'Just a human being': Len Rhodes opens up about battle with cancer

The only reason Len Rhodes had to go to the doctor was for his annual medical — and this time, he was thankful he did.

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Len Rhodes' father physically and verbally assaulted his mother for years before eventually giving up drinking. (Tim Adams/CBC)

Len Rhodes felt invincible.

The only reason the Edmonton Eskimos CEO went to the doctor was for his annual medical, and he was thankful he did.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 52.

"I felt there was no way in heck I would have cancer," Rhodes told CBC's Radio Active. "I almost couldn't believe it, and then shortly thereafter, [I felt] fear and panic."

The first 48 hours after finding out were the worst, Rhodes said. "My mortality is right in front of me," he remembered thinking. "I quickly realized that I'm just a human being, just like everyone else."

Len Rhodes, the CEO of the Edmonton professional football team, talks with Rod Kurtz about his battle with cancer. 10:51

Luckily, doctors caught the cancer in stage 1, and he had treatment options; doctors suggested the removal of the cancerous tissue, but Rhodes felt that was invasive.

He opted for brachytherapy, where doctors implanted 76 radioactive seeds in his prostate. Most radioactive when first put into the body, the seeds decay slowly over a two-year span. The seeds themselves stay inside Rhodes forever.

For the next six months, Rhodes worked and lived normally, without pain or discomfort. But as he got closer to his first follow-up appointment, he began to worry.

"The follow up was probably the scariest moments of my life," he said. The doctor asked him how he was doing.

"I said, 'You tell me how I'm doing and we can have small talk later,' " Rhodes remembered saying.

Then the doctor gave him the first bit of good news he'd heard in a long time.

Operation successful

He was told him his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels had gone down from 4.8 to 1.1, a significant drop. He still has cancer but said the promising results made him optimistic.

"I really feel good about things," he said. He recently went for a second checkup and found the levels were still at 1.1.

His bout with cancer has helped put a lot of things in perspective, and has also allowed for him to make new connections with people who have also struggled with cancer.

"It was really incredible, when you talk man to man in this case, how open people are about it," Rhodes said. "You're a part of this fraternity overnight and no one can really relate to it unless you've gone through it."

That, and opening up to the public about his battle, have been his best two forms of therapy.

Right after he was diagnosed, Rhodes thought the worst. "For a while, I was wondering if I was going to see my daughter get married."

Now, with his condition improved and his daughter getting married in September, he'll be there to walk her down the aisle.

He said his diagnosis is a reminder for everyone to get regular checkups.

"If I hadn't gone for my annual medical, I would have no idea that I had cancer in my body," he said. "Don't procrastinate, because you could end up in a situation where you could have less options."