Campus News

The man whose devastating prostate cancer diagnosis inspired annual Movember fundraisers at Lethbridge College seven years ago wants supporters to know he’s still battling – and he hopes you’ll join the fight.

The original Hairy Cousins gang, from left, Allan Orr, Steve MacRae, Tom Graham, Dic Charge and Vince Ellert.

Vince Ellert, an instructor in the Agriculture program from 1996 until 2016, says he’s living proof of the difference research funded in part by Movember is making.

In May 2012, doctors diagnosed Ellert with late-stage prostate cancer. A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening found his count at 113, the highest his Lethbridge specialist had ever seen. “A biopsy found cancer in every core they took,” Ellert says. “The outlook was bleak.”

Surgery and chemotherapy were not options for him, but he responded well to radiation therapy and returned to work a year later. Cancer forced him out of teaching in 2016.

In the first November after Ellert was diagnosed, General Studies instructor Dic Charge started a small Movember fundraiser, quietly asking friends and family to donate. Charge and Ellert both had offices in the Cousins Building, and they were coffee buddies. “I just wanted to do something to show him support,” Charge says.

The following November, Ellert was back at work and the Hairy Cousins Movember team was born, along with a Mo Chili fundraising lunch and a 50-50 draw. Charge says Ellert himself was the brains behind these creative fundraisers.

From simple beginnings, these efforts have grown, raising just over $4,000 last year. The Mo Chili event that began with a handful of cooks now features more than two dozen chili entries of every imaginable variety from all corners of campus. This year’s event featured venison, vegan and fish-based chilis, and raised more than $1,000. The enthusiasm for the event and Movember fundraising has increased each year, and today’s participants may not even know Ellert or his role in starting this movement.

Charge says he’s always impressed by the support Movember efforts get from across campus, from faculty to staff to students. Everyone has their own motivating story – a family member, a friend, or a personal struggle with cancer or mental health issues.

“It’s the coolest thing,” Charge says. “All I do is ask for things and people step up.”

Ellert can’t say enough about what these ongoing efforts mean to him.

“Thank you to the team for all your efforts on behalf of the cause,” he says. “Thank you to the rest of the college community for supporting the chili day, 50-50 draw, and other ‘tin cup rattling’ the Hairy Cousins do to raise funds for a very important cause.”

Ellert tells people he’s had “a wonderful cancer experience.”

“The care I received from all the people here in Lethbridge at the Jack Ady Cancer Centre has been extremely positive,” he says. “They were always willing to give me all the time I wanted and answer my sometimes very detailed questions. I never felt that my care was anything less than world class. I have never felt my concerns were not taken seriously. Last November, my PSA went up again to 34.2, and my care was transferred to the Edmonton EPICC centre (Edmonton Prostate Interdisciplinary Cancer Clinic). My experience there was been equally positive.”

Adding to the exceptional medical care has been the ongoing emotional support from the college community. He’s been stopped by former students who say they still think of him and his cancer battle. “I have received prayers and positive wishes from many people from many faiths. Many of these people are or were college employees.”

It has not been easy on him or his family. Ellert says he’s “become an expert on pain, not a designation anyone wants to learn firsthand.”

He’s also learned the difference research makes. In February, he started on a newly approved drug called Erleada. Last week, he got a call from a nurse at EPICC that his PSA is now 0.7.

“I have been going to Edmonton every three months for appointments, but in view of my ‘outstanding response,’ the appointment I had for next week has been cancelled.”

Ellert planned to celebrate by taking a drive in the mountains.

“Without access to this new drug, it is most likely that I wouldn’t be here today. . . I am living proof that research and new medications save lives. The hope of every cancer patient is to hold on long enough so that technology catches up with the illness.

“Caring for people with cancer and mental health issues takes money. We can’t count on governments to fund it all. So I’m asking that you donate to Movember. This organization not only provides direct support to individuals but it also funds awareness programs and research.”

Movember donations are making a difference to Ellert and legions of others.

“Dealing with cancer is a lot easier when you feel like you’re not fighting alone,” Ellert says.

There is still time  to donate to the Hairy Cousins Gang (individual members or to the team) online, and members are still selling 50-50 tickets this week in advance of the draw Dec. 2.