Movember Makes a Difference in Men's Lives

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Most readers will know that November is synonymous with the Movember fundraising and awareness campaign for men’s health. Prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention – serious topics in Movember’s sights that have a direct effect on the length and quality of men’s lives. This month also marks a special milestone for one of the management team of CKN, Steve McKee, who had surgery for prostate cancer 12 months ago. This is his story.

For the past 12 months Movember has held far more significance for me. In September 2016 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I had surgery in November of that year.

Everyone’s cancer journey will be different but the path forward starts with diagnosis. My cancer was actually first discovered by chance in 2013 through a routine blood test. Among other things my GP ordered a test for PSA (prostate specific antigen), an acronym I quickly become very familiar with because the blood test showed that my PSA level was worryingly high. I was referred to a urologist who performed a biopsy which was as intrusive as it was unpleasant. 12 literal stabs in the dark. But there was no cancer found so at the time I thought it was a fantastic outcome. My urologist said that there were a few men like me on his service, with an elevated PSA but no sign of cancer. He didn’t know why. Perhaps we were medical marvels. Being cautious though, rather than watchful waiting or active surveillance he wanted to admit me to hospital to perform a larger biopsy. That was bad news. I was still recovering from my very unpleasant experience with the first biopsy, which I didn’t want to go through again, with the prospect of next time being even worse. If it’s possible to run scared with your head buried in the sand then that’s exactly what I did. Thinking that prostate cancer was a slow-growing “old man’s” disease, if I actually had it then I could deal with it in 20 years’ time. My GP kept monitoring my PSA though, which stayed roughly the same for the next few years.

Jump forward to September 2016 and my PSA had risen again so at the urging of my GP I reluctantly made an appointment for another biopsy. In the years since my previous biopsy the technology and practice had changed and the less intrusive but more effective MRI scan identified a mass. The MRI guided biopsy that followed was able to target the suspect area of my prostate, and sure enough it was cancer.

But 45 year-olds just don’t get prostate cancer! In fact it is very rare – only 2% of men with prostate cancer are aged 45-49. For someone my age, and for the grade of cancer that I had, the only treatment was surgery. I sought a second opinion. The diagnosis and treatment was the same. The good news was that it was likely the cancer hadn’t spread beyond the prostate. But I was told that if I did nothing it would eventually kill me. But could I delay? Did I need surgery now or in ten years’ time? It all depended on how risk averse I was, and whether I’d gamble that by the time I decided to operate the cancer still hadn’t spread. It was a no-brainer. There was no option. Now wasn’t the time to stick my head in the sand again, so I was booked in for a radical prostatectomy as soon as it could be scheduled. I put my life into my surgeons’ skilled hands, and his trusty robot.

The best thing about having prostate cancer diagnosed and treated while still relatively young is that the outcomes for recovery are so much better. That’s what happened to me. The surgery was successful - the surgeon got it all. I am cancer-free and have recovered well.

I never had any symptoms, and it really doesn’t feel like I actually had cancer. While the scars are real, the idea of having cancer still feels very unreal. Unlike other men who have gone through this, and women I know who are battling breast cancer, my experience has been relatively easy and straightforward. This is not to diminish in any way the lifetime of learning, skill and expertise of my brilliant surgeon and his team. I know that I’m only cancer-free because of them.

There’s no doubt that the advances in technology and practice in recent years have helped give me the amazing outcome that I’m enjoying now. It wasn’t that long ago that the prognosis for men with prostate cancer wasn’t as bright. The 5-year relative survival from prostate cancer has improved from 58% in the 1980s to today where it’s at 95%. (knowing all the stats is something I learned quickly too). In no small part the funding provided by the Movember Foundation is helping to drive advances in early detection and diagnosis, treatment options, support systems and the quality of life for men living with prostate cancer, both physically and mentally. The Movember Foundation is the largest non-government investor in prostate cancer research in the world. It has invested $685 million in innovative and forward-thinking research projects and men’s health programs globally, and more than $75 million in prostate cancer research in Australia.

This has been a good week for me. It’s almost exactly 12 months since my surgery and my latest PSA test results have once again been zero. My surgeon doesn’t want to see me again - he assures me it’s nothing personal! I couldn’t grow a decent moustache to save myself so in the past I have only donated to Movember. Now though I think it’s time to start using my experience to advocate more for men’s health. Telling my story is the start, as well as promoting what men all around the world are doing for Movember. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, and rates are on the rise. See what you can do to help by getting involved.

Find information about prostate cancer on CKN.

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