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Tim Baker: The Cancerversary - To celebrate or not to celebrate

Community Manager
Community Manager
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Every year, on July 7, I have a tradition of marking the day I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in 2015. I’ll generally head down the coast with a couple of mates and try and find some uncrowded waves to ride, to celebrate that fact that I’m still here, still surfing, still with a great quality of life, and loving family and community.

Tim Blog 15 Aug 2023 Photo 1.jpg

It seems a fitting way to mark an occasion that is a sometimes-confusing mix of grief, trauma, celebration and gratitude. Surfing has been an essential part of my self-care and in the midst of my blissful play in the ocean it’s easy to forget about the rigours of the Oncology Day Unit, the next round of blood tests or scans, the next horse injection of Androgen Deprivation Therapy.

I’ve said this before, but I really feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with surfing, in terms of managing my health and the side effects of treatment. Connection to nature? Check. Immersion in something bigger than the self? Check. A brisk, intermittent cardio workout while paddling out after a wave? Check. The quiet meditation out the back of the breakers, scanning the horizon for the subtle signs of an incoming swell? Check. The euphoric, gymnastic dance of riding the waves? Big. Fat. Check!

It still sometimes strikes me as an odd thing to celebrate though. What am I celebrating? Possibly the worst day of my life, when my entire world came crashing down and I was faced with the soul-crushing reality of my own mortality? Or, rather, the almost miraculous fact that I’m still here, and for the most part, healthy and happy? While my prostate cancer journey has cost me so much – my marriage, at times my mental health and work life, my sense of self, my masculinity and sexuality. But out of the ashes has arisen a new me which I actually think I like better than the old me, believe it or not.

Tim Blog 15 Aug 2023 Photo 2.jpg

I’d like to think I’m wiser, gentler, more compassionate, less quickly moved to anger or judgement. I’ve managed to resurrect my work life by writing about my experiences and, even more improbably, discovered a new kind of sexuality, which a new loving partner assures me entirely meets her needs. It’s more akin to a female sexuality, she tells me, more slowly stirred to life, more dependent on atmospherics and the emotional climate, reliant on deep sensitivity and connection and an embrace of what she calls “full body sensuality”. I could have never imagined this was even possible during the emotional devastation when my marriage ended 15 months ago.

I’ve found myself invited to half a dozen writers festivals, and three cancer conferences, to spread my call for a more integrative approach to cancer care – embracing exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, psycho-social support, to treat the whole person and not just the tumour. I have much to be deeply grateful for. It’s a little odd then that I completely forgot my cancerversary this year. This would have once been unthinkable, but I take it as a positive sign. A sign that cancer no longer dominates my world and thoughts, that it is an element of my life, not the lead actor.

The irony here is that one of the main reasons I forgot my cancerversary was that I was in Melbourne for a cancer conference, the ANZUP Annual Scientific Meeting, where I’d been invited to speak. And there is not a lot of surf in inner city Melbourne. And so, the day passed without celebration, and I’m unsure if I will be celebrating future cancerversaries. I might still mark my 10-year cancerversary, a goal I was once unsure I’d ever achieve. But eight years on, still in good health and spirits, still getting a good response from ADT, my doctors delighted by my continuing good results, I should have plenty to celebrate.

I was 50 when I was diagnosed, my kids just 9 and 13, and ten years was the most optimistic goal I felt I could realistically set myself, to see my kids to adulthood. With that goal now within sight, my doctors supremely confident I’ll make it and well beyond, I think a party may be in order. When I was first diagnosed, I thought of sending out invitations to my 60th birthday, as an exercise in visualisation and manifestation, and with a slightly morbid sense of humour. If my friends and family were to imagine a future where I turned 60, if I allowed myself the hopeful dream that this was achievable, might this help me realise my goal? Obviously, it’s impossible to say. And my continued good health owes at least as much to medical science as any exercises in positive thinking I may indulge in.

I realised a long time ago, managing a prostate cancer diagnosis is a marathon, not a sprint. Or perhaps it’s more like a Tour de France – the agonising hill climbs, the pleasant perambulations through bucolic countryside, the sweet relief of completing a stage. And you’ve got to celebrate the little stage wins along the way.

Paddling out into the ocean to ride waves with a few mates on July 7, 2025, feels like the best possible way I can celebrate my survivorship and gives thanks for the many blessings life has bestowed upon me.

Photos captured by Ted Grambeau.

About the Author


Tim Baker is an award-winning author, journalist and storyteller specialising in surfing history and culture, working across a wide variety of media from books and magazines to film, video, and theatre. Some of his most notable books include “Occy”, a national bestseller and chosen by the Australia Council as one of “50 Books You can’t Put Down” in 2008, and “The Rip Curl Story” which documents the rise of the iconic Australian surf brand to mark its 50th anniversary in 2019. Tim is a former editor of Tracks and Surfing Life magazines. He has twice won the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame Culture Award.

Tim was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic prostate cancer in 2015 with a Gleason score 9. He was told he had just five years of reasonable health left, but eight years on, at 58, he’s still surfing, writing, and enjoying being a dad. His latest book, Patting the Shark, also documents his cancer journey and will be published in August. Tim will be sharing weekly insights into his journey to help other men who have also been impacted by prostate cancer.

Help is Available

Prostate Cancer Specialist Telenursing Service

If your life has been impacted by prostate cancer, our Specialist Telenursing Service is available to help. If you would like to reach out to the PCFA Prostate Cancer Specialist Telenurse Service for any questions you have about your prostate cancer experience, please phone 1800 22 00 99 Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm, Wednesday 10am-8pm (AEDT).

Prostate Cancer Support Groups

PCFA is proud to have a national network of affiliated support groups in each state and territory of Australia consisting of men and women who have a passion for assisting others who encounter prostate cancer. This network is made up of over 170 affiliated groups who meet locally to provide one-to-one support, giving a vision of life and hope after treatment. Call us on 1800 22 00 99 to find your local group.

MatesCONNECT Telephone-based peer support

MatesCONNECT is a telephone-based peer support program for men affected by prostate cancer. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, our MatesCONNECT service can connect you to a trained volunteer who understands what you’re going through. All of our volunteers have been through prostate cancer. Simply call us on 1800 22 00 99 to be connected with a volunteer.

Newly diagnosed? or need to find more information? Access the PCFA resources here.

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