Rossland’s Paul Picard accepted death before he even found out he was dying of metastatic prostate cancer.
But the 68-year-old doesn’t count his incurable diagnosis as debilitating and instead is following a new mission of educating the public on the “misunderstood” cancer.
“I’m a very blessed man in so many ways, so people at times find it funny that I feel so lucky, but I’m dying of prostate cancer,” he said. “But this is just a bit of bad luck. It doesn’t erase all the good things and even the way I was introduced to my cancer was very special.”
The avid skier’s near-death experience on Grey Mountain back in 2014 actually led to a routine check up that determined his diagnosis. The fog was so thick that day he rode the new chair lift up to the mountain he normally toured. When he lost his bearings, he hunkered down for a long night ahead.
“Eventually I had to spend the night at -12 C with totally drenched clothing, waiting for daylight and not knowing if I would live through the night,” he said. “There is a saying in touring, ‘A wet skier is a dead skier.’ I couldn’t have been more wet than I was.”
Twelve long hours of meditated breathing led to the acceptance of death and the realization that he wasn’t afraid of dying.
Today, Picard feels the same.
“I tell people when you buy a lottery ticket, you hope you’ll win but would you plan your retirement on winning the lottery?” he asked. “Yes, I hope for the best but I plan for the probable.”
Picard is planning his end of life with his wife Louise in mind but also others who have been dealt the same luck. He has started up a Rossland/Trail support group, plans on lobbying for assisted suicide and is also raising money and awareness of prostate cancer by growing a moustache for “Movember,” a charity event in November that has men growing and charting their commitment to “change the face of men’s health.”
Prostate cancer is the development of cancer in the prostate. While most prostate cancers are slow growing, some like Picard’s grow relatively quickly. The cancer cells may spread from the prostate to other parts of the body, particularly the bones and lymph nodes.
No symptoms may be detected early on, but later stages of cancer can lead to difficulty urinating, blood in the urine or pain in the pelvis back or when urinating.
Every year there are 24,000 men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Canada. It kills about 4,100 each year, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
If it wasn’t for that cold night, Picard would have never got the routine checkup that included a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing, where it was discovered that his normal evaluation of 3.6 ng/mL in 2012 had jumped dramatically to 300 ng/mL by March 2014. (Most healthy men have PSA levels under 4 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL) of blood, and the chance of having prostate cancer goes up as the PSA level goes up).
The news was shocking for Picard, who lived a very healthy, active lifestyle.
“I’m just the picture of health,” he said. “If people pick somebody they expect to live till they’re 100 years old, they pick me.”
He began researching immediately, and a visit to the Trail library confirmed that there was not enough information out there on the cancer when he could not find one book but 12 on breast cancer.
“Everybody said, ‘Oh prostate cancer, you’re lucky. It’s an easy cancer.’ Even the neurologist gave the same speech: ‘It’s slow moving,’” he recalled. “But not for me. I have 30-plus metastasis (spread outside the prostate gland) here, and my PSA is 300.
“I always did things my way, and suddenly I would be a slave, dependant upon a medical system, that has a life of its own,” he said of navigating the medical system after that. “I seriously thought of not even going for treatment because it was too frustrating.”
He had to follow the system’s method of determining his cancer number, which started with a bone scan that “lit up like a Christmas tree.”
Five week later, he had a biopsy and finally reached the oncologist department. But by that time his PSA reached 560.
He has since completed a special drug-trial (Zytiga) out of Vancouver and taken a handful of other drugs to castrate his prostate cancer. His PSA numbers tapered off dramatically but “no drug lasts forever” and his charts are showing an incline.
Picard flips through pages of documented PSA numbers, which dictates his health plan. He has received five doses of radiation and more recently just had his first injection of Radium-223, a radioactive material seen as another form of calcium by the body.
Without testosterone in his body, Picard finds himself waking in the night to a hot flash and the inability to fall back to sleep easily. But he is reminded of that cold snow bank he once lay awake in and comforted by his life and falls right back to sleep.
Picard has nearly met his goal of $1,000 on Movember.com. Those looking to support his cause can do so at MOBRO.CO/PAULPICARD.
To get connected to Picard and talk prostate cancer email email@example.com.