COMMENT: By Andrew Dickens, Newstalk ZB host

So I have an announcement to make: I have prostate cancer.

I will be having a radical prostatectomy to remove my prostate on November 20.

I'm not telling you this to gain your sympathy or angle for gifts and free stuff and hugs and kisses.

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I'm telling you this because I think hearing about my journey might be useful for you, or a loved one you know. In my business I ask you to share your stories and the quid pro quo of that is that I need to share back. But I also know the difference between the personal and the private.

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Some people find the tale of their illnesses and diseases and medical battles to be something that should be kept private. I've decided that my little thing is something that's very widespread and yet the processes are rarely discussed in public.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men: 3100 registrations every year. One 1 in 8 Kiwi blokes - 650 men die from it a year. We need to talk about it.

So here's my story.

I've been in the media all my life and there's some trite lines we dole out. One of them has been, "Men. Man up and check yourself out and go to the doctor if anything is wrong".

So when I turned 40 I decided to have a yearly warrant of fitness on my body. That included all sorts of things including of course a digital rectal examination and a suite of blood tests.

Sixteen years ago I had a debate with my doctor about whether a PSA test should be included. A PSA test gives you a sign that a cancer might be developing in the prostate.

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She was against it because it was inaccurate and you could get false positives. My attitude was that I'd rather have a false positive that I could then rule out than having no test or indication or clue at all.

So when I went off for my first blood test I secretly ticked the PSA box. And once you start monitoring that there's no point in stopping.

'I have cancer. Found very early. Still very small'

This July I had my blood test. My doctor called and asked me to come in. That's a horrible call because you know something's wrong but you don't know until you see the doc. My PSA came back at 4.8. It shouldn't be above 4. Some men record PSAs in their hundreds.

My doctor had a feel of my prostate. It felt fine apparently. I had absolutely no symptoms at all other than a blood test.

So it was off to a specialist. I have a urologist now. He had a feel and an ultrasound and found nothing.

So it was off to have an MRI. The MRI guy found a very small shadow at the bottom of the gland. He thought we should check it out.

When he turned 40 Dickens decided to have a yearly health warrant of fitness check.
When he turned 40 Dickens decided to have a yearly health warrant of fitness check.

So it was off to have a biopsy - where my urologist stuck 30 needles through my perineum to see if he could find some cancer.

He did. He found a small group of cells in one of those needles.

I have cancer.

Found very early. Still very small. But not benign. If left alone it'd get me in 10 years. Maybe 15.

So it came down to what do with it. Zap with radiotherapy. Or take it out.

I decided to take it out with keyhole surgery. I don't need it anymore. And my urologist also pointed out that the rest of my bloods and health is excellent and there's no reason why I couldn't live another 30 or even 40 years (I'm 56 by the way).

There are risks, principally incontinence or impotence. Risks I'm prepared to take.

So there's a lot more to unpack about all this, such as how happy am I to have health insurance. How even though I'm in a rush this whole process has already taken four months.

But here's the thing: I have been shocked at the reaction of many of my peers. Men in their 50s who have never had a digital examination, let alone a blood test.

There's another group of men who have diligently had a finger up their bum but no blood test who think they've been good boys. They've been genuinely shocked to find I have cancer and the digital exam has never found a thing.

Other men have been chagrined and finally got some bloods done. They haven't got prostate cancer but one guy found diabetes and another found liver issues. He stopped drinking last week.

For 20 years I've been telling men (and myself) to get regular tests and yet here we are in 2019 with a whole lot of middle-aged men blithely carrying on until they get a symptom. My belief is that once you start getting symptoms you're pretty close to too late already and you're starting the race under a handicap.

We've just finished blue September, which has seen a whole lot of celebrities prancing around in blue tutus saying raise some money for research.

That's fine but the message I want to convey is get some tests. Annually. From 40. And when you're 60 I reckon every six months.

I mean what harm could that do? Other than saving your life.