A retired Nanaimo and Parksville Mountie wants to “man up” for men suffering from cancer.
Don Helgeson, who survived melanoma and prostate and colon cancers, will serve a one-year term as a Wolfpack Leader for Man Up to Cancer, an online community offering support to men with the disease. He hopes to share his wealth of knowledge as he said a cancer diagnosis can be “nerve-racking.”
Helgeson, 52, was first diagnosed with melanoma when he was just 27 years old. While he had strong family support, there wasn’t anyone who had gone through the experience, he said.
“I think at that age, you still feel like you’re pretty invincible and didn’t think too much of it,” Helgeson said. “Then when I was 37, with colon cancer, it started to hit home a little bit more … with prostate cancer at age 51, is when you start to realize your mortality. You know you’re getting closer to the end and in the beginning it really scared me. I think the first thing that ends up happening … is I started to really feel like I was on my own.”
Surgery for prostate cancer is “quite intrusive,” said Helgeson, and being able to talk to someone who had previously undergone the procedure helped.
“It was like night and day because I took the opportunity to talk to a couple of people about what their experience was with surgery, and then post-surgery, so there were no surprises,” Helgeson said. “You can only imagine when you’ve got a support network of 1,300 men, I was getting checked on by people I didn’t even know. People would contact me through Messenger … it’s pretty big. With COVID, to be stuck at home a lot more, it was huge.”
Helgeson said he will be to pay it forward to someone who is about to go through a similar journey.
“The darkest day of my life was the day where my doctor said to me, ‘I think you might have prostate cancer,’ and then the three-month process of actually making that determination,” said Helgeson. “I’m recently retired from the RCMP … [and] I had lots of days just sitting here by myself. So to have a support network outside of my friends and family was totally invaluable.”
In a press release, Trevor Maxwell, Man Up to Cancer founder and also a cancer survivor, said Helgeson was one of 18 people chosen to increase the community’s reach in North America.
“The core of Man Up to Cancer is about being strong enough to accept help,” Maxwell said in the press release. “We’re trying to flip the script on what ‘manning up’ means. That’s why the Wolfpack Leaders program has such great potential. These men represent all regions of the U.S. and Canada, and they’re stepping up as role models.”
“I’m so impressed with Don as a leader for men facing cancer,” Maxwell told the News Bulletin in an e-mail. “It’s truly inspiring to see someone like him, who has gone through so much, take that experience and use it to help others.”
For more information, go to www.manuptocancer.com.
To read Helgeson’s memoirs, go to www.prostatecancer51.com.