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Take a walk in the park to fight prostate cancer

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Len Bueckert has a life-saving Father's Day message for all you guys out there.

It's a simple message -- get off your butt and get it checked by a doctor. Your butt, that is.

Len will be sharing that message and his story of survival Saturday afternoon -- yes, the day before Father's Day -- in Assiniboine Park at the third annual Safeway Father's Day Walk/Run to help raise cash for, and awareness of, the fight against prostate cancer.

I'll be there to introduce Len because I'm the MC for the five-kilometre walk, one of 15 being held in cities across Canada to combat the most common cancer affecting Canadian men, one that accounts for an estimated 25 per cent of all new cancer cases.

Before we get to Len's story, let's take a look at the numbers, which are startling.

According to Prostate Cancer Canada, one in seven men will be diagnosed with this disease in their lifetime. This year, an estimated 23,600 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 3,900 will die from the disease.

The problem is your standard guy does not enjoy getting screened for scary diseases of this nature. We don't mind the PSA test, which is a simple blood test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your system.

But we become whimpering puddles of goo when we hear the terrifying snap of a latex glove and our normally non-menacing doctor approaches us with a finger that, to him, looks like a normal physician's finger, but to us appears to be the same size and shape as a canoe paddle.

Len Bueckert, 66, a retired federal auditor and prostate cancer survivor, wants to change the way guys like me think and talk about this potentially deadly disease. Early detection is the key, because about 90 per cent of cases involving this slow-growing cancer are considered curable if detected and treated in their earliest stages.

Len's cancer odyssey began in 2007 when he was operated on for colon cancer and endured six months of chemotherapy, during which time he was also diagnosed with kidney cancer. In August 2008, he had a kidney removed.

Then, in January 2009, came the prostate cancer diagnosis. "I've had cancer three times and its never hurt me with a great deal of pain, but the mental hoops one has to go through to survive are difficult," he explained.

"I've had colon cancer, I've had kidney cancer, and now I have prostate cancer. It's due to a genetic disorder called Lynch syndrome. It causes something to go awry and you're more susceptible to cancers."

After his latest diagnosis, the soft-spoken man had his prostate surgically removed. "Then everything was fine for about 18 months," he recalled. "Then my PSA started going up again. I had a round of radiation treatment and after that it was still elevated... so I've had to take hormone injections for two years."

While his health has stabilized, his battle against cancer is far from over. Initially, he wondered "Why me?" but quickly exchanged self-pity for activism, spreading the word about the importance of early detection and joining the board of the Manitoba Prostate Cancer Support Group.

It's been an emotional battle he couldn't have won without Marie, his wife of 47 years. "If it weren't for her, it would have been very difficult to deal with," he said, his voice charged with emotion. "I thank her every day. She's given me a lot of inspirational advice, like: 'If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it.' "

What Len wants to change is how men think about prostate cancer. "I want men to be aware of prostate cancer and what to look for -- frequent urination, painful urination, a pain in the pelvic area. Or there could be no symptoms at all."

He also wants men to act more like women -- openly discussing their health issues.

"Most men who get checked do it because their wives have pushed them in that direction," he noted. "Women talk to each other, but men just don't do that. What I would like men to do is share with their family members what their medical problems are."

So it would make Len and me very happy if every guy within the sound of our voice joined us in the park Saturday to thumb our collective noses at prostate cancer. Better yet, call your doctor and let him... well, you know where this is going.

Getting tested may involve a little short-term discomfort, but it will save you a much bigger pain. In the end, if you catch our drift.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 A2

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