Men, by their very nature, are reluctant to talk about prostate cancer. The sensitive exam, for one thing, isn’t the most pleasant topic of conversation. For some men, the effects of the disease are unspeakable: impotence, incontinence, even castration. Doctors will diagnose more than 200,000 cases of prostate cancer in 2002, and with 31,000 deaths annually, it has become the second leading cause of cancer mortality among men.
When Hollywood television production manager Hap Weyman died of prostate cancer in 1990, his son Dr. Terry Weyman turned his grief into a fierce mission to stop these often-unnecessary deaths. Inspired by a television documentary about the women who climbed Mt. Aconcagua, Argentina on behalf of breast cancer awareness, Weyman decided to put together an expedition on that same mountain (the highest in the Western Hemisphere) for prostate cancer awareness.
His was task was daunting for he had to find prostate cancer victims willing to both make the climb and acknowledge their disease to the public.
From the living room of his Los Angeles home, Weyman launched the Prostate Cancer Climb. By helping others be more open and aware, he hoped that his own grief might finally be laid to rest.
Scaling the rugged Andes peak amid 60-mph winds and sub-zero temperatures, a group of 10 climbers and five cancer survivors mounted the first Prostate Cancer Climb in Jan. 2001. Joining together in the name of prostate cancer research and awareness, another group of two- dozen climbers ascended Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa in Sept. 2003.
The goal of the climbs: to show that prostate cancer needn’t be a death sentence and that through proper awareness and education, prevention can be possible. Fighting cancer and climbing a tall mountain are both uphill struggles, but the men and women on the team have learned not to set limits. The climbers are hoping to raise $1 million for research and educational programs, which will be administered by the Los Angeles-based Prostate Cancer Research Institute.
Still, a frustrating paradox exists. Although prostate cancer is one of the most curable of all human cancers, it remains a leading killer. “Prostate cancer has reached epidemic proportions in America, affecting one out of three families,” says Glenn Weaver, Prostate Cancer Research Institute executive director “Every 90 seconds another man is told he has prostate cancer. It’s also being found in younger and younger men.”
But unlike in the past, men now have new tools at their disposal and much research upon which to draw-the Internet, chat rooms, e-mail and support groups. Treatment methods are improved, medication is more effective and in a word, men need no longer be afraid.
Sharing intimate knowledge about the disease, the survivors have developed strategies of empowerment that enable them to achieve unbelievably difficult goals. On the mountain, they learn there can be hope.
Aconcagua is 22,840 feet and Kilimanjaro is 19,340 feet. Other high altitude climbs are planned for 2004 and beyond.
Climber Bob Each, 56, set a prostate cancer survivor record by ascending over 16,000 feet on Aconcagua. “We want to inspire those men with the disease that there is hope,” said Each, a former computer executive who was told by doctors that he shouldn’t expect to live more than a few years following his cancer diagnosis in 1995. “We want to prove to the men that a rich and rewarding life is possible even after they have prostate cancer.” Today, Each takes regular hikes in the Southern California mountains and serves as a volunteer for various prostate cancer charities.
Bruce Hestad, a prostate cancer veteran who stood on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, has vivid memories about his introduction to the disease. “On April 2, 2000 I turned 53, attended a Bob Dylan concert and for the first time heard the words, ‘You have cancer.’
“The disease reoccurred within 10 months of my surgery and has metastasized to my lymph nodes, but I’m going through hormone treatment and feel confident about my recovery,” says Hestad, a business owner from South Dakota. “I feel very strongly that by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, we proved to all men that they do not have to give up.”
To learn more about the exciting events surrounding the Mt. Aconcagua and Mt. Kilimanjaro expeditions, and to find out more about future climbs, we invite you to tour this Web site.
Proceeds of the Prostate Cancer Climb will go exclusively to funding education and research. Distribution of the Hap Weyman Memorial Prostate Cancer Project Fund will be determined by the Independent Educational Research Funding Committee (IERFC).