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One in eight men in Aotearoa will get prostate cancer.

Retired Auckland sergeant MIKE CORNELL has some sage advice for all Kiwi men regardless of age: Get your prostate checked. Prostate cancer is indiscriminate when it comes to age and it doesn’t always come with symptoms – something that Mike knows only too well.

At age 66 and with no obvious symptoms, I was diagnosed with aggressive and advanced prostate cancer. I know that will make some of the men reading this cringe and want to avoid reading on. But please, keep reading!

I had gone to my doctor for something unrelated when he decided to do my annual prostate exam at the same time. He thought he felt something and three weeks later I was at a specialist. While the specialist didn’t feel anything amiss, he did note that the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in my bloods were slightly higher than they should be – in the “4” range on a 10-point scale.

While I could have an MRI to be sure, he suggested I have regular PSA checks and to wait and see what happens. I told him my family history – my paternal grandfather died from prostate cancer and three other grandparents and several of their siblings had also died from various cancers – and so I pushed for the MRI. Four days later, I had an MRI and received the results two days after that.

Cancer had started growing at the front of the prostate, hidden away. A biopsy confirmed it was aggressive while a positron emission tomography (PET) scan showed the cancer didn’t appear to have broken out of the prostate. Remember, I didn’t have any noticeable symptoms.

I ended up having a radical prostatectomy – my entire prostate gland was removed. The surgery was done using a robot, which meant I was likely to regain all functions.

The pathology showed the cancer had reached 30% of my prostate, but it hadn’t got to the edges. My surgeon said it was the best result I could hope for. Undetected, the cancer would have doubled in size within another six to 12 months and I would have been going down the path of radiation and chemotherapy.

After surgery, I had to have a catheter and a bag for a week and needed incontinence pads for any leakage from the catheter. I bought a few of packs of male urinary incontinence pads and a pad for the bed from the online nappy shop Tinkle (I’m pleased to report that, yes, they have a sense of humour and are very good to deal with).

For a few weeks, I was very conscious about how far I went from home and after the catheter removal, I was going through several pads a day. Within three months, I managed with one a day, and at five months, I regained bladder control, but I did have to “retrain” myself. Eighteen months on from surgery and I get very occasional, tiny leaks, but have trained myself to take more notice.

After surgery there is also a chance you will experience “transferred pain” from the nerves that have been annoyed. Apart from other aches, I also had a pain when I sat down, like a very bad bruise on the points of my pelvis. The specialist said about a third of patients experience this, but it always stops at the three-month mark. Mine, thankfully, stopped at two months – one day it was there, the next day not.

It's now been almost two years since my surgery. My PSA levels are below measurable, which means (so far) there are no more prostate cells or cancer cells.


A word of advice

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed about telling people what has happened. You will be surprised how many have had it or have got it and are managing it without surgery. I find having friends who know helps with self-confidence.

When I am asked how I am, I tell them, “Better than a few weeks ago, I haven’t got cancer!”

I have two sons, so they know that their risk of prostate cancer is very high. I have given them my biopsy results so they can “persuade” their doctors to “probe” them sooner rather than later. I have also suggested they get MRIs earlier, maybe in their 40s, definitely in their 50s and every few years from then.

For all the younger guys out there who think they don't have to be concerned for 20 or 30 years – think again. A friend of mine worked in a hospice where they have men in their 40s dying of prostate cancer – the youngest she cared for was in his 30s.

Getting “probed” and having an MRI could save your life. Please look out for symptoms and get checked regularly.


Prostate cancer symptoms

Prostate cancer can develop silently and remain undetected for some time, without causing symptoms. Always see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Feeling the frequent or sudden need to urinate, especially at night
  • Finding it difficult to urinate (trouble starting or not being able to when the feeling is there)
  • Discomfort when urinating
  • Finding blood in urine or semen
  • Pain in the lower back, upper thighs or hips
  • Bone pain
  • Unexpected weight loss.

More treatment options are available if prostate cancer is detected before it causes symptoms, so a GP visit for a check at least once a year is vital. – Prostate Cancer Foundation NZ

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