Being a farmer, health check-ups were pretty far down on my list of priorities.
Livestock and crops came first, and my doctor was hours away.
I’m fine, I told myself. I’m bulletproof!
Even so, knowing middle-aged men were at greater risk of prostate cancer, I started to have a blood test every two years.
The test checks levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA).
A raised level means something could be wrong in the prostate, the gland below the bladder forming part of the male reproductive system.
Everything was fine until I was 60.
‘Your PSA has risen,’ the doctor said, referring me to a specialist.
The specialist gave me a physical examination, before sharing shocking news.
‘You’ve got prostate cancer,’ he said gently.
I was stunned and so was my wife Sharon, 54.
I don’t have any symptoms, I thought.
I’d had no trouble urinating, no increase in frequency, and there’d been no pain or blood in my urine either.
Still, a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.
‘We’ll need to operate,’ said the doctor.
When? I thought. I’ve got some sheep shearing to do!
‘Can it wait?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he said. ‘We have to do it soon.’
So six weeks later, I had my prostate removed.
Thankfully, I recovered quite quickly and I was soon back on the farm.
I didn’t suffer incontinence, which can be a complication of the surgery, as my pelvic muscles were strong from mustering sheep on horseback.
Pelvic floor exercises are recommended otherwise.
I was also given medication to help restore my sex life.
Eighteen months later, my PSA had raised again as the cancer had metastasized, as can happen in around a third of cases.
This time, I had seven weeks of radiotherapy and after that things were under control for three years.
Sadly, my PSA levels are high again but now I’m having hormone therapy to slow down the cancer growth.
It should keep the disease at bay for a long time.
I’m warned I may get hot flushes, but that’s a lot better than the alternative.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and I’d encourage every man over 50, or over 40 if there’s a family history, to have a PSA blood test annually, even if they have no symptoms.
It’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, but if caught quickly, 95 per cent of men survive five years or more. Sadly, we still lose 3,500 Aussie men and 600 Kiwis to the disease every year.
I hope to keep farming, and spending time with Sharon and my sons Jeremy, 28, and Scott, 26 for many more years yet!
Today, I treat every day as a bonus.
MYTH: My GP will give me a finger exam.
FACT: The first test is now a PSA blood test.
MYTH: Prostate cancer isn’t a big deal FACT Around one in seven men get prostate cancer, so it’s vital to get checked if you’re over 50, or 40 with family history.
MYTH: I’ll need surgery.
FACT: Surgery is just one of the options available for localised prostate cancer.
For more information, visit pcfa.org.au/getchecked