AMHERST – Even though he’s retired from politics, Bill Casey is still campaigning so Atlantic Canada can get its fair share.
As a spokesman for the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute, the former member of parliament said the region gets less than half the national average of cancer research funding. This despite the fact the region has the highest incidence of cancer in the country.
“We have the highest rates of cancer in Canada. In Nova Scotia we have the highest rates of melanoma, in Newfoundland we have the highest rates of colorectal cancer and New Brunswick has the highest rate of lung cancer and lymphoma,” Casey told members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday. “Despite this we have the lowest level of funding for cancer research.”
Casey said the federal government spends, on average, $2.10 per person on cancer research in Atlantic Canada. The number is $8.92 per person in Ontario and more than $9 per person in Quebec.
“They get more than four times the research funding than we get in Atlantic Canada,” Casey said. “Yet we have the highest rates of Canada. If someone was going to get more you’d think it would be the area with the highest rate of cancer.”
Casey said he hopes to help the institute raise public awareness on the issue and develop a strategy to make sure the region gets its fair share of research funding from Ottawa.
The Atlantic Cancer Research Institute is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 and located at the Georges L. Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton. The former MP’s story appears on the website CancerResearchSavesLives.ca and his photo, and his grand daughter’s, is on marketing material including buses.
Casey said he owes his life to early detection and to advances that have been made in research. The 67-year-old Brookdale resident is very familiar with the fight against cancer.
In 2006, Casey attended a screening clinic set up on Parliament Hill by the widow of MP Chuck Cadman, who died of malignant melanoma.
While he thought he would not be able to attend because of a committee meeting, the meeting ended early and Casey was left with the decision to either head back to his office on Parliament Hill or turn the other way and attend the clinic.
It was a decision he has never regretted.
“It was one of those every day decisions, left or right,” Casey said. “For some reason, I turned right and went down the hall. I could just as easily have gone the other way, but I went to the clinic.”
When he entered the clinic, the doctor examined his arms, his hands, his head and neck and told him he was good to go. But as he was getting ready to leave the doctor said it wasn’t very busy and he’d be willing to give him a more thorough examination.
“For some reason I said yes. He looked at my chest and my legs and when he looked at my back he said ‘oh, oh we have a problem.’ He told me I had malignant melanoma. He said there are five signs to look for and any one of them indicates you could have it. I had all five.”
Casey had surgery the next day to remove a cancerous growth the size of a loonie.
It wasn’t long after his first brush with cancer that Casey faced the disease again. This time, however, it was his prostate.
A year later, he was having follow up blood tests and his family doctor told him that his PSA counts were up. Subsequent tests were positive and he was referred to a specialist in Moncton for a biopsy that showed he had prostate cancer.
“If you have a prostate or know someone who has a prostate encourage them to get their PSA checked. A high PSA is not definitive, but it’s certainly a sign of a problem,” he said. “In my case it was absolutely accurate. If you go back and think about it, the decisions that at first seemed like nothing decisions were actually life and death decision for me. If had of turned left instead of right I would have suffered the same thing as Chuck Cadman. I was very lucky.”
Casey is one of six people profiled in an institute marketing campaign to draw attention to what research is being done in the region and to encourage the federal government to come up with a fairer distribution of research funding.
The ABCDEs of Malignant Melanoma
Asymmetry – The shape on one side is different than the other.
Border – The border, or visible edge, is irregular, ragged and imprecise
Colour – There is a colour variation with brown, black, red, grey or white areas within the lesion.
Diameter – Diameter growth is typical of melanoma. It is usually more than 6 mm, although it can be less.
Evolution – Look for change in colour, size, shape or symptom (itching, tenderness, bleeding)