Silence can be deadly, especially in the case of prostate cancer, which is one of the reasons Nisswa resident Gary Harris refuses to remain silent about his experience with the disease.
The 77-year-old has been in remission and is excited about the first meeting of the Lakes Area Prostate Cancer Group at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd.
“I have had my miracle in life and fighting my cancer and hopefully we can help some others find the same end results,” said Harris, a retired licensed Minnesota land surveyor.
The group is open to those who have experienced prostate cancer, are now dealing with it or those simply wishing to become more aware of the disease, which is the most common cancer among men in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If you live long enough, a man is going to probably have prostate cancer, but most will not die from it. Something else gets them first,” Harris said.
Harris will be the support group moderator. He has been fighting serious recurrent metastatic prostate cancer since his diagnosis more than a decade ago.
“Most prostate cancers are kind of a lower grade, slower-growing cancer, and they usually don’t show up in men until they’re older in life,” said Harris, who has been in remission for four years.
Harris spent the last two years authoring the book “Man-Opause: My Continuing Battle with Metastatic Prostate Cancer,” which details his medical trials and triumphs, personal struggles, and support from his family and friends.
“I attempted to form a support group for men’s prostate cancer some seven years ago, but after three years of appearing to be free of my cancer, testing showed it to be recurrent. The idea of a support group was put on hold,” he said.
Group discussion topics will include treatments, decisions in the selection of a medical team, emotional and physical impact of cancer on individuals and their families, the need to maintain a positive attitude, and the role faith plays in treating prostate cancer.
“My prostate cancer was diagnosed and treated with removal surgery 11 years ago. … Three years later, the existence of cancer was discovered and a tumor was treated with radiation therapy,” he said.
The semi-professional photographer said his father had four heart attacks and his grandfather also had some, so he expected he would possibly die from a heart attack as well.
“I was shocked when I got the prostate cancer diagnosis,” Harris said. “I got the news over the phone from my urologist after he’d taken biopsies of the prostate. … But when he told me, my hands started to sweat and my knees almost buckled.”
“The tumor was eliminated, but cancer continued to be evident elsewhere. Testing continued until two years later experimental procedures showed it to be serious bone cancer in my ribs, spine and sacrum and lymph nodes within my chest,” Harris said of his post-surgery condition.
“This was treated with aggressive chemotherapy and my miracle occurred. The bone and node cancers were eliminated within the year. A minor tumor in my pelvic area was again discovered a year later and weeks of general and targeted radiation was completed.”
In 2016, the latest year for which incidence data are available, 192,443 new cases of prostate cancer were reported, and 30,370 men died from it in the United States, according to the CDC, and for every 100,000 men, 101 new cases were reported and 19 died of cancer.
Support groups help many people cope with the emotional aspects of cancer by providing a safe place to share and work through feelings and challenges alongside others who have experienced cancer in the past.
“It’s absolutely necessary that you do research on these things, but you’ve got to first get control of your emotions and not be negative because you have a tendency when things like this happen to you, you’ll ask yourself ‘Why me?’” Harris said. “Self-pity does absolutely no good.”
There are 5.23 million alive in the United States who were diagnosed with cancer from Jan. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2015, according to the CDC.
“Men do not like to talk about their health problems, especially anything to do with urology, but I rarely have found many that do not think about it or are not interested when I discuss it,” Harris said. “There is a need for the ability to discuss prostate cancer and men’s health in the area.”
Harris is the board director and vice president of Lakes Area Food Shelf in Pequot Lakes and director and president of the White Pine Villas Homeowners Association in Nisswa.
“We need to get the word out to area men and their families that are either struggling with the disease now or simply wish to be made more aware of it and its impact on individuals and families,” he said.