Monday, April 22, 2024

Speaking up when it matters

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The annual prostate cancer campaign each September was of no more than passing interest to Farmers Weekly deputy editor Craig Page – until he received his diagnosis.
Deputy editor Craig Page reflects one of the most harrowing experiences of his life – being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
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Next month is Blue September, a Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand campaign aimed at raising funds and awareness about a disease that claims 700 Kiwi lives a year.

More than 4000 people are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. It’s this country’s second highest cause of cancer death in men, behind lung cancer.

Up until last year I wouldn’t have taken much more than a passing interest in the campaign.

But that’s changed. August 19 2023 marked 12 months since I underwent surgery for prostate cancer.

It seems a lifetime ago, but the fear and uncertainty that surrounded the months following my diagnosis will likely remain with me forever.

In many ways I am the prime target of the Blue September campaign. I’m in my early fifties, active and relatively fit. I don’t regularly visit my doctor and, like so many, thought prostate cancer affected only old men.

How wrong I was.

Last year started so positively. In February, my wife Clare and I took part in the Southern Lakes Ultra, a six-day, 270km run through the mountains and back blocks of Hāwea, Wānaka and Queenstown.

It was an amazing experience, and inspired us to seek more adventures together. We weren’t expecting cancer to be the next “adventure”.

In hindsight, there were signs all was not well.

My regular dashes to the toilet, particularly after a few beers, were a standing joke for years. But it had started to play on my mind and when blood first appeared in my urine my concerns rose.

Clare was all too aware of my multiple nightly toilet visits and insisted I visit my GP.

The following months were a whirlwind. 

My prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were high enough to be of concern but a follow-up blood test weeks later showed they had already jumped significantly.

I was referred to a specialist. There were tests, scans and biopsies, which ultimately led to a meeting for the final diagnosis.

Deep down I knew it wasn’t going to be great, but being told you have prostate cancer is still a kick in the guts.

The positives were my “young” age and that the cancer had been picked up early and was treatable, either through radiation therapy or surgery. But to do nothing would eventually be fatal.

My mother and Clare’s father had both died from cancer, so we were well aware of its impact. Telling our two teenage children was tough, but kids are resilient. They rallied around me but have long since tired of hearing about my “cancer scare”. 

Health insurance meant I received surgery relatively quickly. I’m lucky – the prognosis is good and there will be plenty more adventures ahead.

But my experience does highlight the importance of regular health checks and of taking action when things are clearly not right. If I’d ignored the signs, like some blokes undoubtedly do, the outcome could have been so different.

I have been a journalist since 1987 but, being someone who values their privacy, I cringe at the thought of writing about myself – I much prefer telling other people’s stories.

But occasionally you have to put yourself out there in the hope others might gain something from your experiences. 

Some things are more important than a bit of privacy.

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