Long Island Cruizin' for a Cure car show raises prostate cancer awareness

Customized license plates help prostate cancer survivor Sandy Customized license plates help prostate cancer survivor Sandy Kane spread the word about Long Island Cruizin' for a Cure. Kane poses by his new Stingray on Aug. 18, 2014. Photo Credit: Jeremy Bales

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Sandy Kane's ah-ha moment came on a winter day in 2006 at his Jericho home while watching a favorite TV show.

Two years earlier, Kane had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and after surgery, he went through "a rough time psychologically." The TV program was the catalyst he needed for a change in attitude.

An avid car enthusiast, Kane was watching "Car Crazy" on Speed, a cable channel currently known as Velocity. The episode was about Debbie Baker of Lake Forest, California, who founded a charity car show after her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996.

At Baker's annual Costa Mesa "Cruizin' for a Cure" event, men age 40 and older are offered free prostate cancer screenings in a tent planted among thousands of hotrods and other show cars. During the segment, Kane noticed that people kept going up to Crazy Car host Barry Meguiar, saying, "This car show saved my life."

That's the moment, Kane says, when he decided to make the transition from prostate cancer survivor to prostate cancer awareness advocate. "I said, 'This is what we're going to do.' " Kane and his wife, Lynne, a third-grade teacher in Jericho, had done charity work for pediatric cancer. But Kane dashed off an email to Baker, saying he wanted to contribute to the prostate cancer cause beyond writing a check.

 

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Cruizin' comes to LI

Kane, 72, a retired sales promotion business owner, got permission from Baker to use the name of her show and since then, he has been dedicated to organizing and promoting the annual Long Island version of Cruizin' for a Cure event in Hicksville.

Car cruise shows are held in communities all over Long Island, showcasing hotrods, roadsters and rare luxury cars in an outdoor fairground atmosphere. But Long Island Cruizin' for a Cure is believed to be the only car show on the East Coast where men can admire classic autos and also have their blood drawn for the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer.

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To encourage guys to roll up their sleeves at the event, no appointment is necessary and the screening is free. Of the roughly 2,000 men who have been tested at the Long Island shows during the past eight years, there have been 82 results for possible prostate cancer. However, Kane says, it's still a struggle to convince men to take the potentially lifesaving test.

When his doctor began testing him at age 49, Kane recalls, "I didn't know anyone who had prostate cancer." Blood tests done regularly for years were normal until he was 61, and a rise in his PSA numbers indicated he had prostate cancer.

The disease strikes one in six men and is expected to claim about 30,000 lives in the United States this year. But the subject is one most men shy away from. Kane, however, will not back away from the issue. "I choose to talk about it," he says, "and I'm very open about what I went through."

Kane's efforts are appreciated by Baker, whose husband died of the disease in 2009. "I think it's great that he [Kane] wanted to run with it in New York because he's a survivor," Baker says. "The more exposure that we get, the more lives that will be saved."

While the campaign is primarily aimed at males, women who attend the Cruizin' shows can learn medical information that affects the men in their lives, she says. "There are so many women who do not have a clue what a prostate is."

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On a recent Saturday afternoon, Kane is in his home office, surrounded by memorabilia from past Long Island Cruizin' for a Cure events. Married for 45 years, he and his wife have a daughter, Caryn, 40, and two grandchildren, who live in Nassau County.

Kane grew up in Woodmere, graduated from Hewlett High School in 1960 and earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh. He served six months of active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1963, and then 51/2 years in the reserves.

Kane worked for six years with IBM in Manhattan, where he says, "I got a tremendous education in how to be marketer and a salesperson." Those skills were crucial when he bought a promotion business in 1974, creating and selling key chains, coffee mugs and other promotional materials.

An energetic man, he's used his business savvy to raise tens of thousands of dollars for prostate cancer research and awareness since his shows began eight years ago. A total of $62,000 has gone to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for research. Last year, $10,000 was also donated to Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola from the Cruizin' show. This year, Kane hopes to raise $25,000 for Winthrop, one of Long Island's prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment centers.

 

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A methodical approach

After Kane was told he had prostate cancer, he was methodical about his approach to the disease. He created a spreadsheet with PSA numbers and other data from 14 acquaintances who shared their experiences with him. "I wanted to have as much information before I made a decision as to what procedure I was going to have," he says.

He brings the same attention to detail in planning his shows, plotting out vendor locations on surveyor maps. The event is held in the parking lot of the Sears Auto Center, which donates the space. This year, it is scheduled for Sept. 14. Vendors pay $70 to participate; sponsors from $1,000 to $25,000. The show also has about 80 volunteers, including Boy Scouts who collect admission and clean up after the show.

Medical personnel who do the PSA tests are supervised by Dr. Aaron Katz, chairman of the department of urology at Winthrop. "Each PSA test is followed up with a written report, which is sent to each individual who is tested," hospital spokesman Ed Keating says.

The value of PSA tests and the timing of treatment have been questioned in recent years. However, "While PSA screening is not the only criterion for diagnosing prostate cancer, it remains the most effective and important screening tool for early detection of the possible presence of the disease," Katz says through a spokesman.

 

Chance for early diagnosis

Kane says that during the first year of the Long Island car cruise in 2006, 65 tests were administered, with one positive result. Last year, Winthrop conducted 325 tests, but Keating says results cannot be released because of federal privacy laws.

Joseph Calvacca, 60, a retired New York City sanitation worker who lives in Hauppauge, is one of the men whose PSA test taken at Kane's show registered above normal. Calvacca became involved with the Hicksville shows as a parent-volunteer with Boy Scout Troop 3 in Smithtown, where his son, Joseph Jr., now 26, is an Eagle Scout.

"Eight years ago, when we started doing the cleanup, I didn't even know what prostate cancer was, or what a PSA test is," he says. But a blood test two years ago at the show led to a biopsy and surgery for prostate cancer.

This year, in addition to cooking burgers and hot dogs for other volunteers, he'll tell his story on the car show stage after the Boy Scouts' flag ceremony at noon, when prostate cancer survivors are introduced. "Hopefully, a lot of the listeners will go after the story and get tested," he says.

Kane says that Calvacca's experience demonstrates not only that the screening is successful, but also how much work remains to be done. "Little by little," he says, "we're starting to educate a lot of these guys, but it's an uphill battle."

 

CAR SHOW DETAILS

This year's Long Island Cruizin' for a Cure takes place Sunday, Sept. 14 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Sears Auto Center, Route 106/107, in Hicksville. Cost of admission is $5, and free for children under 12. For more information, call 888-542-7849 or visit licruizinforacure.com.

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