Participating in the 14th annual SEA Blue Chicago Prostate Cancer Walk and Run on Sept. 9 is personal for La Grange resident Thomas Braun.
The 64-year-old running enthusiast was diagnosed with the disease in May 2016 after noticing unusual symptoms. After undergoing surgery to remove his prostate two months later, he is now in good health and vowing to do his part to bring awareness to the importance of early detection.
For the third year in a row, Braun will be running the 5K event in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, along with his wife, his children and their spouses, and his young grandson. All of the proceeds from the race benefit Us TOO, a prostate cancer education and support network based in the Chicago area. In the past few years, he’s raised about $1,000 for the nonprofit organization.
“[Unlike other cancers,] prostate cancer can’t be avoided by diet and exercise,” Braun said. “It’s important to raise money, and I want to keep [the disease] in front of people to remind other men that this disease is out there. Maybe someone will hear my story and go get a test.”
Braun said he is always inspired by the other participants in the race, some of whom have not fared as well as he has. He said he wants men to know that while the prostate specific antigen blood test is important, paying attention to symptoms is what alerted him to his disease.
“I want men to get their annual PSA test, but you can’t always rely on that. My PSA wasn’t high,” he said. “You also have to get a digital exam. Early detection is important, and I consider myself lucky that it was diagnosed early. If you have symptoms, get it checked.”
Us TOO provides men and their families with free educational resources, support services and personal connections to others in the prostate cancer community.
Chuck Strand, CEO of Us TOO, said the organization provides education on many different platforms, including in-person support groups, online support groups, educational events and more. He said education is important because newly diagnosed men need to make informed choices about treatment.
“Unlike some cancers, prostate cancer is one of the most difficult to manage because the disease is so different and specific to each patient,” he said. “A man needs to take a step back and become educated because a lot of variables go into making a good choice. There can be a lot of confusion, and there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment.”
Lemont resident Steph Zahery said she wished she and her family knew about Us TOO when her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 60 in June 2015. She said they weren’t aware of the support services the organization provides, and she believes having more information would have changed her family’s experience.
“It would’ve helped us get through those days. My dad would’ve felt less alone, and I think those organizations would’ve made a difference for our family,” Zahery said.
Zahery and her family are participating in the race for the second time this year to honor her father, who died in August 2016. She said she plans to make the race a tradition for her family to continue to spread awareness of prostate cancer. Last year, they raised about $500 for Us TOO, and this year, she hopes to raise as much or more.
“You can feel the emotion in the air from all of the survivors and their families. It’s comforting to be around others who’ve experienced the same thing,” Zahery said. “You always hear about how prostate cancer is treatable, but it’s important for people to know that it can be more serious. I want people to know that it can be found early through screening.”
About 1,500 people participate in the race each year, which helps to support all of Us TOO’s services. Strand said he hopes to raise about $125,000 this year.
“The race goes beyond just being a fundraiser,” he said. “Some men [at the race] are there to celebrate that they beat the disease, others are there to support those going through it and others are there to pay tribute to someone who’s lost their battle.”
How to help
For more information about the SEA Blue Chicago Prostate Cancer Walk and Run on Sept. 9 in Lincoln Park, visit ustoo.org.