Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Sometimes, guys just need someone'

Couple helps those living with prostate cancer

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Brian and June Sprott have been married for 45 years. Like many couples who have spent the ever-changing seasons of their lives together, they have inevitably begun to finish each other's sentences. It occurs so organically, so seamlessly at times, those who have had the privilege to be around them feel as if they are listening to a united voice. So, when Brian was diagnosed with prostate cancer six years ago, the two of them -- together, united -- were a force to be reckoned with.

"It was a shock; it was difficult to deal with," says Brian about his diagnosis. He underwent surgery to remove the prostate in the summer of 2007, then in 2009 went through radiation.

"It's a two-person disease," says June. "You become the caregiver for a while."

Happily, Brian's prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) scores, a test that can help detect prostate cancer early, have come back low since then.

From this experience, though, a type of calling has emerged to help others living with prostate cancer. When Brian was first diagnosed, the husband and wife team were introduced to the Manitoba Prostate Cancer Support Group, a volunteer-run organization whose mission is to provide awareness, education and support to those affected by the disease as well as their loved ones. Established more than 20 years ago, the Manitoba Prostate Cancer Support Group is one of the longest-running support groups in Canada.

Individuals living with the disease, as well as family members, are encouraged to attend their monthly meetings at the Seven Oaks Hospital, which always include a presentation by a medical expert in the field, followed by an open discussion. All services are free.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian men -- one in seven will develop the disease during his lifetime.

In 2008, Brian became the chairman of the Manitoba Prostate Cancer Support Group and, quickly following suit, June became secretary. Brian facilitates the monthly support-group meetings, which can involve from 50 to 85 participants, and he and wife work hard writing up funding proposals for the group throughout the year.

To say the couple is the heart of the support group is an understatement.

"Brian Sprott and his wife, June, have for years led this volunteer group with skill, charisma, compassion and loads of work," says Jim Anderson, a supporter of the group. "This couple's active participation in this patients' group is legendary. They are a big reason that 50 or so patients gather monthly at the Seven Oaks Hospital to interact with doctors and other caregivers."

Brian makes it his mission to stay connected with members. Every new member gets a phone call from Brian to see how they are doing.

He also makes sure to mark down in his calendar if a member mentions they have an upcoming appointment or treatment, and he places a followup call to them to see how they are coping.

"Sometimes, guys just need someone to chat to, to ask them how things are going," says Brian.

"Just knowing someone else is interested in how they are feeling," continues June.

Brian even goes and visits members in the hospital following their surgeries.

"The group helped us out so much when I was diagnosed that this is a way of paying it forward," says Brian. "Brian spends a pile of time on the support group. I knew I had to get involved too, so I would know what's going on," laughs June.

They look at each other. "We've had a lot of great conversations about the group. We bounce ideas off each other," says Brian. "We've attended four national conferences together, where we connect with other support groups and learn what's working for them and what's not working. It's a great learning experience."

The Manitoba Prostate Cancer Support Group meets every third Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Seven Oaks Hospital Auditorium.

For more information about the support group visit their website at www.manpros.org.

If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at carolynshimmin@gmail.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 18, 2013 B3

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