Don Helgeson is a recently retired Mountie who worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for 28 years. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 51. He and his wife Lisa live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. This picture is from Remembrance Day 2020 - Don’s last official appearance as a Mountie in red serge after 28 years of service.
Routine blood work diagnosed his prostate cancer
Several months before his retirement, Don started his journey as a prostate cancer patient and survivor at the age of 51 starting in September 2020. He had severely broken his ankle while making an arrest in the Spring of 2019 and complications with his recovery led to making the difficult decision of taking an early retirement. During this process, Don completed his final PHA that September which included what he’d hoped would be uneventful - especially for his routine blood work. Don was mostly concerned with managing elevated cholesterol readings from the previous year, and was looking forward to seeing a decrease in this particular reading after making some significant lifestyle changes. Little did he know at the time that something else was happening inside his body that would lead to one of the biggest fights of his life.
A two-time cancer survivor
Don was already a two-time cancer survivor after surviving malignant melanoma and colon cancer diagnoses at ages 27 and 37 respectively. Keeping this in mind, he understood how important it was to make his health priority number one especially while serving as an active member. Blood work during this last PHA revealed that he had an elevated PSA reading. The PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test is commonly included in routine blood work once a man reaches age 50 in the province of British Columbia. This test is known as an effective first step to determine if a man may have prostate cancer. After a very high PSA reading, several other tests were conducted including an MRI, CT scan, bone scan and a biopsy of the prostate. After the biopsy, Don was officially diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer in December 2020. On a side note, his cholesterol had actually decreased - at least one small victory during a scary time in his life.
Lack of information about treatment decisions
After his official prostate cancer diagnosis, Don learned that there wasn’t a lot of information for men his age when it came to making prostate cancer treatment decisions. His treatment options were also complicated by the fact Don was living with Lynch Syndrome - a genetic defect that increases the odds of developing certain types of cancers at a very young age. Don inherited Lynch Syndrome from his mother who had also battled several cancers including colon cancer starting at age 42. Sadly, Don’s grandmother also died from colon cancer in her early 50’s long before genetic testing became available.
In addition to reading materials provided by his surgeon, Don did a great deal of research online to learn about his disease and the common treatments available. As well, he already belonged to an online cancer community specifically for men living with cancer as a then two time survivor. This online community, “Man Up to Cancer” allowed Don to connect with other men his age with prostate cancer who had gone through many different types of treatment options and outcomes. Taking into consideration all that he had learned, Don opted for radical prostatectomy surgery in Nanaimo in January 2021 and had his prostate removed. His recovery was long and he dealt with several complications along the way.
Becoming a prostate cancer advocate
Post surgery, Don knew that he wanted to share what he had learned about his disease and living with Lynch Syndrome. He also knew that he wanted to become a prostate cancer advocate early into his journey by sharing his story, or by being a part of someone's support network. In August 2021, Don completed a short memoir about his prostate cancer journey. To get his story out, he created a webpage to document his story to help others. His message included the good, the bad and the ugly of living with a prostate cancer diagnosis. In addition to his personal story that led to being diagnosed with prostate cancer at such a young age, it’s also a story about gathering information and forming relationships with younger men who were also in the same fight. Don now belongs to two online cancer communities for men and has found the relationships he’s developed in these groups invaluable. In addition to Man up to Cancer, he is an Admin for ‘The PC Tribe’ Facebook group for men with prostate cancer.
The memoir is quite detailed and Don has decided to share some very private details of his life and to share his vulnerable side. This is not a common thing for a police officer to do. His hope is that this story will give young men hope, and a chance to see the options that are possibly available. His full memoir can be found at: https://www.prostatecancer51.com
Although Don chose surgery as his prostate cancer treatment option, his webpage is not intended to promote any particular treatment. It is simply there to assist men during the difficult decision making process. Especially younger men.
In addition to the incredible amount of love and support received from family and friends, several men helped Don along the way. He wishes to thank each and every one of them. These men, and their contributions are recognized in the memoir.
As of November 2023, Don is facing a possible prostate cancer recurrence as his PSA has once again started to rise.
Don can be contacted with questions or comments at: email@example.com