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Flying high in support of men’s health
Your football team lost on the weekend, but you still talk about it. Your health should be no different.
Tom, a pilot for 40 years, is a man of the air. At 59, after a routine yearly physical, Tom was given a diagnosis of cancer. He describes the shock of the news as his ears losing hearing and his brain stopping at the word Cancer.
Tom had maintained regular ‘birthday check-ups’ with his GP for many years. “Going to the doctor is like getting your hair cut. It’s just a regular exercise,” he explains. This approach to regular check-ups, could have saved his life. His GP was able to compare his results to previous years and noticed a clear change in his Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) levels - an indication of prostate health. Further investigations found that Tom had prostate cancer.
Tom admits he felt mostly ignorant about the disease and initially thought the worst. Although his father was diagnosed at 80, he’d had no other exposure to the disease and knew very little about it.
He was hospitalised for a week after radical surgery, but post-surgery is where he faced other challenges. At that time, rehabilitation therapy was not considered part of Tom’s recovery and being in a semi-rural region, access to outpatient and support services were also limited at the time of diagnosis.
Tom felt on his own in the community dealing with the new health issues and the limited pathways for recovery that came post-surgery. He also found online sources of information confusing which added to not feeling prepared for his journey after surgery.
Tom acknowledges that men are generally ‘fixers’, believing the surgery will ‘fix’ it and then they move on. But there is always more to it. Traditionally, men don’t speak up about issues they are experiencing or go looking for help. He believes the same applies to men’s mental wellbeing, which he also advocates for.
Tom’s experience motivated him to research information about the role of the prostate, how to navigate rehabilitation from cancer and what he can do for men in his community going through the same experience. Tom’s journey highlights the importance of regular check-ups and developing a relationship with a GP. People need to feel comfortable to open up and advocate for themselves, to ask the little and big questions to their GP.
When asked what helped him cope with his own health challenges, he admitted that being able to laugh at himself was a big plus. When talking about functional issues like pelvic floor strength, a topic rarely applied to men, it was clear that views of masculinity can be a barrier for men, and applying humour has been a positive asset. He acknowledges that his willingness to seek help may not be typical of others, especially when dealing with confronting issues.
As a member of the Wingecarribee Health Association for Men (WHAM), Tom has found pride advocating for men’s health. He is also an ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and has provided phone assistance (0419 482 208) to others going through diagnosis and recovery. The message he most wants men to hear is to seek information and open up, “Your football team lost on the weekend, but you still talk about it. Your health should be no different.”
If you or if you know of someone that is going through investigations for prostate cancer or have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and would like to find out more about the disease or information on local services available to you, please visit the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia's website on https://www.prostate.org.au or contact your local Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse on 0417 942 581
Tom’s story is a part of the Tackling the Challenge Project, a collection of local men’s stories. If you have a story to share, please contact Brendan Bennett on Brendan.Bennett@health.nsw.gov.au or on 8738 5983.
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