It’s nearly eight years since I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and nearly a year since my cancer memoir, Patting The Shark, was published. It seems an opportune moment to reflect on what I’ve learnt from these two major life events.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about how I best make use of the platform I appear to have been granted by writing my book, the chance to speak to audiences from writers’ festivals to pharmaceutical and medical conferences, from patient forums to men’s sheds to media interviews.
In politics, the art of messaging is all about having a simple, clear and concise message that you repeat ad infinitum in the hope that it “cuts through” and gets reported via various media. And while I’m not and hopefully never will be a politician, and I remain deeply cynical about the state of modern politics, I think there is something in that.
So, in the interests of honing my message, controlling the narrative and providing media friendly sound bites, these then are the key messages I’d like to promote by whatever means available to me.
- As long as men are being prescribed hormone therapy, with all its debilitating side effects, men also need to be offered supportive allied health therapies – exercise, nutrition, stress management, sexual health specialists – to mitigate the side effects of treatment and improve quality of life.
- We desperately need alternatives to hormone therapy and all its attendant miseries to treat prostate cancer. Chemically castrating millions of men worldwide for the most common cancer in men does not seem to me to be good medicine, traumatising not just the patient but (where relevant) their partners and often entire families. Thankfully much new research is going on in this area.
- More research is needed to validate the benefits of exercise, nutrition, medicinal cannabis and emerging new therapies like psychedelic-assisted therapy to make life for men with prostate cancer more bearable.
- Despite all this, there is life after even an advanced prostate cancer diagnosis. While hormone therapy can help keep us alive, how we make the most of that life appears to be up to us, until better coordinated, allied support becomes a part of standard care.
Prostate cancer and its treatment has taken much from me, but to dwell on the positives for a moment, and to underscore this fourth point, here are some of the things I’ve been able to do despite, and in some cases because of, my diagnosis.
- I’ve snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef with my kids.
- I’ve been skiing in Japan with my family.
- I’ve written two books, one on the history of iconic Australian surf brand Rip Curl and one on living with prostate cancer, Patting The Shark.
- I’m two thirds of the way through a creative writing PhD at Griffith University.
- I’ve participated in two cancer-related exercise studies.
- I’ve participating in a clinical trial for medicinal cannabis.
- I’ve taken my teenage son on a surf trip through Melanesia, riding waves together that, as far as we knew, had never been surfed before.
- I’ve made my public slam poetry debut at age 54.
- I’ve made my public debut as a rapper at age 55.
- I’ve appeared at writers’ festivals in Ubud, Bali (twice); Byron Bay (twice), Margaret River, Perth and Newcastle.
- I’ve developed a solid meditation practice.
- I’ve learnt to cook healthy and delicious food.
Scrolling through the camera roll on my phone recently, I was struck by all these golden moments – surf trips and music making, memorable meals and social events, precious time with my kids, hilarious hijinks with good friends. Admittedly the camera roll doesn’t capture the undocumented moments of dark despair, lying awake at three am wondering how it had all come to this. Though it does show me in the oncology day unit receiving chemo, my freshly shaved noggin once my hair fell out, and the original bone scan which shows my right femur full of cancer.
In many ways the images reflect what I’ve long felt about my cancer diagnosis, that it has broadened my emotional range, more moments of dark despair but also more moments of exquisite joy and bliss. As I’ve said many times over the past eight years, I’d wish away my cancer if I could, but I wouldn’t wish away what I’ve learnt and the two are inseparable.
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 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 (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.