He was diagnosed with prostate cancer 8 years ago and now he’s on a mission to help find a cure
Published at | Updated at
POCATELLO – During a routine checkup in 2008, Zach Parris’s doctor suggested he get a Prostate Specific Antigen test. It’s a blood test that determines whether you have prostate cancer.
Cancer had never been an issue for the 49-year-old Pocatello resident or anyone in his family and he had always been healthy, so he was a little surprised at his doctor’s recommendation. Men 50 and older have an increased chance of getting prostate cancer and his doctor felt getting tested would be a good idea.
The test came back normal, but his doctor recommended he be tested again in five years.
Four years went by. Nothing had changed in Parris’s health or lifestyle, but he remembers having the thought to go and get tested again a month shy of his 55th birthday.
“I don’t know why, but I did. I went to my urologist and (got) tested and that’s when I found out it was off the charts and I had cancer,” Parris tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I’m fortunate that I found it early. Had I waited a year … I probably wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”
Parris’s diagnosis required him to go to Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City for treatment. After two and a half months and 38 rounds of radiation treatment, Parris was cancer-free. But in 2015, it returned.
“What that told them is that the cancer had gotten out of my prostate at some point before treatment but it was undetectable,” says Parris. “They couldn’t find it for years. In 2017, they started seeing lesions on my bones and I started going down there for (test) treatments.”
Parris now does hormone therapy and that seems to be effective. His cancer isn’t spreading and Parris continues to make a trip to Salt Lake every six weeks. He says he’s doing well.
“I’m able to do everything I ever wanted. I ride bicycles. I go hiking, I go skiing. I feel pretty good. Everybody says, ‘I can’t believe how well you look.’ I’m doing fine. I just have cancer that I’m not going to get rid of,” he says.
Riding for the cure
Prostate cancer affects one in nine men, according to Hunstman Cancer Institute oncologist Dr. Jonathan Tward, who specializes in prostate cancer. He says 5% of those who get prostate cancer get an aggressive form of it just like Parris did.
Similarly, Tward says breast cancer affects one in eight women but three times more money is spent on breast cancer research than prostate cancer research.
“The reasons for this imbalance are several and complex, but much of it revolves around the idea that men are simply not as proactive about their health. It is time for this apathy about men’s health to change,” Tward says.
One of the highlights of Parris’s experience with Huntsman Cancer Institute is his involvement in the Huntsman 140, a 140-mile bike race that raises awareness of and funding for prostate cancer research. Parris has participated in the event every year for the last seven years and helped raise $60,000 for the cause.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the event from taking place last year and that prompted Parris and his wife, Tami, to do something to continue the cause in eastern Idaho. Together, they formed an LLC called Ride On Dads. But this time, it’s not just about bike riding.
“If you ride horses, if you ride motorcycles, snowboards, skis — whatever it is you (ride), we’ll take it and run with it,” he says.
Parris and his wife launched a website about eight months ago and are tentatively planning to host several events this year, depending on how things go with the pandemic. They’re hoping to host a ski event at Pebble Creek Ski Area on March 6 and a bike-riding event at Lava Hot Springs in June.
All the proceeds will be donated directly to the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
“We’re not taking any of that money. We don’t want it. That’s not what we’re about. We want to make sure that money goes directly to research,” says Parris.
As Parris looks back on his diagnosis, he says it could have been much worse if he hadn’t caught it early. He’s grateful to have a good quality of life and continue to do the things he enjoys.
“It kills you if you don’t do something about it. Fortunately, I caught it before it got really bad and I’ve been able to extend my life,” Parris adds.
Parris will retire as the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Bannock County in March after 20 years. He’s looking forward to spending time with his family and help raise funds for cancer research.
“I’m thankful that the Huntsman was there to take care of me. They’re one of the top few (cancer research clinics) in the country. We’re fortunate to have those folks in our backyard,” Parris says.
He’s asking you to join him in the effort by making a donation to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. If you’re 50 or older, he also encourages you to get your PSA tested regularly.