I can think of plenty of reasons not to do a road trip from the Gold Coast to Melbourne and back, about 40 hours and 4000 km round trip, with a stage four prostate cancer diagnosis. You get tired easily, really easily. Staying in a variety of different abodes you repeatedly have to stumble your way in the dark to unfamiliar bathrooms to pee during the night, hoping you don’t wake your gracious hosts. You’ve got to make sure you have adequate meds and you’re not going to miss any medical appointments. And did I mention you get tired easily?
But I love a road trip and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a few rogue cells that don’t know when to stop dividing curtail my long-distance driving kink. And so, the Hi-Ace is loaded up with surfboards, guitar, esky, doona and I’m on my way. Mum’s preparing to move into a retirement home back in my old home town of Melbourne, and I’m required to be on hand to help sort a lifetime’s worth of belongings, transport unwanted furniture to various charitable institutions and provide moral support.
I plug the iPhone into the car stereo and soon the Spotify algorithms are blasting out a curated soundtrack of ‘80s and ‘90s new wave and alt rock classics as the cane fields whiz by outside.
I’ve been feeling all “throw off the bow lines” lately, as in that famous Mark Twain quote: “Throw off the Bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour, catch the trade wind in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.” I’m not entirely sure if it’s the accumulated “no fucks left to give” of eight years living with a cancer diagnosis, or the disintegration of a 20-year marriage, but there’s nothing like hitting the open ride to put your existential angst into perspective.
If I must do this whole “cancer thing”(waves arms about theatrically) I’m determined to do it my way, which at this stage of the, er, “journey” involves following rash impulses, rolling the dice, letting the cards fall as they may and any other trite gambling metaphors you care to come up with. I’ve always loved a road trip, an infatuation which found its ultimate expression when we pulled our kids out of school in 2011, at ages nine and five, and dragged a caravan around the country over eight months and 27,000 km. It’s still the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve never felt so free and alive and unencumbered as I did during those halcyon days of bush campgrounds, dreamy national park surf sessions, campfires and instant friendships with new camp neighbours. Back then, at age 45, I called it a pre-emptive strike on my mid-life crisis.
Now, 12 years on, with a cancer diagnosis, kids nearly grown up and processing the end of a marriage, I figure the road might once again provide some of the answers I’m looking for. I call in on friends new and old, sniff out uncrowded surfs, cobble together makeshift camp meals and curl up in the back of the van at day’s end sleeping the sleep of the weary traveller, tip toeing out during the night to piss under a gazillion stars, urinary retention suddenly an unexpected blessing. I would happily see out my days this way. In reality, this is but a three-week interlude, but I wouldn’t discount it becoming a prelude to a whole new #vanlife #blessed existence.
Sure, there are the small matters of monthly blood tests and oncologist’s appointments, and restocking of medical scripts, but surely such trifling concerns can be overcome by the determined cancer nomad. I’m envisaging a coordinated team of health professionals around the country providing pitstops along the way to ensure my PSA remains in check, my urinary retention issues don’t become critical and a steady supply of Zoladex shots and Xtandi capsules are always accessible. Is this too much to ask?
I don’t know. Perhaps I could bill it as a clinical trial, to test the medicinal properties of the open road. Sure, I’m a small sample size but there’s a massive control group who aren’t being offered the road trip intervention. I’m sure I can get ethics approval and make this thing work.
Or maybe I’ll turn it into a men’s health educational tour, visiting local Men’s Sheds, giving book talks and selling copies of my cancer memoir, Patting The Shark, extolling the virtues of my self-styled prostate cancer self-care mantra along the way – Remember to take your M.E.D.S: meditation, exercise, diet, sleep.
I’ve never felt as fit and healthy as I did during that cross-country road trip 12 years ago, with the most delicious sense of almost perfect freedom. I have a feeling that my health took a dive when I tried to return to the hamster wheel of the nine-to-five, work-earn-spend, suburban existence most of us are corralled into. Maybe a return to the nomadic life of the open road is what body and soul needs to better navigate my new reality. I guess I’m going to find out.
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).
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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.
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