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13 Jun 2018

Prostate cancer: a story of survival

What does it take to realise the value of research?

When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer I was terrified my children would end up growing up without a father.

I was literally terrified. Emotionally a cancer diagnosis felt like a death sentence. Irrationally I felt unclean with the cancer inside me. It seemed impossible – I was so physically fit and young for my age, with no symptoms whatsoever. I was not aware of any cancer in my family. This was something that could not happen to me...only to someone else! I was in denial.

A few weeks of tests went by, as I was told treatment was not urgent with my slow growing moderately aggressive cancer. I came to rationally accept the grim reality that I had cancer, and just wanted more information.

What were my chances? If I survived would my life be shorter? Could I live a normal life? Pragmatically I wanted to find out as much as possible about treatment and likely outcomes – how could I improve my chances?

I wondered if I would see my little boy (then aged 9) and daughter (then aged 6) grow up and I felt grief stricken at this prospect. At night I would lie awake scared thinking – this cannot be happening to me! 

At times I would forget I had cancer and felt like the pre-diagnosis “old me”, but then I would remember I had this cancer inside me, and it felt like a kick in the guts. The ongoing fear was awful.

Despite the support of my family, at times I felt alone – it was my body and I might die decades before my due time. I was amazed at how little general knowledge existed about prostate cancer – it seemed almost a secretive taboo condition.

Online I found very diverse and sometimes conflicting information. Later on, when I learned more, I came to realise that the disease state can vary enormously and patients have different experiences. I sorted through masses of information online from both the medical and patient side, so that I could ensure my treatment made sense to me - as best as I could determine that.

The information allowed me to ask my urologist the right questions; and importantly, to better understand my doctor’s explanation of my condition and treatment choices. In the end, I underwent a prostatectomy and 16 years later I am still happy to say I am cancer-free.

I donated prostate tissue to the Garvan Institute of Medical in the hope that it will help other men at risk. Research into the genetic makeup of prostate cancer will help uncover the range of triggers that set off tumour growth and the best approach to treating different tumour types.

I believe this will transform the landscape of early detection and difficult treatment choices.

By overcoming reservations about testing within the medical community and the wider population, a higher rate of early detection could save the lives of many thousands of men who can find this silent killer in time.

You can help improve treatment options for men with prostate cancer by donating today.