Pat Trask stands by the 1980 Firebird his son put together for him as a morale boost. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Pat Trask stands by the 1980 Firebird his son put together for him as a morale boost. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Cancer diagnosis started with head shake for Trask

“Prostate cancer and mental health month go together.”

When Pat Trask noticed he was developing a head shake, he figured something might be wrong.

He feared a potential diagnosis of essential tremors or possibly Parkinson’s. What he did not expect was a cancer diagnosis.

The Merville man is known to many as a curator at the Courtenay Museum telling visitors about the prehistoric story of this area. Now, he has his own story he needs to share.

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With “Movember” as Prostate Awareness Month, including a focus on men’s mental health awareness, Trask is hoping his situation will prompt other men to look after themselves.

“Prostate cancer and mental health month go together,” he says.

He’s still reeling as the full extent of his diagnosis is not known. That he had cancer was a shock, though it runs in his family.

Trask did not have a family doctor but felt healthy for years. Now, he realizes health was not something to take for granted.

“I’m that guy. I feel healthy. I don’t have any issues,” he says, but this all changed quickly. It was actually a suggestion to get a doctor’s referral for cannabis to deal with the head shake last year that led to the cancer diagnosis. He went to a walk-in clinic earlier this year but was told he would need to see a family doctor to get a referral for medicinal cannabis — something he says he has yet to do.

From the time of the walk-in clinic visit, what he was about to discover has served as a lesson on the human body.

“I’ve learned so much about anatomy,” he says. “People know more about their bicycles than they do about the insides of their bodies.”

The clinic did run a blood test back in February, and it came back with a relatively high PSA (prostate-specific antigen) score. He recalls hearing it was 8.0, which pointed to a problem. In the meantime, he set up an appointment with a urologist. Two days before the appointment though, he noticed a lot of blood in his urine, which suggested a problem such as kidney stones.

When he met the urologist, he found out he’d misheard the PSA score, and it was actually 28, which suggested pretty even odds of cancer.

With more testing, it turned out he had stage three kidney cancer, and he still had yet to hear for certain about the prostate, though the tests indicated an abnormality.

In June, he underwent radical open nephrectomy to remove the kidney, along with adrenal glands, a ureter pipe and local nymph nodes. One upside is the head shake has improved.

“They take as much away as they can without killing you,” he says.

More recently, a scan confirmed the prostate cancer. At present, Trask, who will be 66 in January, is at a bit of an impasse about his next steps. He now has a family doctor and he is in the system but unsure about treatment. Both prostate surgery or radiation therapy come with side effects. Complicating his choice is that he is waiting for another scan, this time to see if the cancer has metastasized to his bones.

On top of the physical ordeal of cancer is the mental side. Trask admits it has been difficult, but he knows there is support online and through groups, but most of all from his wife and family. His son Colin even put together a 1980 Firebird as a bit of a morale boost for him.

“I’m lucky I have a support system,” he says. “I feel sorry for the guys who don’t.”

Sharing his story is not easy for him either. He stresses it is not about looking for public pity but letting other men know they need to look after their health, both physical and mental, and make sure they get those check-ups.

“People just can’t take this stuff for granted,” he says.

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