When I was first diagnosed back in 2015, one of the most helpful books I read was “When Things Fall Apart” by Pedma Chodron, a Zen Buddhist monk, full of deep wisdom on dealing with adversity.
Key among her many profound messages was the idea that we are all engaged in a futile search for what she calls “solid ground,” a sense of safety and security, when in fact in a dynamic and ever-changing world, an orb spinning through the vastness of space, there is no solid ground to be found.
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest,” she writes. “To live fully is to be always in no-man’s land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together."
At first, I thought this was an overly pessimistic assessment on the nature of our existence here in the earthly realm, like the Buddha’s teaching that all life is suffering. The kicker though is that once you accept these daunting and unpalatable truths, you can enjoy a kind of liberation, the freedom that comes with no longer searching for that which doesn’t exist.
That might all sound a bit weighty and esoteric, but it has never rung truer for me than in my current circumstances, a year out from the deeply distressing breakup of a 20-year marriage, on top of a stage 4 prostate cancer diagnosis. At times I’ve found myself all adrift, a feeling of being in freefall, managing my health care alone while separated from my family and without secure housing, couch surfing and house sitting and doing a bit of interstate travel to catch up with extended family members.
But on a recent road trip from the Gold Coast to Melbourne, via the sublime beaches of Crescent Head, Sydney’s northern beaches, and the delightful NSW country hamlet of Jugiong, Chodron’s words began to ring true in a much more joyful way.
I’d been literally thrown from the nest, but instead of freefalling I had discovered that I could, in fact, fly. The sense of liberation, of making each day up as I went, camping and surfing along the way, making new friends, discovering new waves, awakened something in me. Perhaps the deep ancestral, nomadic roots we all share.
Since the separation, and with our youngest finishing year 12, I’ve been pondering where to base myself, where to make a new home with easy access to medical care, loved ones, waves and nature. I felt like a rope in a tug of war between Gold Coast and Melbourne, each city offering a community of friends and family and a sense of connection.
Now, I’m thinking a seasonal migration between the two, camping and surfing along the way, might be my future, at least in the short to medium term, before I choose a home base.
Over recent weeks, I’ve run a patient forum for men with prostate cancer in Melbourne, a workshop on writing therapy for people dealing with trauma in Byron Bay, writing workshops in a high school in Caboolture north of Brisbane, and public speaking gigs to parents and corporates. There’s been a string of writers’ festivals and an upcoming gig at the Margaret River Men’s Shed to talk about men’s health and managing a prostate cancer diagnosis. This isn’t really something I’d plan, this kind of patient support and advocacy role, but I’m running with it.
What I’m getting at is, what appears as adversity, a cancer diagnosis, the end of a long-term relationship, a sense of dislocation, can be re-framed as freedom, permission to do whatever the hell you like and conjure a more idealistic future than you every might have imagined.
For now, it’s working for me and I’m allowing myself the luxury of daydreaming about the most idealistic lifestyle possible, on the road, speaking, surfing, writing, running workshops, visiting men’s sheds. With a well-appointed campervan, a couple of trusty surfboards, a guitar, a box of books on board – I’m starting to think, as ‘80s popstar Paul Young once crooned, that wherever I lay my hat can be my home.
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.