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Weekly Blog: What I learnt from appearing on Isight on SBS

PCFA_OC_Manager
Community Manager
Community Manager
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By Tim Baker

Watch the full Insight episode here on SBS

Everyone responds to a cancer diagnosis differently.

Some embrace yoga, meditation and a plant-based diet. Some retreat from the world. Some resolve to suck the marrow from life and chase an audacious bucket list.

And some spend seven months in a cave in Assisi in Italy being tended to be monks, some dress up as a superhero and walk from Brisbane to Melbourne, some decide to study medicine and become a doctor, and some throw a death and dying party.

This I can reliably report after being invited to take part in a fascinating panel discussion on cancer survivorship on the SBS program Insight recently.

I thought I’d tackled my diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer head-on, with my determined lifestyle strategies and diligent adherence to my oncologist’s advice. But I’m a lightweight compared to some of these characters I found myself sitting alongside at the SBS Studios in Artarmon. As the bright lights flickered on, the camera people readied and the gracious host Kumi Taguchi took up her place centre stage, I couldn’t have predicted the collective journey we’d all go on over the next hour or so.

For those not familiar with Insight, it is a weekly panel show on SBS covering some profound life issue or ethical dilemma – recent issues have covered addiction, gender fluidity, natural medicine, and the episode I was invited to join, on cancer survivorship. I was joined by a diverse group of cancer survivors as well as oncologist Ranjana Srivistava and urologist Henry Woo. It was a lively, wide-ranging discussion focussed on what it means to outlive your prognosis.

Host Kumi Taguchi seamlessly segued between our various narratives while weaving in the expert opinions of our resident medicos, and pre-shot video clips depicting the lifestyles of several panellists. I was heartened by what a balanced picture it presented of conventional and complementary treatment approaches adopted by the panellists and the way they dealt with the challenges of their cancer diagnosis.

Ben Bravery was living in China, building a business in science communications, and in the grip of new love when he was diagnosed with aggressive, stage three bladder cancer. His 18-month treatment journey left him cancer-free but with such profound reservations about the health system that he decided to become a doctor. His partner of only five months, Sana Qadar, not only stuck by him, supported him financially and emotionally through treatment, but continued to support him through medical school. They are now married with a child and Ben has written a compelling book, The Patient Doctor, on what he has learnt from both sides of the medical system.

Shelley Argent, at age 71, took her cancer diagnosis in her stride, told she had acute myeloid leukemia and had three months to live. Shelley figured she’d led a good life and threw a death and dying party to celebrate all the people she cherished in her life. Unexpectedly Shelley is still with us and in an unlikely remission.

Simon Harvey survived his squamous cell carcinoma (cancer of the head and neck) through conventional therapies but was deeply, psychologically damaged by the experience. His response was to invent a super-hero, Captain Australia, and walk from Brisbane to Melbourne in costume to raise money for children with cancer. The walk, he says, healed his life and allowed him to put the trauma of cancer behind him.

Petrea King was diagnosed with leukemia at 33 and given three months to live. She refused conventional therapy, resigned herself to an early death, and travelled to Assisi in Italy and lived in a cave for seven months, cared for by the local, resident monks. When she returned to Australia and had blood tests, her cancer was gone – an entirely unexpected and unexplained remission. Forty years on, she is still cancer free and counsels others and offers residential retreats on managing health and trauma.

The point of these stories isn’t to promote spurious “miracle” cures or discourage anyone from following the medical advice and conventional treatments as prescribed by their oncologist. But what it does illustrate is that the way we choose to navigate our cancer journeys is highly personal and patients should be granted the agency and information to make these decisions based on the best medical advice, a full understanding of the risks and benefits of treatment and their personal circumstances.

The common thread I see in these stories is deep acceptance, not being in conflict with your situation or diagnosis. That acceptance can manifest as profoundly making peace with your mortality or determining to use every available means to remain healthy for as long as possible. Oncologists face a tough assignment trying to forecast survival times and prescribe often toxic treatments, balancing quality of life and longevity. What’s important I think, is that patients are empowered to make informed choices about their treatment options and for those choices to be respected.

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 (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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