AURORA | When Keith Wegen turned 40, he started noticing changes in his health, symptoms he thought were simply a byproduct of aging. It started with an ache in his leg and a pain in his abdomen. Then, the problems got worse — and a little more intimate.
“The plumbing wasn’t working so well,” Wegen said.
His doctor, who also chalked up the nuisances to “getting older,” wrote Wegen a prescription for Viagra. But he couldn’t deny the nagging, intuitive feeling that something was really wrong.
Four years later he switched doctors, and on July 14, 2011, at age 44, he received an unsettling diagnosis: prostate cancer, severe enough that surgery was imminent.
“I was in shock,” he said. “I thought, ‘What’s going on here? I’m young, there’s no family history, what happened?'”
A year later, to celebrate Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in September, the Broomfield man is working to accomplish one of his life goals while simultaneously educating men about the importance of early screenings.
Starting Sept. 6, he will in-line skate nearly 400 miles across Colorado from the Wyoming border to the Oklahoma border in a fundraiser for prostate cancer education efforts that his daughters have dubbed “Skate for Prostate.”
Wegen said men his age should know that prostate cancer isn’t a disease that’s only associated with senior citizens, and that a prostate cancer screening could be the difference between life and death.
About 212,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the U.S. each year, and about 4,600 of them are diagnosed annually in Colorado, said E. David Crawford, professor of Surgery and Radiation Oncology and the head of Urologic Oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
For years, it was common practice among doctors to recommend that men get screened at age 50. But Crawford, who is also chairman of the Prostate Conditions Education Council, suggests that men start getting prostate exams at age 40.
The screening involves a blood test and a rectal exam that Crawford says is “pretty much painless,” and researchers are currently studying new ways to diagnose a patient, including testing urine for prostate cancer cells, he said.
Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death among men and research has proven that early detection can lead to a better chance of survival, Crawford said.
Men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer early can undergo targeted cancer therapy or the male version of a Lumpectomy, a common non-invasive surgery among breast cancer patients that doesn’t involve the complete removal of the breast, he said.
It’s harder to treat a more severe diagnosis of the disease.
“If you walk in the door and you have advanced prostate cancer, you don’t have any choices other than hormones or hormones and chemotherapy,” Crawford said.
Wegen is doing great work by trying to raise awareness about early detection, Crawford said.
“He should be congratulated and complimented in trying to get the word out to other men,” he said.
Wegen has already raised more than $11,500 for the Centennial-based Prostate Conditions Education Council, which has screened nearly five million men across the country for the disease.
Wegen, who has been in-line skating for about 20 years, said skating across Colorado is one item on his bucket list that he hasn’t checked off yet, along with catching a trout in every state. He’s happy that he now has a cause for doing it.
He said his story has resonated with people, many of whom know someone also diagnosed with prostate cancer at a young age: a friend of a friend, a friend of a friend’s uncle, a friend’s brother, a friend’s coworker.
“I didn’t have to reach far to be all of a sudden hit with these stories that it’s not just an old man’s disease,” he said.
For more information about Wegen’s fundraiser, visit crowdrise.com/keithwegen.
Upcoming events for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month:
Beer and Silent Auction at Breckenridge Brewery
5 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Breckenridge at 2220 Blake St., Denver, featuring Coach George Karl of the Denver Nuggets.
Free prostate cancer screenings
Sept. 17, 18, 19, 20 at the University of Colorado Anschutz Cancer Pavilion, 1665 Aurora Court, Aurora, and at the Aurora Municipal Center at 15151 E. Alameda Pkwy. For more information, call 720-848-0195.
Behind the Curtain 2012 — a women only event for prostate cancer
6 p.m. on Sept. 20 at the Seawell Grand Ballroom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver. For more information, visit uch.edu/about/ways-to-give/foundation-events/behind-the-curtain/
Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.