Sobey faced tough decisions in how to deal with bout of cancer

Adam MacInnis
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Frank Sobey had been involved in medical research for years, but his own diagnosis changed how he looked at the issue.

Frank Sobey is a strong supporter of medical research particularly after his own battle with prostate cancer. ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS

Eight years ago when he was just 52 years old, Sobey’s family doctor noticed a problem.

“My PSA numbers was increasing and what was more problematic was the rate of increase was increasing.”

While he had no other symptoms of cancer, his doctor recommended he have a biopsy done just to be safe. It came back as cancer-positive.

“I went blank for a while,” Sobey said. “When it hits you it’s like you get decked.”

After taking a moment to process it himself, his next thought was, “How do I tell my wife?”

“Although they’re entirely different, psychologically, prostate cancer is the male equivalent of breast cancer,” he says. “It’s the head game it plays because it deals with your image of yourself, especially as a sexual being.”

His wife Debbi was incredibly supportive though and he spent the next six weeks figuring out the best solution. There are three options when you get a diagnosis like Sobey did. You can have surgery, you can use radiation treatment or you can practise active surveillance. With a strong family history of the disease, Sobey didn’t want to take any risks.

“I know the value of getting a second opinion. It’s a critical thing to do for important decisions. I decided that’s what I’m going to do.”

In addition to talking to his surgeon, he talked to experts in Toronto, a naturopathic doctor and people who had the various forms of treatment.

“At the end of the day it is cancer and whatever decision I made I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life second guessing,” he said. “It’s such a negative emotion and chews you up inside.”

In the end he opted for surgery and had it done in Halifax. He said it was the best decision for him but it isn’t for everyone. His was a complete success though which he attributes to the skill of the doctor, his own personal health and his relatively young age.

While he was recovering, though, he spent a lot of time watching baseball. As he watched he noticed how the infield and outfield players moved when different batters approached the plate. He learned that players know within three decimal places how an individual batter will hit and what they can expect. He wondered, why can’t there be that kind of predictability with cancer treatments?

“In doing my research on what’s the best treatment option for me, everybody was surprisingly vague,” he said. “They couldn’t say with specificity if you do this here’s the outcome. They just talked in generalities. It surprised me that sports were so specific and something like outcomes for prostate cancer surgery were less certain.”

While much has improved, even in the last eight years, he and his wife Debbi decided to address the problem of improving quality of life for cancer patients post treatment by founding Soillse, which is managed by the Dalhousie Medical Foundation and is focused on the issue.

In addition to his reaffirmation in the value of research, Sobey said it also opened his eyes to a couple of other things.

One thing he learned about was the great work of the Pictou County Prostate Support Group.

“I’ve attended some of their meetings and I’ve talked to a lot of people who go to meetings in other communities,” he said. “This group in Pictou County is by far the best group I’ve ever heard of. They’re known province wide and outside the province as being a tremendously supportive group.”

Another thing he noticed is there is so much unfounded fear surrounding prostate cancer. He said he’s amazed by the number of men over 50 who don’t get a PSA test, which is an indicator of prostate cancer.

“There’s lots of reasons not to get a PSA test. None of them are valid.”

 

Research foundation

Frank Sobey is chair of the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation. One of their key fundraisers is the Molly Appeal, which focuses on a different area of research each year. This year the focus is on cancer research, with 100 per cent of all funds going to the research.

All proceeds of the 2013 Molly Appeal will go towards the purchase of equipment that will enable Dalhousie Medical School to establish a new live-cell imaging facility.

Live-cell imaging provides researchers with a powerful tool for observing dynamic processes inside living cells. Spinning-disk technology in the live-cell imaging systems allows scientists to capture high resolution, high definition video images – at a microscopic level, in real time.

Live-cell imaging has become the gold standard for cancer research, since it enables researchers to tag and track individual proteins inside cancer cells, to shed light on their role in such key processes as cancer cell migration and invasion of nearby tissues, the development of the cancer’s own independent blood supply and the disabling of tumour suppressor proteins that keep cancer at bay.

For more information on the Molly appeal visit http://www.dmrf.ca/en/home/mollyappeal/default.aspx.

 

amacinnis@ngnews.ca

On Twitter: NGNewsAdam

Organizations: Molly Appeal, Dalhousie Medical Foundation, Pictou County Prostate Support Group Research Foundation Dalhousie Medical School

Geographic location: Toronto, Halifax, Pictou County

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