When Jody Vance made history as the first woman to host her own sports show on Canadian primetime TV, her father, Bill, was as proud as proud can be.
“Pride was an emotion Dad embraced,” says Jody, who recently became a National Champion for the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation (CMHF). “Like so many fathers out there, mine was a very stoic, strong, defiant man who did everything he could to support and celebrate others. But he wasn’t as good at asking for help when HE needed it.”
A lifelong teacher in British Columbia, Bill Vance shared something else with millions of other dads: A positive diagnosis of prostate cancer. The disease of the walnut-sized gland deep in male groins is the most common form of cancer that affects Canadian men, with one in nine contracting it in their lifetimes and more than 4,600 that die from it each year.
“When Dad was first, there was a real stigma around the symptoms and the rectal exams involved in testing,” Jody says. “Now it’s a blood test, and that’s way easier.”
Vance has been sharing that message far and wide as a spokesperson for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC, and now for CMHF, the organization behind Don’t Change Much. After all, when caught early, the survival rate for prostate cancer is close to 91 percent.
‘Strength and power’ in seeking help
Why is a woman so passionate about preventing a disease that only guys can get? “Because I love men!” Jody exclaims with a laugh. “I love my brother. I love my dad. I loved my stepdad. I love my uncles. I love my male friends and colleagues. The illness or untimely death of every man impacts everyone they care about. Sometimes the best way for men to support the people they love is to ask for help when they need it. There is great strength and power in allowing people to help you.”
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, men aged 45 and up should talk to their doctor about prostate cancer testing even if they aren’t experiencing signs or symptoms. The signs of prostate cancer include:
- Difficulty peeing
- Urgent need to pee
- Frequent peeing, especially at night
- Burning or pain when peeing
- Inability to pee or difficulty starting or stopping the flow
- Blood in pee or semen
“Another key message is that men need to speak up when they notice these symptoms,” Vance says, adding that her father’s cancer had progressed to Stage 3 by the time it was detected, which meant it had started to grow and spread beyond the prostate gland.
“Men tend to avoid talking about their weaknesses,” Vance says. “My Dad ignored the signs for too long, but I could tell something was bothering him. It wasn’t until the physical pain was affecting him every day that he spoke up. We got him diagnosed ASAP and were told by his oncologist that the situation wouldn’t be as bad if he had spoken up when he had his first symptom. This wasn’t easy for any of us to hear, but as a teacher, it was especially hard on him. He was always encouraging his students to advocate for themselves, but those rules didn’t apply to him this time.”
Speaking out to save lives
Following life-saving surgery, Bill joined his daughter as an advocate for prostate cancer prevention. “Ever the teacher, he said we need to talk about this with whoever will listen. So I had him on Breakfast Television with me as a guest, and he was very open about the consequences of ignoring the problem. His surgery, for instance, affected his ability to function sexually, and for many men, that’s a powerful reason to get tested.”
As well as saving Bill’s life, the process of detecting and stalling the spread of his cancer brought father and daughter closer together. “He let me see his fear,” Vance says. “He let me embrace his vulnerability and hold it safe. After struggling in silence, it was like a wall tumbling down. There was nothing to hide anymore, and he was able to love on a new level.”
Bill Vance died in June 2021 after cancer that started in his prostate spread to his lungs. One of the last times Jody ever spent with her father, the two of them were watching golf on TV together. “One of Phil Mickelson’s putts lipped out, and we both said “Whoa!” at the same time,” Jody recalls. “He looked over at me, and I noticed a little something on his upper lip. ‘Don’t worry, Dad,’ I said, wiping it away, ‘I’m gonna take care of you.’”
His reply was the last thing he ever said to Jody: “You always do.”
Have you ever hesitated to ask for help but were glad you did end up asking? Share your story in the comments below.