When Eddie Kirkland found out he had prostate cancer, it was too late to do anything about it. He died four years later.
That was 1976, and little was known about the risks of prostate cancer—the leading type of cancer in men. But that’s changed, locally thanks in part to an event called Eddie Check, which Kirkland’s son Kevin founded more than 30 years later in his honor.
“Back in 1972, you didn’t hear people talk about prostate health, you didn’t hear people talk about PSA tests because there were no PSA tests at that time,” he says. “I always said one day I wanted to do something that impacted men’s health like breast cancer awareness has impacted women’s health.”
Eddie Check pairs free PSA tests for men with a Medic blood drive and will be held Sept. 17 & 18 in locations throughout Knox, Anderson, Scott, Hamblen, Cocke, Blount, Roane and McMinn counties. Last year, the program collected more 1,200 units of blood and conducted more than 1,000 PSA tests. Provision Center for Proton Therapy is the primary medical sponsor for the event, and the Provision CARES Foundation pays for the PSA tests.
For Kevin Wathen of Maryville, getting a PSA test through EddieCheck revealed what a recent trip to his doctor had not: an elevated PSA level. A follow-up biopsy with a urologist in which nine of the 12 samples tested positive for cancer.
“There were no symptoms to tell me there was a problem,” Wathen says. “If I hadn’t had the test done I wouldn’t have given it any thought.”
As a result of EddieCheck, Wathen learned of his diagnosis and became an early patient at Provision Center for Proton Therapy. There, his prostate cancer was treated with protons, a type of radiation that pinpoints a tumor and spares much of the healthy tissue around it. This reduces side effects such as incontinence and impotency as well as discomfort during the time of treatment.
“It still doesn’t feel like I ever had cancer,” Wathen says.
As EddieCheck has grown and expanded, Kirkland says more men locally are becoming familiar with the risk of prostate cancer and how to keep tabs on their health.
“I think the education and the promotion we put out for prostate health have really resonated,” he says, adding that other programs coordinated by local hospitals and advocacy organizations have provided a boost to the most common of men’s cancers. “I think all of that has really improved education on prostate health. It has made us proud to be a small part of that.”