A Vancouver sporting icon is coming to Chilliwack June 4 to support a local man in his fight against cancer.
Vancouver Canucks legend Richard Brodeur will be at the Cultus Lake Golf Course for the first annual Dark Horse Riders Charity Golf Tournament.
Money raised by the event will benefit the Ride to Conquer Cancer and the B.C. Cancer Foundation.
The Dark Horse Riders are a team of four men. Paul King leads them, joined by Blair Peake, Paul Ackah-Sanzah and Scott Birstins.
In June they will tackle the 240 kilometre bike ride to Seattle.
In August of 2006, King was diagnosed with lung cancer — exceptionally poor timing with his wife (Meagan) eight and a half months pregnant.
“I thought it was a chest infection and my GP thought it might be gallstones,” King said of the pain in his side that set off the initial warning bells. “He (Abbotsford’s Dr. Alan Moore) sent me in for an ultrasound. Two weeks later he called me back and said they’d found a spot. They did a biopsy and it was cancerous.”
King was sent to a cardio-thoracic surgeon who wanted to do a lobectomy, removing the top third of one lung to extricate the cancer. But before doing that, they did a mediastinoscopy, going in for a closer look.
The look wasn’t good.
“The lymph nodes didn’t look quite right, so they biopsied them while he was on the operating table,” Meagan explained. “And they found that the cancer had already spread into the lymph nodes. It was too late for the lobectomy.”
They sewed Paul back up, leaving a sizeable scar around his collarbone, and the discussion turned to radiation and chemotherapy.
Meagan had labour induced and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Victoria.
Five days later, Paul started his treatment.
Six rounds of chemo.
Thirty-three rounds of radiation.
Five extremely difficult months.
“When Victoria was little I was thinking, ‘Am I going to die? And if I’m going to pass away in two years do I really want her to get to know me?’” Paul said. “But she has been a blessing and I’m telling you one thing. Having that little baby in my arms it was like I wasn’t even sick. She gave me something to focus on.”
The treatment worked and Paul got out of the woods for a year, but in May 2008 the cancer came back with a vengeance.
Paul went back on a new and improved type of chemotherapy, but he had something else to deal with.
“I had a pleural effusion, which meant the lining between the lung and chest wall (pleural cavity) filled with cancerous fluid,” Paul said with a grimace. “By the time I went in for surgery, they had to drain four litres off my lungs. Then they put an external PleurX catheter in, so I had a tube sticking out of my chest.”
At the time, Paul was one of just 11 people in Canada with the catheter, a new treatment designed to boost the otherwise poor odds for those stricken with a pleural effusion.
“I had to learn how to work in sterile fields so I could drain it and change it,” Meagan said. “That was tough, but we got through it. Normally, the survival rate for people with a pleaurel effusion isn’t good.”
At first, Meagan tried to be the stoic rock, taking care of everything and trying to contain her anger over a situation that seemed so unfair.
“You turn things off because you have to, and I rode the wave of anger for a really long time,” she admitted. “The financial thoughts have been huge. Cancer’s an expensive disease and you go through your savings and nest egg pretty quick. And if Paul dies, it’s all on me.”
Stress, stress and more stress.
And as all this was going on, more tragedy struck the King family when Meagan’s uncle, Brian Cannon was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer. He was completely symptom free until he collapsed and had a seizure in the Merritt A&W.
It had already spread to his brain and other organs.
He went on chemo, but his was a battle destined to be lost. He succumbed in May of 2009 and one of Paul’s primary motivations for doing the Ride to Conquer Cancer is to keep Brian’s memory alive.
“Lung cancer affects a lot of people and it’s one of the number one killers, but it’s not talked about as much as some of the other cancers,” Paul said. “Brian smoked for a long time and that’s probably what caused his cancer, but what’s shocked me going for treatment is how many people my age or younger are there.”
Paul has never smoked, but his parents did.
Exposure to second-hand smoke is one possible cause of lung cancer.
Several of Paul’s jobs have involved working with and around chemicals.
“When I was young (three or four years old) I got pneumonia, and I was left with a lot of scar tissue on my lung,” Paul said, offering another theory. “The tumour grew right in that area, so that could be it. Or it could just be bad luck. I could beat myself to death trying to figure out why.”
There’s no cure for Paul’s form of cancer, only maintenance.
He gets X-rays every three months, and a CT scan every six months. Tests count the number of cancer cells per unit of blood.
Normal is five.
Right now, Paul is in the 20s.
At his worst, he was up to 1700.
“By the time cancer sneaks up on you and you start experiencing symptoms, it’s usually too late,” Paul said. “That’s why it’s so important to get checked out on a regular basis.”
Paul and Meagan are quick to credit the often-maligned health-care system for helping them get this far.
“Everyone talks about how horrible the system is, but these people have gotten me into surgery within weeks and onto chemotherapy within days,” Paul said. “I don’t know if I got a particularly good team, but I’ve been really impressed by how good they have been.”
In just five years he has also been impressed by the advances in cancer therapy. The difference between the first and second rounds of chemotherapy was astounding.
“The first time, I wondered if the chemo was worse than the disease,” Paul said. “The second time, I was able to keep working and I kept my hair. Going to the different agencies, more PET scans and CT scans, it’s all come a long way and seeing people getting involved in things like the Ride to Conquer Cancer gives me hope that they will someday find a cure.”
Until that day, Paul keeps himself busy planning the golf tournament, which is a great deal more work than he expected.
With help from his teammates, friends, family and generous corporate sponsors (loadonthego.com, Direct Cedar Supplies Ltd., Scotiabank, Save-On-Foods and others), King and company hope to raise upwards of $30,000.
The Cannon family has stepped up with a sizeable donation in memory of Brian, and support continues to build.
“It’s a struggle mentally to figure out whether you’re going to let this disease control you or whether you’re going to control it,” Paul said. “With the tournament and the Ride to Conquer Cancer, it’s like I’m reborn in a way. It’s a passion and it gives me a purpose.”
Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the biggest sponsor of all. Four-year-old Victoria will be at the Cultus Lake Golf Course on June 4, selling lemonade to help her daddy.
Register or get more information online at http://sites.google.com/site/dhrgolftournament/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Get more on the Ride to Conquer Cancer online at www.conquercancer.ca.