By SARA ARTHURS
If you’re a man going through treatment for prostate cancer, and there are questions you’re too embarrassed to ask, know that there’s a group of men in Upper Sandusky who are just like you and are making it OK to talk about some of these things.
The prostate is a small gland between the bladder and the rectum in men. Prostate cancer is the most common nonskin cancer among men, and is one of the leading causes of cancer death among men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main treatments are surgery to remove the prostate, radiation, or a seed implant (in which radioactive seeds are implanted in the prostate, with the radiation diminishing over time).
Support group leader Paul Grygier said they’ve had members who have undergone each of these treatments, with surgery particularly common.
They’ve also had men who chose “watchful waiting,” said Tom Zeigler, who has been a member of the group since 2002.
This method involves keeping an eye on the cancer, but not aggressively treating it. This may be chosen because prostate cancer treatments can lead to serious problems such as impotence or incontinence, and some types of prostate cancer are slow-growing and not likely to be life-threatening. In fact, autopsies of older men who died of other causes have revealed that many had prostate cancer but did not even know it.
Zeigler said if you talk to the men involved in the group, you’ll hear it all, “good or bad.”
Grygier said that when people talk to doctors and get an evaluation, they don’t always get a sense of what to expect after treatment.
“I think what our group does is fill the information in, about what to expect afterward,” he said.
Some men are incontinent after surgery. They learn ways to address this, such as Kegel exercises. Or a man who comes home from surgery with a catheter might hear from another who has been there that — to avoid leakage at night — it helps to put a 5-gallon bucket beside the bed.
Grygier was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009. He joined the group wanting to get more information on treatment options and “what the fellas had been through.”
He’s stuck with it since.
“It’s great to have information from somebody who’s been through it,” he said.
The support group came into existence in 1998, and some of the men who attended 20 years ago are still involved. Others come and go, attending a few meetings to get the information they need, then dropping out. Grygier said the breakdown is “probably half and half.”
Those who stick around feel a desire to do so in order to help those who are newly diagnosed, Grygier said. They feel it’s an important “service that we need to provide. … Prostate cancer is not something men like to talk about” so they’re there, ready to be called upon when they are needed.
Dr. Byron Morales is a family practice doctor in practice at Wyandot Memorial Hospital who sometimes speaks at the group. He said members introduce themselves, sharing their age and when they were diagnosed.
“They tell you how they are and where they are” and how long it’s been, he said.
Sometimes there are guest speakers, such as dietitians, oncologists or urologists.
Zeigler said men share the outcomes of their treatment, “positive or negative,” and it’s rewarding to go to a meeting and talk with the other men. The meeting officially runs from 7-8 p.m., but last time it went 20 minutes over, as people kept finding new things to talk about.
He would confidently tell someone new on his prostate cancer journey, “You can get about all of your questions answered there.”
“It’s just a real fellowship,” Zeigler said.
He said the last meeting had about 14 attendees, but twice that many participate — not all of them regularly. Most of the men are Wyandot County residents. Zeigler, “85 and a half,” lives in Upper Sandusky. But they’ve welcomed attendees from Findlay as well as from Mount Gilead, roughly 45 minutes’ drive away.
Morales said some patients “like to be private” and choose not to share their own health information.
“They attend one time and they don’t come back,” he said.
But others keep coming — and by seeing the same faces each time, they see that the other prostate cancer survivors are, in fact, still surviving.
Zeigler said women occasionally attend and ask the questions that their husbands are afraid to ask. The group used to have a booth at the Wyandot County Fair and there, “Nine out of 10 times, if somebody wanted some information, it was the wife that asked the questions.”
Grygier said he’s kept going to the group because he likes being able to share information and provide support. He wants to make sure the group keeps going, as it’s a “valuable community asset.”
“It’s a friendly group of guys,” he said.
Hearing the stories of what others have gone through “makes it a little less scary” for people facing a new diagnosis, Grygier said.
The support group meets at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of odd-numbered months in the Bowman & Kirkland Conference Rooms at Wyandot Memorial Hospital. The next meeting is Nov. 13.