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Tim Baker: Three cheers for researchers!

Community Manager
Community Manager
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They say a healthy society is one in which people plant trees they will never enjoy the shade of or pick fruit from, that they are investing in the collective good of future generations.       

This old chestnut sprang to mind while being granted a personal tour of Monash University’s world-renowned Prostate Cancer Research Group within the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute. I’d been invited to join the research group as a “patient voice” some months ago and, visiting my old hometown for the ANZUP Annual Scientific Meeting, Laboratory head Dr Mitchell Lawrence reached out to me and invited me to come in and meet the team and take a tour. I’m so glad I said yes.

It’s difficult to adequately articulate the gratitude and comfort I derive from encountering the brilliant minds and cutting-edge resources being applied to discovering better prostate cancer treatments. Even though cancer research can be a painstakingly slow process and I might not benefit directly from many of the treatments being developed, it’s astounding to have a peak behind the scenes at the passion, dedication and technology being directed to helping men like us live longer and better lives. And all with the ongoing and generous support of the PCFA.

As I have possibly expressed here before, I see this worthy scientific endeavour as very much a collaborative process between cancer researchers, medical specialists and patients. And stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I may have also expressed a lovely metaphor I once read, that going through prostate cancer treatment is like being a frog in a lily pond. We stay on each lily pad in the PC treatment protocol pathway until it can no longer support us and hop to the next lily pad before our current one sinks. We try and extend our time on each lily pad to the maximum to avoid running out of lily pads.

Our job as cancer patients is to do all we can to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible and enhance the efficacy of treatments with sensible, evidence-based supportive or complementary lifestyle strategies and therapies like diet, exercise and stress reduction (through mindfulness practices like meditation). The medical researchers’ job is to come up with new lily pads for us before we run out. And our medical specialists’ job is stay abreast of the latest research to make available new and improved treatments to appropriate patients as they come online, and to encourage the lifestyle strategies that support our general health and well-being.

At Monash, teams of researchers with vast experience and knowledge, ably assisted by young and wildly enthusiastic PhD candidates and recent graduates, are tirelessly utilising their store of live cancer cells to test potential new PC treatments in the lab, in petri dishes and on mice. Strict adherence to ethical and scientific standards is critical. When treatments show enough promise they may move into the trial stage and must meet rigorous criteria before they might eventually become part of standard care. This can seem like a process of glacial-like pace, but there are so many different research projects going on at any one time, there is a good chance of a steady stream of new treatments becoming available the longer we can keep ourselves healthy.

The Prostate Cancer Research Group is headed up by senior researchers such as
Professor Gail Risbridger and Associate Professor Renea Taylor, whose qualifications and credentials are too long and impressive to list here. But to be able to have a dialogue with researchers like this and their teams is a great privilege I remain deeply grateful for.

The really delightful thing about this encounter for me was that the research team appeared to derive as much inspiration and motivation from putting a human face and having a personal interaction with a man (me!) who will benefit from their research, as I did from meeting them. A truly symbiotic meeting of minds in the researcher/patient collaboration.

As I was preparing to leave, waiting at the lift with Mitch Lawrence, one of his young PhD candidates came running out of the lab in her white coat with such a sense of urgency I feared I must have breached some laboratory protocol and might be doused with disinfectant.

Instead, she proffered a copy of my book Patting The Shark and asked if I’d be kind enough to sign it, apologising all the while for fangirling me – an apology that was, of course, entirely unnecessary. The key point here is not so much the ego stroke of someone liking my book, as the reinforcement that the medical mainstream is listening and engaged and drawing inspiration from the “patient voice”.

Of course, there are no guarantees in all this, but there is at least reason for hope and profound motivation to continue to work to keep ourselves fit and healthy for as long as possible.

You can read more about the Prostate Cancer Research Group here:

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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