|Oconee man speaks at Suits and Sneakers Gala|
|Written by Mary Anne Carroll|
|Friday, 31 August 2012|
It is a word Kurt Gelfand has used and read hundreds
of times in his life. Yet, until Saturday night, Gelfand said he never really
knew the true meaning of the word.
On Saturday evening, at Stegeman Coliseum on the UGA campus, Gelfand attended the American Cancer Society’s third annual Suits and Sneakers Gala, where sports celebrities don business suits and their best pairs of sneakers. At the gala, Gelfand was awarded the FastBreak Inspirational Award, a recognition given to a person who has survived cancer, helped others battle the disease, or has volunteered to help with cancer education.
“I never knew what the word surreal really meant until Saturday night,” Gelfand said. “The whole night seemed like a dream. It was just a great, great experience.”
Gelfand, an Oconee resident and co-owner of Oconee Physical Therapy, is now cancer free, but he has battled the disease not once, but twice. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2009. Just two years later, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“For the first time in three years, I can say I am cancer free,” Gelfand said. “In 2012, I can finally say I have them beat.”
He is once again a healthy young man, but Gelfand has not forgotten his cancer struggles, especially his diagnosis of prostate cancer. In the past few years, he has become a one-man war machine, geared up for battle to educate other men about the disease.
“I don’t have a big promotion or anything; I just call my message Save a Dad. I am just trying to get the same type of energy going for prostate cancer education as is going for breast cancer education and awareness,” he said. “I don’t think one guy can do it all, but I am doing my best to get the word out.”
His one-man campaign includes clearing up many of the misconceptions about prostate cancer. One such misconception is that if you have to have cancer, prostate cancer is a good kind to have.
“There is nothing easy about prostate cancer,” he said.
Gelfand is not the kind of man who minces words and he didn’t mince any when he spoke to the 500 people who gathered for the Suits and Sneakers Gala.
“I drummed it home to those 500 people that prostate cancer is not a good cancer to have. There is no such thing as a good cancer to have,” he said. “I told them I still have a seven-inch scar from my surgery, I still have to wear sanitary pads, and I still suffer from erectile dysfunction.”
He didn’t pull any punches, either, when it came to challenging the audience to participate in No Shave November, a campaign to get men to forgo shaving for a month in an effort to raise awareness of male cancers. The challenge went out to UGA basketball coach Mark Fox, who hosted the event, his staff, and all the UGA athletic staff.
“I put them on notice in front of 500 people and said, “I challenge you to grow a moustache in November,’” he said.
Gelfand also was frank when discussing how his prostate cancer had touched the lives of his wife and children.
“I asked people to please show some sensitivity to the whole family of a prostate cancer patient, because prostate cancer affects a marriage. It affects the children. It affects the whole family.”
Above all, in his speech Saturday, Gelfand preached the importance of men being tested for the disease.
“Every year, 30,000 men die from prostate cancer,” he said. “It can be a deadly disease, but it is curable if caught and treated early.”
Gelfand also stressed that if men think living a healthy lifestyle protects them from the disease, they need to think again. Gelfand has always worked out , watched what he ate, and has never touched a cigarette in his life.
“I tell them if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” he said.
His speech about prostate cancer earned Gelfand a standing ovation Saturday. That was part of what made the night special, but he said what was more rewarding was the fact that many of the men in attendance seemed to take his message to heart. So did a lot of their wives.
“One man told me, ‘My wife is at this thing, and it looks like I am going to the doctor,’” Gelfand recounted. “That is how I knew I did my job.”
He was also proud of a conversation his two sons overheard.
“Four guys were talking in the bathroom and my sons heard them say how my speech moved them,” Gelfand said. “That made my sons proud.”
He was also gratified by the comments he received from men who have, or who have had, prostate cancer.
“Two or three men came up and thanked me for bringing the things I talked about to the surface,” he said. “They thanked me for talking about what they are going through.”
Gelfand had a chance to talk to hundreds of people Saturday evening, but mostly he tackles the subject of prostate cancer one person at a time. He said he will continue talking about the cancer to his physical therapy patients, friends, and even people he meets on the street.
“There is not a lot of dialogue about prostate cancer and not a lot is being done about the disease,” he said. “If I can get one man to go to the doctor and be tested, then it is all worthwhile.”
As he gets back to his one-man mission, Gelfand said he will never forget the night of the Suits and Sneakers gala. The memory of that surreal evening, he said, will never fade.
“It was definitely one of the most rewarding nights of my life,” he said. “There were people there like John Smoltz, people we look to for inspiration. But, that night, I got to be their inspiration.”
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