Dave Nitsche finds support with men’s group after cancer diagnosis
Some men don’t want to open up and talk about emotional stuff. You know the ones … they hold their cards close; they hold up their loved ones; and they hole up in their caves to refuel, strategize and conquer.
This may have been the trajectory for Dave Nitsche, an Ironman athlete, cyclist, ultra runner, and all around ‘guy’s guy,’ but things changed when he was blindsided by a health crisis at age 50. He was blindsided in the literal sense in that, one day after going for a run, for no apparent reason he lost sight in his left eye. After a series of tests and the ensuing buildup of fluid behind the eye, Dave was advised that the best course of action was to have the eye removed – which he agreed to do. Soon after, tests of the fluid revealed the unthinkable … Stage 4 lung cancer.
“It was a massive shock to me. I had spent my life driving myself to my limits, planning physical challenges, and believing I was in control of my own destiny,” said Dave. “And now, within the span of a month I went from being healthy and planning a summer of running races, to losing an eye and being diagnosed with cancer.”
In the immediate days that followed, Dave was referred to an oncologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and prescribed an intense regime of targeted therapies. When the first line of defense began to lose effectiveness, and small lesions were detected on his brain, Dave was switched to a recently approved drug for advanced lung cancer called Tagrisso, which diminished the lesions and has fewer side effects.
“I feel lucky – this drug is keeping the cancer at bay so that’s encouraging. What comes next, I’m not sure – lots of drugs are in clinical trial phase so all I can do is hope that science catches up to me,” he said. Dave feels strongly about eliminating the stigma around lung cancer. “If you have lungs you can get lung cancer. You can be fit and lead a good healthy life and lung cancer can still happen to you,” he said.
While there have been many lessons along this grueling marathon, one that Dave is more vocal about is that people – even men – don’t have to do hard things alone, they are stronger when they band together and support each other.
“I found this support group online called Man Up to Cancer. It’s a worldwide group for men with cancer or men supporting someone with cancer. The gist of it is, you don’t have to be a lone wolf, we are smarter and stronger as a pack,” he said. The group, comprised of 1,500 members with all types of cancers, meets three to four times a week; hosts a Facebook group, a blog and a podcasts; and has branded gear featuring the message: Open Heart & Warrior Spirit. Dave shares his story in an episode on the The Howling Place Podcast and he has taken on the task of spreading the word in Canada out about this men’s cancer support group.
Similarly, Dave embraced the theme of strength in numbers when he joined Wellspring Calgary shortly after his diagnosis in 2019.
“Before all this cancer happened I used to ride my bike past Carma House in the north several times a week and I wondered what kind of a place it was,” he said. “Now I know! When you are told you have cancer, you get this huge package of information and that’s where I found the Wellspring information.”
Dave made his way to Carma House and was warmly greeted by longtime Wellspring volunteer, Gary Boucher, who gave him a tour and introduced him to his Wellspring community.
“I signed up for Supportive Conversations and that’s really the group I hang out with the most, even now while it’s only offered online. It’s a really good group of people – good support and camaraderie. Sometimes we talk about cancer but lots of times we don’t, we talk about other things like the weather or a hike we did on the weekend,” he said. Dave also enjoys speaker events, and he tried some yoga classes. When centres were open, he was part of the spirited lunch-hour music gang, strumming ukuleles and guitars and filling the centres with upbeat Campfire Classics.
“I also want to highlight Wellspring’s incredible resources that have been absolutely invaluable to me,” he said. “I signed up for some sessions of Money Matters and got help updating my Will, which was really important; it took a huge load of my mind. It was in this program I also learned about Blue Cross Palliative Coverage and found out I did not have to be paying out of pocket for my prescriptions. This has been a huge relief,” he said.
When you hear Dave talk it’s easy to draw a parallel between ‘Dave the extreme athlete’, and ‘Dave the 52-year-old in a fight for his life.’ It’s the same guy … the guy who gives it all he’s got.
He ends his emails with a message in all caps … LIVE! DON’T WASTE YOUR CANCER!
Moreover, he has another message for those who might need a nudge to let down their guard and open up the cave door, “If you get cancer, go directly to Wellspring.”
Wellspring Men’s Group for cancer support
Wellspring also offers a non-judgmental, pressure-free Men’s Group that meets monthly online and in-person when centres are open, for those with cancer, their caregivers, and families.
The Wellspring Men’s Group provides a safe and supportive space for sharing stories, challenges, and dreams, along with a few laughs. In the uplifting and nurturing environment of the group setting, participants are empowered by the knowledge that they are welcomed, supported and celebrated.