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Grant Gerken and Phil Kerslake met for the first time in July. It was a special moment for both men, with Phil only recently out of hospital and recovering from his latest round of treatment.

In 1993, Grant Gerken was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma cancer and told it was likely he wouldn’t last longer than three months.

Fortunately, he overcame the odds, putting it down to a mixture of good luck and good medicine.

Twenty-two years later, in 2015, Grant was a career police officer working as a prosecutor in Invercargill when he was told by a medical specialist that, once again, he had “incurable” cancer.

As a prosecutor, Grant says, he was used to considering the facts to make evidence-based decisions. So, when an expert told him, “Your prognosis is not great”, his “evidence-based indoctrination” told him that must be true. “After all, they’re the experts, they have the facts, and it’s their job to decide whether my case is winnable or not,” he says.

It was a case of his head ruling his heart, but when he learnt of another New Zealander who had overcome similar cancers to his, time and time again, it offered a glimmer of the hope that Grant desperately needed.

“It was this new piece of ‘evidence’ that could literally snatch my case out of the hands of the coroner,” he says.

He immediately contacted cancer survivor Phil Kerslake, author of Life, Happiness... and Cancer: Survive with Action and Attitude!, who arranged for a copy of his acclaimed cancer support book to be sent to Grant.

It was a turning point in Grant’s attitude towards his cancer and its treatment.

“It turned out that many of the complementary and alternative options that I would have considered quackery or airy-fairy were actually evidence-based, and Phil’s apparent immortality in the face of otherwise insurmountable odds was testament to that.”

Grant says he quickly adopted Phil’s philosophy of taking an active role in his own cancer journey and he believes his survival five years on from his second brush with death was undoubtedly assisted by those teachings.

“When you’re battling the demon that cancer is, you need every advantage available,” Grant says. “Phil’s book gave me just that, assisting me and my family to navigate the complexities and uncertainties of my diagnosis.” And, he says, slipping into courtroom parlance, “to secure life’s ultimate conviction against it”.

This year, Grant, a senior prosecutor and the Police Association’s Region 7 director, is working with the Police Welfare Fund to offer copies of Phil’s book to members who feel they may benefit from the advice it offers.

“I’m not saying it’s the only answer. What I am saying is, it’s another tool in your cancer-fighting arsenal that might just change your life.”

Last month, Grant and Phil met in person for the first time after many years of communication and support. It was a special moment for both men, with Phil only recently out of hospital and recovering from his latest round of treatment.

Phil, 62, has lived with cancer nearly his whole life. He was first diagnosed with lymphoma when he was 19. “Doctors told me I was going to die.

In my mind, from day one, I had no choice but to look for other options,” he says.

That was his attitude then and it remained his mindset as he went on to battle through eight different diagnoses of incurable lymphoma and several treatment regimes.

He read everything he could find on the subject of cancer. “It became my hobby.” He also spoke to hundreds of other patients during his hospital stays and could clearly see what a difference a person’s mental and emotional responses made to the process.

He concluded that it was vital that cancer patients be active participants in their own treatment and decisions about their care.

He continued to accumulate knowledge and understanding about cancer from a patient’s perspective, regularly sharing what he had learnt in group sessions organised by the Wellington Cancer Society.

Those sessions proved a catalyst to write Life, Happiness... and Cancer: Survive with Action and Attitude!, published in 2006. It became the country’s best-selling cancer support resource book and he found himself in demand as a speaker for district health boards and other cancer support groups nationwide.

Grant has already shared Phil’s book with several Police colleagues who have found themselves challenged with a diagnosis of cancer.

The feedback has been that it’s answered a lot of questions for them and their families, helped them deal with difficult emotions, such as anger, and inspired self-motivation and a belief in their ability to fight the disease.

Police Welfare fund members who would like to loan a copy of Life Happiness... and Cancer: Survive with Action and Attitude! can email [email protected]

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