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Weekly Blog: Body Image

PCFA_OC_Manager
Community Manager
Community Manager
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By Tim Baker

I went to have my annual skin cancer check the other day. No big deal.

Except as a man on hormone therapy, enduring its emasculating effects and unwanted bodily changes, stripping down to my undies even in the supposedly safe space of a doctor’s surgery can be a little anxiety producing.

The chirpy doctor examined me from head to toe, even utilising a magnifying glass, and gave me the all-clear. So far, so cool and normal.

Then, as he was typing away at his computer, he must have been perusing my medical records and quipped, “I see you’re on hormone therapy. So, they’re tits, rather than fat,” with the smug smile of a man who thought he’d just made a great gag.

Reader, I did not punch him in the face. But it was touch and go there for a moment. I’m pretty self-conscious about my body after seven years of hormone therapy. The breast swelling and sensitivity. The genital shrinkage. The loss of muscle mass and stubborn fatty deposits that just won’t seem to shift. But I don’t think I’m overly precious about any of this. I mean, I had an extract published in the weekend magazine of our national broadsheet which began with the immortal words, “I miss my cock”.

But still. A doctor. Making jokes about my body. I can’t for the life of me imagine why people think some doctors lack empathy. So, I guess I’m looking for a new skin cancer specialist.

The bodily changes we endure on hormone therapy are one of the more alarming side effects of the very drug that keeps our cancer at bay. And I don’t have any magic answers, any silver bullet, to make peace with this peculiar transformation. But a few things have helped ease my own distress.

Top of the charts is exercise. It makes you feel good, gives you more energy, improves bone density and muscle mass (compromised by hormone therapy), and mitigates some of those bodily changes. Eating well, with lots of fresh vegetables and adequate protein, also helps (see a nutritionist for expert advice). But, for me at least, other subtler attitudinal adjustments have soothed my distress.

At some point, trying to hang on to my old identity, the virile, wave-riding, blokey bloke, became too painful. I had to consciously let it go and allow a new identity to arise. This might all sound a little esoteric, but one of the things that assisted me in this strange, disorienting period was a younger generation’s nuanced understanding of gender. The most common hormone therapy drug is the very same medication given to trans teens who are transitioning from male to female (sometimes known as “puberty blockers”), to block the masculinizing effects of puberty. So, that gives you a sense of how far-reaching its impacts are.

When I recently spoke to my kids about my treatment and how it’s affected me, my moodiness, occasional bouts of depression, lethargy and fatigue, I mentioned this. My 20-year-old daughter immediately got it. “No wonder. You’re on blockers,” she said.

Her generation’s understanding of gender as a spectrum, rather than binary, has genuinely softened the blow for me in accepting these bodily changes. One of the things I did when I was struggling emotionally, was volunteer and train as a facilitator for a not-for-profit organisation which runs workshops in schools around sex and consent, drugs and alcohol and respectful relationships. A case of easing my own distress by helping others.

A trans teen was in one of my groups and was transitioning from female to male.  A teacher let me know they had the complete support of the school community. Some of our sessions were divided along gender lines, and this student had made it known they wanted to be included in the male group, and all their peers and teachers were entirely supportive. None of their fellow students seem to regard this as in anyway unusual or strange. I remember thinking if this teenager can be so brave about dealing with these issues of gender dysphoria (the dissonance between their own sense of gender identity and their biological sex assigned at birth) then surely, I, as a middle-aged man, could learn to accept the unwelcome changes I was experiencing.

I’m not pretending any of this is easy, but rather than clinging to some fading sense of self, I feel as if a subtly new and different identity has arisen. And it’s not all bad. My female friendships have been deepened by the absence of libido and the male reflex to sometimes assess women physically, the male gaze, that can make women uncomfortable. By talking and writing about these issues openly and vulnerably, others have felt liberated to be vulnerable with me and I’ve had amazing conversations and correspondence with all kinds of people who’ve just needed a little prompt to open up around these issues.

Hormone therapy’s no walk in the park and I hope one day there will be new, less debilitating ways of treating prostate cancer. But in the meantime, I’m going to try and embrace a little bit of a younger generation’s sense of gender fluidity and see who I might become if I let go of the old me.

Tim has now launched his latest book, Patting the Shark. This candid story documents his journey learning to live well with prostate cancer. 


About the Author

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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 seven years on, at 57, 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 (AEST).

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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