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.”