For prostate cancer survivor Frank Sojonky, the only thing more shocking than these statistics was discovering the lack of research in Alberta. “I couldn’t believe the richest province in Canada didn’t have a formal prostate cancer research program,” he says.
Diagnosed 22 years ago in Vancouver, Sojonky moved to Edmonton a decade ago and continued his treatment at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute. He didn’t set out to become an advocate for prostate cancer research, but now he’s one of six members of the leadership team for the Campaign for Prostate Health, which includes Irving Kipnes, John Day, Bob Bentley, C.J. Woods, and Ron Hodgson. The campaign combines the efforts of three Edmonton foundations: the Alberta Cancer Foundation, the University Hospital Foundation and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation. The three organizations aim to raise $30 million for a prostate health centre and research initiative; to date, they’ve raised $24 million.
Sojonky’s focus is prostate cancer research in particular and so far, he’s raised millions for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. It all began on New Year’s Eve six years ago when Sojonky found himself writing a $1,000 cheque to the Cross Cancer Institute out of appreciation for the care he’d received there.
As he put pen to paper, it dawned on him that with his business acumen and connections, he could do even more. So, he contacted the Alberta Cancer Foundation directly to ask what they needed. “I found out there was a new 3-D ultrasound machine that had just been invented in Montreal,” he says. “It was specific for prostate cancer and the Cross didn’t have one.”
The $275,000 price tag was no deterrent for Sojonky. He figured he could raise the funds by selling a piece of land he’d invested in with several other business people. All but one of the investors agreed to donate their profits, helping Sojonky raise $400,000.
After this success, Sojonky was inspired to keep going. He asked his oncologist, Dr. Peter Venner, what he could do to advance prostate cancer research. “The suggestion was to endow a prostate cancer research chair at the Cross Cancer Institute, in association with the University of Alberta,” he says.
So, with some help from a few friends (nick-named “The Bird Dogs” after their shared love of hunting), Sojonky set forth on a new fundraising quest. This time, he gave lunch-hour presentations about prostate cancer and managed to raise $3 million by December 2008, nearly a year after writing that $1,000 cheque.
The Alberta Cancer Foundation matched his efforts to establish a $5 million endowment but Sojonky didn’t stop there. When he learned that additional funds would be needed to cover the chair’s research expenses, he went a little further, committing to raise an additional $3 million to equip the chair with ample research funds. The result of his efforts is the Frank and Carla Sojonky Chair in Prostate Cancer Research and funding to launch a prostate cancer research program in Edmonton.
Though he’s finally taking a bit of a breather from fundraising – Sojonky is 82 – he still continues to volunteer for the Campaign for Prostate Health. The initiative focuses on four main areas: The Alberta Prostate Cancer Research Initiative (including the research chair Sojonky helped create), robotic surgery facilities at the University of Alberta Hospital and Royal Alexandra Hospital, the Innovation and Research Fund to support continued advancements in research and prostate care and a new prostate health clinic, dedicated to diagnosing and treatment of prostate health. This will be the first of its kind in Edmonton.
“We decided to really pool our resources and join forces to make it a unified campaign,” explains campaign co-chair John Day, a spokesperson for the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation. “It allows us to accomplish more.”
All of the campaign’s projects complement each other and will have tangible benefits for patients. State-of-the-art robotic surgical equipment at both hospitals will provide the latest evolution in surgical treatment – an alternative to more invasive surgeries, explains Joyce Mallman Law, president of the University Hospital Foundation. Robotic surgery involves smaller incisions than traditional surgery, which decreases risk of infection, minimizes blood loss and scarring. Patients may recover faster and thereby spend less time in hospital.
The $10-million Rapid Access Prostate Health Clinic will be located in the Urology Centre of the Edmonton Clinic, a soon-to-open facility at the University of Alberta Hospital site, one that’s expected to transform the delivery of health services and health science learning in the province. The Prostate Clinic will help patients receive care immediately. At the moment, people can wait as long as eight months for surgery, explains Day.
Organizers are hopeful that the campaign will increase public focus on prostate health – and prostate cancer – in Alberta. “The fact that we’ve united these three organizations under one banner will raise the profile,” says Day. He’s hopeful that having better resources, such as the new clinic, will encourage men to keep their prostate health top of mind.
Although the statistics about prostate cancer aren’t positive, Sojonky is. He’s confident that a cure for prostate cancer is around the corner. In the meantime, he’s delighted to have had a hand in improving the health of Alberta men. “If you’re lucky to save or positively affect a person’s life – that’s more than one person could ever hope for.”
Prostate cancer by the numbers
|Number of men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in Alberta this year
|Number of men expected to die of the disease this year
|One in seven
|Number of Albertan men who will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime
|More than 90
|Percentage of prostate cancer cases considered curable if detected and treated early
|The number of symptoms many men experience at the earliest, most curable stage of the disease
|The number of British men who participated in a study whose results suggest the length of a man’s index finger in relation to his ring finger may be a marker of his prostate cancer risk.
|The age at which men should start having yearly digital rectal exams and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests.
|The age at which men should discuss prostate cancer risk their doctors. Doctors may suggest men with a relative who has had the disease should begin yearly screening at 40.
The $30 million Campaign for Prostate Health focuses on four main areas:
- The Alberta Prostate Cancer Research Initiative (including the $5 million research chair Sojonky helped create.) Goal: $10 million
- The Innovation and Research Fund to ensure that the Royal Alexandra Hospital and the University of Alberta Hospital have the necessary resources to attract and retain world-class health professionals to support
- Advancements in prostate research and patient care. Goal: $6 million
- Robotic surgery facilities at both the University of Alberta and Royal Alexandra Hospitals. Goal: $4 million
- A new prostate health clinic, dedicated to diagnosing and treating prostate health issues, the first of its kind in Edmonton. Goal $10 million