“Exemplary” HIV and prostate cancer treatment spanning decades

Lorne Blahut can’t brag enough about the treatment and care he has received over the past two decades at The Ottawa Hospital for HIV and prostate cancer. He describes the care as full person – physical, mental and emotional.

When Lorne Blahut was diagnosed with HIV in 2000, he thought he was going to die. But experts at The Ottawa Hospital, armed with incredible advances in research, had a different plan. Then in 2017, he again found himself face-to-face with another significant health scare — prostate cancer. But Lorne knew he was in good hands.

“Several years ago, my doctor, Stephen Kravcik, told me, ‘You better start planning for your retirement, because you’re not going to die,’” said Lorne. And he was right. The 67-year-old retired 7 years ago from a career at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Lorne’s original fears of dying when first diagnosed with HIV were well founded. It is estimated that more than 32 million people have died from HIV since the early 1980s and the high fatality rates from early-on in the epidemic remained staggering for years. But then research turned the tide.

Excellence in research

“Certainly, the mid-90s was the heyday of HIV research when new drugs were developed. The Ottawa Hospital group did revolutionary research led by Drs. Bill Cameron and Jonathan Angel,” said Dr. Kravcik, who came to The Ottawa Hospital in 1994 specifically to do HIV research and clinical trials for new drugs under the guidance of Dr. Cameron. He said at that time about 125 of their HIV patients passed away every year.

Today, HIV is no longer a death sentence.

“It’s not even a chronic disease. Most people like Lorne take one or two pills a day and their lives are totally normal. The pills are superb. They are well-tolerated and with them patients do really, really well.” – Dr. Stephen Kravcik

Lorne Blahut grateful for care received at The Ottawa Hospital
Lorne Blahut grateful for care received at The Ottawa Hospital

When Lorne was first diagnosed 20 years ago, patients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were living longer thanks to the antiretroviral medications, but it wasn’t common for patients to survive for decades.

“Being diagnosed was a horrific shock,” said Lorne. “And for a while I kept the diagnosis to myself. Being in the gay community, there was the fear that people were going to find out. It was intimidating, it was daunting, but there’s the saying that your worst fears are only realized in your head.”

Lorne’s fears proved unfounded when he realized he was in competent, caring hands.

Helping patients navigate their disease

Dr. Kravcik
Dr. Stephen Kravcik

“A number of people helped navigate the whole disease piece. There was a team around from the beginning,” said Lorne. “Dr. Kravcik explained what was going to happen with the various medications and took the time to listen when I asked for clarification. Kim Lancaster, the social worker on the team, helped with the initial diagnosis, with moving forward, and with issues I was dealing with personally.”

Kim Lancaster, who worked in the infectious diseases clinic for nine years, said the main stay of her job was helping people emotionally manage the impact of receiving an HIV positive diagnosis, and helping them figure out how to conduct themselves in their professional, social, and emotional lives. She said there’s still such a stigma attached to the disease.

“Lorne knew he needed help and was courageous to reach out his hand like that,” said Kim. “In the HIV world, many of the people who don’t live well with the disease are those who are too mired in shame, or fearful of discrimination, to access medical and psychosocial support. They don’t invite people into their medical experience.”

“The care was all encompassing. I’ve not only been looked after physically – bodily – but also, I have had mental support.” – Lorne Blahut

Lorne said the numerous levels of care he received during his treatment in the early years helped him cope with having an illness that is so stigmatized. He also benefited greatly from the research conducted at the hospital, and the antiretroviral drugs developed over the years to keep the disease in remission. Lorne survived. Then he suddenly found himself faced with another life-threatening disease – prostate cancer.

“When you get a diagnosis of cancer, it takes a while to sink in,” said Lorne. But he wanted to be informed about his treatment options.

Minimally-invasive robotic procedure

Lorne read up on the two prostate cancer surgery options before deciding that the robotic surgery, offered at The Ottawa Hospital, was the right one for him. The da Vinci Surgical System is a state-of-the-art robotic system that the surgeon operates remotely, using cameras and tiny surgical instruments. This operation is easier to recover from because it is performed through small incisions rather than the traditional larger incision in the lower abdomen. The Ottawa Hospital was the third hospital in Canada to acquire this minimally invasive surgical system, which was purchased with funding from the community.

The da Vinci Surgical System is a state-of-the-art robotic system
The da Vinci Surgical System, a state-of-the-art robotic system

“What particularly struck me when comparing the two surgeries was the recovery. The recovery time is longer with the traditional operation because of the significant incision the surgeon has to make, and you wear a catheter for months. There is also a tendency for there to be more nerve damage because it’s not as precise. So, for me it was a no brainer.”

Preparing for surgeryThe da Vinci Surgical System used in robotic surgeries

Lorne met with surgeon Dr. Chris Morash, who talked about the possible side effects of prostate cancer surgery. Some individuals experience incontinence and/or sexual dysfunction and some might require hormone therapy after the surgery. Several days later, Lorne met with social worker Liane Murphy and expressed his concerns about all of this.

Liane meets with individuals diagnosed with prostate cancer to help them prepare for their surgery and recovery and to talk through any of their concerns.  Her advocacy on Lorne’s behalf led to a positive pre-operation discussion with Dr. Morash who better addressed Lorne’s concerns.  In February 2018, Lorne underwent three-hour robotic surgery. He recovered well and is back to enjoying retirement.

World-class care, right here at home

“I moved here in 1992.  When I retired seven years ago, someone asked me if I was going to move back to Saskatchewan. First thing that came to mind was, ‘I won’t because I can’t get the healthcare I get at The Ottawa Hospital,’” said Lorne. “Overall, my experience with The Ottawa Hospital has been exemplary. The staff has treated me well and been very supportive. I can’t brag enough about them.”

Lorne is certainly not alone in navigating through the diagnoses and treatment of HIV and prostate cancer. Many men go through similar experiences with these diseases. But when it comes to HIV, Lorne is also trailblazing a new domain in healthcare.

“We don’t have a lot of men his age who have survived HIV,” said Tim Hutchinson, former Director of Social Services at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre who has known Lorne for many years. “He’s a pioneer and role model in what happens next as this population ages, and how it is as a gay man, navigating a healthcare system.”

The Ottawa Hospital is establishing a Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health to create a comprehensive healthcare agenda that will help improve access to, and delivery of gay-relevant healthcare for men of all ages.

Donate today to support the kind of cutting-edge research at The Ottawa Hospital that has helped save patients like Lorne.

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Local donor rallies community to raise awareness after prostate cancer diagnosis

A day doesn’t go by that Tom Clapp, co-chair of the Eastern Ontario Prostate Cancer Awareness Committee, doesn’t think about how he can raise awareness for prostate cancer. As a prostate cancer survivor himself, Tom knows firsthand the importance of regular checkups and testing – and is encouraging others to get on board.

Tom Clapp didn’t have any symptoms. He thought he was ‘perfectly healthy’. So, it came as a surprise when a routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test revealed that he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer. But a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital saved his life. Today, he’s inspiring the community to give back and is raising awareness along the way.

An unexpected diagnosis

When a routine PSA test, a blood test typically used to screen for prostate cancer, came back higher than normal, Tom Clapp and his wife, Janet Clapp, had their concerns. But neither was prepared for the news they would receive back in February of 2009. It was prostate cancer, it was aggressive, and due to its location, it was inoperable. Tom and Janet were gutted. How could this be happening?

“I thought I was perfectly healthy,” explained Tom. “I didn’t have any symptoms.”

Tom was referred to The Ottawa Hospital and recommended for a clinical trial. His treatment plan was in place; he underwent 42 rounds of radiation, followed by two years of hormone treatment to stop the production of testosterone which was feeding his cancer. His latest tests and scans show he is cancer free.

Hearing the words “you have cancer” is never easy. But from the day of Tom’s diagnosis, he was inspired to make a difference and have a positive impact on the lives of those in our community living with cancer. It was a conscious decision to take positive action during a time when he otherwise felt very little control over how cancer was affecting him.

“On the day he was diagnosed Tom said, ‘This is a gift. Now that I have this, I can talk about it with others’,” said Janet. Janet didn’t know it at the time, but Tom would go on to make a significant difference in the lives of countless individuals through raising both awareness and funds for prostate cancer research and care. His impact has been significant and it started with three of his closest friends.

Tom Clapp, prostate cancer survivor with friends

Tom (center) and his wife Janet (far left) with members of the
Eastern Ontario Prostate Cancer Awareness Committee.

After receiving his diagnosis, Tom encouraged three friends to get their first PSA test. When the results came in, all three of them were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Today they are all alive and well. Tom’s simple act of encouraging his friends to get tested could very well have saved their lives.

Raising awareness

This experience solidified Tom’s passion for raising awareness for prostate cancer and not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about it. Having been diagnosed when he was otherwise healthy, Tom knows firsthand the importance of regular checkups and testing.

“Too many men go untested, unaware that a simple blood test can lead to a diagnosis that might save their life,” explained Tom.

Tom pays tribute to his local family doctor, Dr. John Burke, for monitoring the results of his PSA test which raised concerns, resulting in a follow up at The Ottawa Hospital.

Tom’s own diagnosis, and his drive to raise awareness is what led him to play an instrumental role in developing what is known as the Eastern Ontario Prostate Cancer Awareness Committee (EOPCAC), as well as the Black Walnut Group, a support group for men who have been diagnosed, and their partners.

Strength in numbers

Once Tom received his diagnosis, he made a point to share his experience. He put his story in the local paper, organized a prostate cancer information session, spoke out at a community breakfast, and even went so far as to offer his phone number to those who were going through the same experience. If anyone needed someone to talk to, Tom wanted to be there for them. Over time, his phone started to ring more often. A great number of community members were opening up and sharing their experience with him. Tom recognized there was a real need and wanted to do more.

It was then that Tom suggested they start a support group. Everyone jumped on board. They planned their first meeting and in 2012 EOPCAC was born.

Getting out into the community

It wasn’t long before EOPCAC started raising awareness for prostate cancer in their community. “We have over 50 wellness days per year where we go out and raise awareness for prostate cancer,” said Tom. Over time, more people became aware of their group. Once the word got out, many were interested in not only joining, but also supporting it financially.

Dare to Flash a Stash

Simply getting out in to the community and raising awareness wasn’t enough for EOPCAC. They were determined to make a difference by giving back, too.

“Everyone in our group has had incredible treatment at The Ottawa Hospital,” said Tom. “We all have glowing reviews. So, we wanted to give back in some way. We decided to start a fundraiser.”

Wanting to support local prostate cancer care and research, EOPCAC organized a fundraiser they call Dare to Flash a Stash, in collaboration with the Winchester District Memorial Hospital Foundation. Members of EOPCAC decided to grow their moustaches to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer research and care.

It’s clear that they have their whole community supporting them along the way. “It feels like everywhere I go, when someone recognizes me, they hand me a generous gift in support of our fundraiser,” said Tom.

Even a local Cornwall brewery, Rurban Brewery, has pitched in by printing a moustache and ‘Dare to Flash a Stash’ on a can of beer to help raise awareness and funds. To date, this initiative has raised close to $185,000. Each year funds are distributed across various prostate cancer awareness, care and research initiatives, including The Ottawa Hospital.

There for each other

Seven years later, the committee is going strong. Members meet each month to support one another, as well as to brainstorm, strategize and plan how best to raise even more awareness and funds. As Tom thinks back to his life before his diagnosis, he exclaims, “Until I was diagnosed, I didn’t pay much attention. I didn’t think this would happen to me. It wasn’t on my radar. I don’t want others to make the same mistake that I did.”

Support The Ottawa Hospital today to help make a difference in the lives of cancer patients like Tom.

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Life-changing cancer diagnosis and treatment inspires donor
After trusting The Ottawa Hospital with his health following a prostate cancer diagnosis, George Knight is now trusting the hospital with his support.
“Exemplary” HIV and prostate cancer treatment spanning decades
"Full-person" care and expertise at The Ottawa Hospital helped Lorne Blahut overcome both HIV and prostate cancer.

Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health

The Ottawa Hospital is establishing a Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health to create a comprehensive health-care agenda that will help improve access to, and delivery of gay-relevant health care.

The challenge

When gay men access the health-care system, they frequently encounter stigma, inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation on the part of health-care providers. Over their lifetime, the relationship between gay men and the health-care system becomes a hurdle many would rather avoid, even when it has a negative impact on their health.

A critical failure is that medical training includes very little about sexual minority health. This lack of training means it is unlikely that the majority of doctors and nurses have the comfort level and skills to inquire about patients’ sexual orientation or are aware of the multiple health challenges faced by gay men. At the same time, a large percentage of gay men choose not to disclose their sexual orientation to their health-care provider. As a result, only common health conditions are addressed, while mental health, sexual health, HIV infection, and other health issues relevant to gay men are overlooked.

Addressing the social determinants of health is key to helping gay men engage in their own health care, and helping health-care providers become more attuned to the unique life challenges gay men face.

“We want to take a comprehensive view of gay men’s health. We want to understand how gay men interact with the health-care system and address the factors that prevent them from receiving the care they deserve.” – Dr. Paul MacPherson, Physician/Scientist, Chronic Disease Program

The solution

The Ottawa Hospital is establishing a Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health to create a comprehensive health-care agenda that will help improve access to, and delivery of gay-relevant health care. A top researcher will be recruited to lead a multi-disciplinary team in examining ways to improve gay men’s health by coordinating clinical research in epidemiology, psychology, and other branches of medicine.

How you can help

With your support, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is raising $1 million to establish a Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health that is critically needed.

For more information, please contact Margot Ault, Manager, Philanthropy, mault@toh.ca, or by phone 613-798-5555, ext. 19819.

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is raising money for research that is revolutionizing the care we provide patients.

Section 1.10.32 of ``de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum``, written by Cicero in 45 BC

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News

Events

The Craig Kulig Memorial Fund Masks
Jun 09 - 2020 — Canadian artist Darlene Kulig has created fine art fashion graphic face masks with $10 from each mask donated to the Craig Kulig Memorial Fund supporting Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital

Stories

Defying the odds: surviving pancreatic cancer
Sindy Hooper has always been healthy. With no family history of cancer, she and her husband were shocked at the results from an emergency ultrasound at The Ottawa Hospital.
Life-changing cancer diagnosis and treatment inspires donor
After trusting The Ottawa Hospital with his health following a prostate cancer diagnosis, George Knight is now trusting the hospital with his support.
“Exemplary” HIV and prostate cancer treatment spanning decades
"Full-person" care and expertise at The Ottawa Hospital helped Lorne Blahut overcome both HIV and prostate cancer.