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Team Trains for Mountain Trek Planned as Memorial to a Father

Remembrance: Thousand Oaks man organizes Andean expedition to raise funds for and awareness of prostate cancer.

January 01, 2001|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — It's been 11 years since Terry Weyman's father died of prostate cancer.

Weyman grieved, but as years passed he coped. He married. He became a dad himself. He thought he had healed.

Then one day in 1999, the 35-year-old Newbury Park chiropractor broke down in tears. Surfing cable channels from his couch, he stumbled across a documentary on a group of women who had climbed the highest mountain peak in the Western Hemisphere four years before to raise money for breast cancer research.

Weyman was awed by their accomplishment, and shamed by his own inaction.

"In the back of my head, I knew I'd wanted to do something for my father," he said.

He soon hatched a plan. Now, his months of preparation are about to come to fruition.

On Jan. 15, the ruddy-cheeked sports enthusiast will lead a group of 27 men on a three-week trek to the mountains of Argentina. The climbers, from across the United States, range in age from 22 to 73. The men will scale Mt. Aconcagua in the Andes, the same 22,835-foot peak the women climbed in the documentary that inspired Weyman.

The men will drink water from melted icecaps. They will rough it in temperatures near 30 below zero. Their agility--most are amateur climbers--will be tested in oxygen-deprived heights.

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Many are already familiar with such challenges. Six of the climbers have fought prostate cancer themselves. One, Bob Each of Agoura Hills, has spent five years fighting his cancer, which spread to his spine, ribs, pelvis and one leg before it was detected. Another 10 climbers have family members who have struggled with the disease. The remainder are mountain guides and members of a documentary film crew hoping to sell the story to television.

Weyman aims to raise $1 million for research and to urge men to get testing and treatment early enough to increase their chances of survival. Proceeds will be distributed among grant applicants and groups such as the Los Angeles-based Prostate Cancer Research Institute and the Santa Monica-based CaP Cure, Weyman said.

He is copying the earlier Andes climb because he thinks men should be more like women when it comes to fighting disease.

"Women are usually at the heart of most fund-raisers. Men are all about business and denial and fear," he said. "Women are about prevention. Men are about, 'Wait until it breaks and then fix it.'

"My dad died because he wasn't informed. I'm hoping we can get men to put their fears aside and get tested."

An estimated 180,400 men in the U.S. were diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and 31,900 died, according to the American Cancer Society. In comparison, about 182,800 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,800 died.

Charles E. Myers, a prostate cancer expert in Virginia, agreed that men need to be reassured they can beat this form of cancer. Myers treated breast cancer and ovarian cancer for years before shifting his focus to prostate research with the National Cancer Institute.

"One of the things that amazed me when I started treating men with prostate cancer is how many men give up and don't want to try vigorous treatment because, 'Gee, is it worth it?' " the physician said. "I never heard that from the women I was treating."

The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chances of beating the cancer, Myers said. Men should begin regular blood tests and rectal exams at age 40. Those with a family history of the disease may be at greater risk and should start testing at age 35. Even if prostate cancer has spread to a man's lymph nodes, radiation and hormone therapy make for decent chances of surviving another decade, Myers said.

After years of treating others, Myers, 57, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999. Months of aggressive treatment followed. He seems to have beaten it.

And Myers said he finds other men's resignation ironic: The disease spreads slower than breast cancer. And it's highly curable through hormone therapy.

But it's the essence of the therapy--chemotherapy that leaves patients impotent--that turns so many men away from diagnosis and treatment, activists say. One goal of the climb is to convince men that they still have value once their testosterone levels plummet.

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Myers says Weyman's climb is a good way to get the word out. "Having these guys feel so full of life that they can take on a battle like this is sending an important message . . . that a man with [spreading] cancer is going to do this," he said.

Harry Pinchot, 60, of Oxnard, a cancer patient who is joining the climb, runs the prostate institute's telephone help line. One recent morning, Pinchot said, three different men called to say they were contemplating suicide.

"These are guys in their 50s who are ready to pack it in," he said.

By climbing Mt. Aconcagua, Pinchot said, he and others fighting cancer can show other patients "they can be physically capable. They can do whatever they set out to do."

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