The Cancer Society has just had one of its biggest fundraising events of the calendar — Daffodil Day — and their work continues.
This month, dubbed Blue September for public awareness purposes, is about prostate cancer, but for the men's support group which meets regularly at the Cancer Society headquarters in Koromiko Rd, it's about all cancers affecting men, or men who have had to deal with or are living with cancer.
Like others in that group, Brian Deadman, local representative for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, has been through the mill.
"Nine years back I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My GP was very proactive in making sure I had my PSA checks and the digital rectal examination every year. In 2009 my PSA started to rise and he sent me to see a specialist."
A biopsy was ordered, but with a long wait ahead through the public system Brian went private and got it done in Wellington.
"It was expensive but it was worth it," says Brian. From 12 samples a small amount of cancer was found in one. Brian was monitored for a few months but his PSA count climbed.
The result was a radical prostatectomy through the oncology department in Palmerston North Hospital.
"I went and saw [the surgeon] a couple of weeks after the operation for the follow-up, and he told me I was a very lucky man."
The biopsy had shown a small amount of cancer, but in fact the cancer was widespread around his prostate. If it had not been removed, he would have given Brian three to four years of remaining life.
"It's now been eight and a half years and I'm still here, I'm still healthy."
Brian is 74.
Surgery of that kind has consequences, and most men who undergo a prostatectomy will notice varying levels of incontinence and impotence. The former is easily taken care of and there are ways to deal with the latter.
It was Murray Watson who introduced Brian to the Men's Support Group at the Cancer Society. Now Brian runs it.
"It's a very informal group and we meet here [at the Cancer Society] on the first Monday of the month. We'll have a speaker, if we can, but other times it's just a get together with new members and meet and greet. If anyone has anything they wish to get up and talk about, we'll give them a chance."
Later Brian was shoulder-tapped to be a rep for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
The men's group is for all types of cancer, not just prostate.
"What we try and do is give new members our story, what we've been through ourselves: reassure them that there's still life after this and that there's a lot more can be done. You just have to ask about it."
Brian says when there's a meeting with a specialist or surgeon, take your partner or record the conversation.
"Quite often the 'C' word goes in there and creates panic. Cancer is treatable in most cases these days if it's caught early enough. There are no guarantees in life, but if you don't get checked, you're not going to know."
"Prostate cancer is not straight forward, it's fairly complex in terms of diagnosis and treatment," says Cancer Society health promoter Judy McIntyre. "About 12 months ago these guys approached the Cancer Society and asked if they could do more to help men understand what to do when they've had a diagnosis — what does the treatment mean, what does the language mean, what about side effects?"
The Men's Support Group, in conjunction with staff at the DHB and the Cancer Society, have developed a "road map" to point men in the right direction for good information about prostate cancer. The project has been co-ordinated by Judy.
"The road map is acknowledging that you're not alone: this is how all men think," she says.
It's about explaining the difference between oncology and urology and all the myriad terms that get used by health professionals but which are foreign to the layman. The road map discusses treatment options, side effects, recovery and connection.
There is a lot of good information out there: the road map can lead men to it.
"The thing about support for men with prostate cancer is it's not just a diagnosis: what they're facing are side effects that could be ongoing for them, and they are side effects that are about men's masculinity, their identity and who they are," says Judy.
"These are conversations these men are having all the time, and what they're saying is that it's important to be able to talk about it, and that's what they do at the Men's Support Group. They're not doctors but they are someone to talk to and they have a lot of information."
To get in touch with the Men's Support Group, contact the Cancer Society on 348 7402.