Diagnosis of prostate cancer happened by chance for Tom McGrath, over a decade ago, when he went to a doctor about a boil that needed treating.

The doctor prescribed treatment for the boil but because Tom was a new patient decided some other blood tests would a good idea to check his health.

"I agreed and was sure they wouldn't show up anything to worry about because I felt physically fit."

But a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test came back with a higher than normal reading so the doctor insisted he see a urologist which led to a prostate biopsy and diagnosis of prostate cancer.


While it was a scary time he felt a bit better when told the cancer could be controlled or cured with various treatments such as prostatectomy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy.

"The combination of bad and good news took time to process."

Tom, 65, said cancer was a bit like gorse.

"It grows of its own accord, and as gorse spreads and strangles other plants, so will cancer if untreated.

"Like gorse, cancer can be treated by slashing, burning or poisoning."

After various appointments with specialists, which were "worth every single dollar in terms of time-saving advice, particularly comparing the side effects of each procedure" Tom choose brachytherapy.

The treatment involved putting radioactive material into his prostate to control or kill the cancer — in low dose rate and high dose rate.

"The low dose rate, which I had, involved putting radioactive metallic seeds, the size of rice grains or less, through veins placed into the perineum and into the prostate."


In a private hospital, a team of specialists performed the operation quickly, and the next day he was home doing some gardening and a week later back at work.

While the brachytherapy had its challenges before and afterwards, including an urgency to urinate, after a year he was able to stop taking pills that controlled the side affects, and then he was told he was cured within all probability.

In Tom's case, brachytherapy proved "fast, convenient and effective" but he noted everyone was different.

"Any decision to select it must only be made after prior consultation and advice from a doctor, a urologist and an oncologist — it will not suit every cancer case."

Tom, who has written about his cancer experience in Blasted by Seeds, said getting PSA test results was still daunting but necessary.

"It's a bit more serious than your power bill or your credit card bill but thankfully it's only once a year for me."


He hoped his story showed people that good news stories are possible in cases of prostate cancer diagnosis.

"When I think about what happened to me over 10 years ago and what has happened since — the scariest thing is still how close I came to not knowing I had developed a dangerous disease in time to treat it effectively.

"I'm not the only one who has experienced this."

Tom was a guest speaker at Waikanae's Par-Tee Cafe on Thursday, which was a fundraiser for the Prostate Cancer Foundation New Zealand.