event sponsored by Safeway to raise cash and awareness for the fight against prostate cancer.

Despite the downpour, I was thrilled to join the war against the most common cancer affecting Canadian men, one that accounts for about 25 per cent of all new cancer cases, with one in seven men diagnosed in his lifetime.

The idea was for plucky participants to march up and down the 21 sections of stairs in the ballpark, with 38 steps per section, to thumb their noses at a disease expected to take the lives of about 3,900 Canadian men this year.

The first person I quizzed was Karen Bach, who was there with mom, Ann, son, Dylan, and daughter, Carly, to pay tribute to the memory of her dad, Russ Farrell, who lost his battle with the disease on Sept. 5, 2011.

"We're walking in his memory and to honour him," Karen told me, becoming more than a little misty-eyed as we hid from the rain under a registration tent not far from the mucky infield.

"He did so much -- Oh, you're making me cry! -- for us all the time and instead of just going to the cemetery and putting flowers on his grave, this is something we can actively do in his memory," she said, wiping away tears.

"He was very active in the community and with us. When he first found out he had prostate cancer and was taking treatments, he didn't even tell us, just so we wouldn't worry."

John Graham, Safeway's director of public affairs, said the grocery chain has raised more than $10 million for prostate cancer in the last 11 years, but raising awareness is even more important. "It impacts a lot of families in this community," Graham noted. "It's an issue that doesn't receive the kind of exposure as some others."

As a crusading journalist, my job on Sunday was to serve as the "colour commentator," wandering around the park's concourse with a wireless microphone and dispensing heartfelt remarks such as: "You can do it!" Or: "Way to go!" Or: "What's wrong with you people? You're not made of sugar!"

It's hard, using mere words, to describe how inspiring it was to watch dozens and dozens of Winnipeggers in rain-soaked T-shirts -- some carrying kids on their shoulders, some sporting balloon hats, many wearing paper signs bearing the name of the person they were running for -- striding up and down the slick steps, but I will try: It was very inspiring!

As I blurted out encouraging words and dodged a pair of damp clowns juggling bowling pins, my eyes fell on mildly moist 84-year-old Ed Kaskow -- "Fast Eddie" to his friends at the event -- a prostate cancer survivor who was cheering on his son, Glenn.

"I had to go for 35 radiation treatments," Fast Eddie recalled of when he was diagnosed a dozen years ago. "That was OK. There was nothing to it. It's not a painful thing. Go get checked."

The feisty senior said too many guys are afraid to talk about prostate cancer, let alone get their blood tested or have their doctor approach them brandishing a gloved finger the size and shape of a piano leg.

"A lot of guys are embarrassed. They don't want a doctor poking a finger in their behind. What the heck? It's your life! If it gets too far advanced, what happens? It's a lot better than the alternative, if you know what I mean."

I personally was too busy making smart remarks to actually walk the stairs, but MC Derek Taylor, morning news anchor for Global Winnipeg, not only did them twice -- that's 1,596 steps -- but also promised to have his prostate checked this year.

"I'm turning 40 and that's the time to talk to your doctor about getting tested," Derek confided as he tried to catch his breath. "I'm definitely not going to the gym today."

As everyone else headed back to field level for the door prizes, I hung around to watch as Glen Douglas -- stepping in honour of his father-in-law, Keith Tinsley, a survivor -- became the only participant to do the circuit three times, racing up and down 2,394 steps.

"I'm not hugging you, Glen, you're all wet!" his wife, Jenn, snorted as her soggy spouse wheezed to the finish. Happily, she changed her mind seconds later.

"You hear the statistics about all the guys who don't know they have prostate cancer," an exhausted Glen, 48, told me. "I get tested every year. We need to talk about it more. It's something we need to become more aware of."

Early detection is the key, so get out there and get (bad word) tested, otherwise I'll definitely give you something to cry about.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2014 A7

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Updated on Monday, May 26, 2014 at 8:04 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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