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An unwelcome milestone

imageWe buried the cat this week.

It was an unwelcome reminder of mortality and all that, especially since there was a time back in 2009 as I faced surgery to combat prostate cancer when it seemed he might outlast me.

Macavity’s kidneys let him down in the end and he went off to the big vet-aided sleep aged 16. I don’t feel bad about outliving him, of course, but I’ll miss the little bugger.

For some reason I re-read My Cancer Story on this blog last night, and there he was in a photo, tucked under my chin while I snoozed after one of my first days back at work following the operation (as the photo above shows, he also liked to sleep on Lin’s shoulder).

Digging a hole in the garden for him and planting a commemorative rhododendron – the kind of sentimental stuff us humans do when we lose a beloved pet – set me thinking again about how lucky I am to be alive.

I haven’t done that for a long time, as the memory of my brush with prostate cancer faded and I gradually resumed “life as usual”.

I even missed my annual PSA test recently. The doc forgot to add it to the usual cholesterol and god-knows-what-else indicators he orders for my yearly trip to the lab.

But, oh well, next year will do. It’s been seven years and so far nothing shows. I know, I know…this ignores all the frantic advice I was wont to give in the earlier days of the blog. It taks a decade to be clear, and all that.

Why am I being so blase? I don’t know. Maybe it’s simply a matter of moving on. I turned 69 last week, so perhaps there is some unacknowledged instinct that says I’m on the final run, so why worry? 

Hmmm.

Reading the blog again after several years of putting it aside was a revelation in some ways. Talk about intense. Did I really mean to reveal so much private stuff? It seemed to go down pretty well with you all, if the comments are any guide, but I wonder now.

All that introspection in the later chapters about hitting the road like a gypsy and living a stress-free life seems misplaced. Especially now that Lin and I have abandoned caravan dwelling and are putting ourselves through the immense stress of buying and renovating a house in our old hometown, New Plymouth.

I’m supposed to be retired. I quit the job in Wellington running the journalism school in 2013. But life is busier than ever – writing books and articles, and getting into a fascinating project to produce a phone app for people wanting to visit the battle sites of the 19th century land wars that began here in Taranaki.

As for my health, it’s never been better. The joints and the back act up after a day on my knees laying paving stones, but no more than you’d expect in your 70th year. The blood pressure pills have been halved and the cholesterol seems to be staying down (when I stay off the pies – all that physical labour makes for an enormous appetite).

The 18-year-old pee stream (was that some kind of obsession or what) has diminished, but it’s still a good flow. Orgasms have never been so intense (those nerves really did get joined up again).

So that’s about it. I’m good, thanks. Best of luck to those of you still on the journey.

 

 

imageJust had another routine PSA test and the result is negative again.

That means I have how been clear of prostate cancer for six years. Life is good.

I am now meant to be retired, but approaching the age of 68 I find my work as a freelance writer, editor, photographer and journalist is as busy as ever.

I published my latest book – on how my home province of Taranaki in NZ has cleaned up its many rivers – in October last year. The next book, about a pioneering Taranaki family, is nearly ready to go to the publisher.

In my spare time, I write the occasional indepth article for a local magazine called Live.

Check out my work at: JimTuckerMedia

 

Hi all

I haven’t been on this blog for a while, so apologies to anyone who has commented or asked questions.

I am teaching blogging to my journalism students today and showed them Prostablog – and discovered a large number of pending comments. They are mostly now posted (apart from the spam ones).

The reason I have stayed away, I guess, is I consider myself prostate cancer-free these days. My PSA doesn’t register, and my checks are down to once a year.

It is three and a half years since the surgery to remove my prostate and while I still have to get to the five year post, then a decade, I don’t think much about it.

Please take that as a positive – it could be seen as selfish on my part not to continue blogging. However,  I just ran out of stuff to say, and monitoring the web for prostate cancer news was taking several hours a day, which I now need to spend on doing other stuff.

I’m 66 and have just retired from journalism teaching. I will be returning to my hometown of New Plymouth in Taranaki to finish a book and maybe write some others. I will be working with my brother, photographer Rob Tucker, who has a few projects for me to contribute some writing to.

Prostate cancer changed my life in one important way: my wife and I enjoy camping, so decided to abandon home ownership in favour of a big caravan, which we tow around the country.

Although it might seem a crazy option in mid-winter, in fact we are finding it a great lifestyle at any time of year. Even the cat has got used to moving around.

So there we are. I feel lucky. Here’s all the best to all of you just starting the journey I began on Christmas Eve, 2008.

If you want to discuss anything about prostate cancer with me, please use my gmail address: edwardtuckr001@gmail.com

But remember, I’m not following the topic closely any more, so may not be able to help. And my advice is always cautious – I’m not a doctor, and I believe every man’s experience is different and personal.

NZ HERALD: The Herald’s medical reporter, Martin Johnston, has written a balanced account on where we are with the great PSA debate. READ MORE>

PROSTABLOG NZ: The final report from a two-year NZ Parliamentary investigation into prostate cancer detection and treatment has been released by the Health Select Committee. READ MORE>

PROSTABLOG NZ:  The PSA test may get a bad rap from epidemiologists and the Ministry of Health, but so far as I’m concerned it’s a winner.

It’s a reliable post-treatment indicator of whether your prostate cancer is coming back or not, and I’ve just had my two-year test – and it remains undetectable.

That’s very good news, so far as I can discern. My reading of things prostate tells me the two-year mark is a crucial one, a time when recurrence is most likely to rear its unwelcome head.

That doesn’t mean I’m cured. There’s a long way to go before that marker, perhaps a decade.

The only thing I’m not sure about is the fact my PSA never registered much (let alone any change) prior to my diagnosis in 2008.

Does that mean post-surgery PSA tests won’t work on me either.

Nah, let’s not dwell on it.

PROSTABLOG NZ: Exact meaning of the word “encourage” will be pivotal  in the continuing New Zealand saga on how best to prevent prostate cancer.

“We will be encouraging men to go to their GPs to discuss optionsincluding whether or not they should have a PSA test,” says the chairman of Parliament’s inquiry into prostate cancer, Paul Hutchison, in today’s Dominion Post newspaper (see below).

In the same story, his statement is welcomed by Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ president Mark von Dadelszen: “…we would certainly applaud that move.”

What they both mean by the term “encourage” is about to become the focus of a debate that has churned around in global prostate cancer politics since PSA testing became commonly available in the early 1990s.

First question: how does “encouraging” men to be tested differ from a national screening programme (which Hutchison signals will be rejected in the inquiry report due in a matter of weeks)?

A national screening programme presumably involves the Ministry of Health spending millions promoting tests to the general populace, as it does with breast and cervical cancers.

Such programmes “encourage” people to get along to their doctor and have the tests.

How will men be encouraged? Not with a lot of advertising, it seems.

So how, exactly?

By training barbers to spread the word to their clients, as has been tried in the US?

By sending doctors into communities to talk about risks and options, as the Foundation did last year when it flew a team to the Chathams?

By leaving it to the Foundation to publicise the disease and urge men to act, as happens now?

Whatever approach the Health Select Committee is about to recommend, it needs to deal with a mammoth in the waiting rooms – the Ministry of Health instruction to GPs that they must not raise the topic of PSA and rectal examination until the patient does or unless they spot symptoms obviously related to what is often a symptomless disease.

This is the real crux of the dilemma the Select Committee has presumably been wrangling with since its first public hearings in September, 2009.

What instruction will it recommend the Government give to the Ministry, whose staff and advisers  adamantly oppose any widening of the availability of PSA testing?

Up to now, men have been the subject of a mild but just as deadly form of Russian roulette when it comes to being diagnosed.

Take my own case.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve been under the care of four GPs. The first never mentioned prostate cancer (to be fair, I was under 50); the second (mid 1990s) refused to consider PSA tests because to him they were unproven; the third insisted on it without my bidding; and my current one responded readily to my request for tests (saying Ministry instructions forbade him raising the matter unless I spoke up first!).

Anecdotal evidence suggests the Ministry’s obfuscation is becoming increasingly irrelevant – for some people, anyway.

The Foundation’s awareness campaigns have been effective, if I judge by the number of male acquaintances now being diagnosed early and successfully treated.

However, I suspect there are dangerous class factors at play here.

Me and my mates are okay because we have been blessed by education, higher socio-economic status, media awareness and access to health provision.

I fear for those who don’t. The Ministry’s stubbornness condemns them to an uncertain fate.

National prostate screening rejected

Dominion Post April 2, 2011

A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry into prostate cancer screening will not be recommending a national screening programme despite pressure from cancer survivors to do so.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation has backed the committee’s approach, but a former patient says the decision is disappointing.

Health select committee chairman Paul Hutchison said the inquiry, which has been running since May 2009, was not due to report back for another few weeks, but when it did, it would not advocate screening.

There was still controversy over whether blood tests for prostate-specific antigens led to fewer prostate cancer deaths, he said.

Heightened levels of prostate specific antigen – PSA – can indicate the presence of prostate cancer. However, early detection can result in aggressive and unpleasant treatment of tumours that would never have grown or created ill-health.

The inquiry has heard from a huge number of prostate cancer survivors, many of whom asked for a screening programme for all men aged 50 and older.

Dr Hutchison could not go into detail about the committee’s findings but said there were two main conclusions.

‘‘We will not be recommending a PSA screening programme. However, we will be encouraging men to go to their GPs to discuss options … including whether or not they should have a PSA test.

‘‘Those are the two points that are loud and clear.’’

Prostate Cancer Foundation president Mark von Dadelszen said the organisation did not support a national screening programme because of ‘‘issues’’ with the PSA test.

‘What it does advocate is that men should be encouraged to have screening tests . . . we would certainly applaud that move.’’

Napier farmer Duncan McLean, who has just got the all-clear five years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, said encouragement was good but the committee should recommend a full screening programme.

Mr McLean, 57, had his prostate gland removed in 2006 after several years of increasingly high PSA readings, followed by a biopsy that confirmed the cancer.

‘‘PSA testing is essential. I’m alive today because of it. It’s really disappointing they’re not [recommending screening].’’

Fears about over-treatment were ‘‘bollocks’’, he said. ‘‘You don’t leap in and go under the surgeon’s knife – I was monitored for three years before I had surgery.’’

International research on the matter is split, with several largescale studies under way.

The results of a 20-year Swedish study, published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, found screening did not significantly reduce prostate cancer deaths but the risk of overdetection and unnecessary treatment was considerable.

However, another Swedish study found death from prostate cancer more than halved among men who were screened.

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