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Paul Hutchison

PAUL HUTCHISON

PROSTABLOG NZ: MP Paul Hutchison – chair of the upcoming Parliamentary inquiry into prostate cancer – is making no secret of where his sympathies lie when it comes to increasing awareness of the disease.

He will be one of the Blue September prostate cancer “dawn walkers” in Manukau City this weekend.

His allegiance to the cause of reducing confusion about prostate cancer and advice given to men was strongly established earlier this month when he published an opinion piece in the Capital city’s morning newspaper, the Dominion Post.

KevinHague

KEVIN HAGUE

In that, he called the present situation “untenable”.

His stance contrasts strongly with at least one other member of the Health Select Committee, Green list MP Kevin Hague, who called it a waste of time as soon as it was announced in June.

Dr Hutchison’s tramp through early morning Auckland will be on one of three dawn walks for Blue September that kick off at 7am this Sunday – in Wellington, Napier and Manukau City.

The Wellington one starts at the Freyberg Pool in Oriental Parade, the Napier jaunt from the Soundshell in Marine Parade, and the Auckland one goes from Totara Park in Manurewa.

Particpants are encouraged to turn up in blue clothing and wearing blue face paint, like that worn by the campaign’s celebrity figureheads, Buck Shelford, Paul Holmes, and TVNZ reporter John Sellwood.

DawnWalkMap

WELLERS DAWN WALK: Around Mt Vic - 7am Sunday - start at Freyberg Pool.

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JULY 25: PROSTABLOG NZ:  Barry Young, long-serving president of the NZ Prostate Cancer Foundation, was re-elected for his sixth term today, but this may be his last.

Barry, who has been involved with the foundation for a decade and has become known as its media figurehead, says he will be stepping down as foundation CEO, but will continue as president for at least another year to ensure continuity.

About 50 people attended the foundation’s annual meeting in Napier today, electing a new executive committee.

The meeting got a first look at a new series of DVDs on prostate cancer, fronted by prominent urologists Robin Smart and Peter Davison, and featuring celebrity patients like broadcaster Paul Holmes, as well as former All Black captain Buck Shelford, who suffered a different form of cancer but who campaigns on behalf of Maori men who suffer prostate cancer.

The series explains all aspects of prostate cancer screening and treatment and is now available on the foundation’s website.

Barry

Barry Young at today’s prostate cancer foundation AGM showing Lin Tucker one of the balloons – coloured blue to match the organisation’s new fund-raising brand, Blue September – used in a marketing demonstration.

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JULY 12:  TVNZ: Green Party MP Sue Kedgely has again raised the possible danger of folic acid causing prostate cancer,  weeks before a new NZ law will force bakers to include folic acid in all bread as a “vaccine” against birth defects. TV presenter Paul Holmes – a prostate cancer survivor – today interviewed Kedgely and food safety Minister Kate Wilkinson, who says she can do nothing. SEE HERE>

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Part 2 of My PC Adventure: a Kiwi male’s brush with prostate cancer

WHEN I was a kid, vague family discussion sometimes turned to the “waterworks” problems of one or other of my numerous uncles.

I realise now they were probably not talking about council water connections, but there was never enough solid detail to pin anything down: it was made clear this was not a topic for young ears.

Judging by the muted amusement, the stories were slightly comical to those with the code: “…and when Jack asked the bus driver to stop so he could go, there was no arguing about it. When Jack has to go, he has to go. So they stopped right there in the middle of the Mahoenui Hills…” But incomprehensible to those without it.

Despite what sounded to the untrained ear like a plethora of mysterious difficulties with his plumbing, Uncle Jack eventually died of pneumonia, and to my knowledge, prostate cancer was never linked to his death or to those of any other senior male family member.

I have no recollection of when I first heard of prostate cancer, which is hardly surprising, given that unless you’re the one being told you’ve got it, it’s not a death-of-Princess-Di-or-Jack-Kennedy moment when it’s first mentioned.

Probably, it cropped up when I was doing the medical round on the Auckland Star in the late 70s, when I imported various lofty medical publications to read for story ideas, usually understanding no more than a fifth of what I perused, and going home with a new complaint every day. Not that one of those was likely to have been PC, given I was thirty-something and had plenty of hypochondriac possibilities to embrace other than those associated with old age.

However, as you ease into your 50s, you become aware of what I heard someone call “the corridor”, an alarming pre-late-middle-age state in which mortality presents its first real challenges. Former school mates (still “just boys”) die suddenly of heart attacks. Others have bypass operations. Lung cancer, bowel cancer and diabetes become possibilities, because we’ve all just heard the news about (insert name).

No mention then, though, of the old prostate. No, that was still coming…and has duly arrived over the last decade as we baby boomers head for a different kind of 60s than the liberating ones we claim not to remember, a decade that is very much likely to be implanted on the memory cells and involve quite different reasons for embracing morphia.

It currently seems like a tsunami of bad tidings. In the last few years I’ve become aware of dozens of friends, acquaintances and work colleagues who’ve had the PC diagnosis, many of them more or less my age (I’m 62). The latest was former Auckland Star colleague Phil Gifford, who wrote about his PC news in last weekend’s Sunday Star-Times (something that partly motivated me to write this blog, to do my bit).

My PC news came on Christmas Eve, 2008. That was no fault of my wonderful GP, Rob McIlroy, who said – after I pestered him for the result of my tests – that he didn’t want to ruin my Christmas with news that could have waited.

Which was a clue that my diagnosis was not as bad as it might have been: I had a non-aggressive form of the disease, only just showing, and there would be plenty of time to consider treatment.

Let’s step back a bit. Rob acquired me as a patient after we moved to Wellington in 2005. He is a well known and respected Hataitai GP, who is sometimes growled at by us patients because he always seems to be at the surgery working ridiculously long hours to look after us.

After being accepted on his books that year, I got into an annual pattern of checkups. Rob would record weight, blood pressure and general wellbeing, as well as taking out a bit of the red stuff for tests on diabetes signs, cholesterol…and the old PSA (which, incidentally, stands for prostate-specific antigen.

My PSA barely registered. We didn’t bother with a digi-test, since I’d had one the year before in New Plymouth, and Rob had no other cause to act: so far I’d neglected to mention my gradually slowing urine stream, just assuming my prostate was enlarging naturally with age and pressing slightly on the urethra.

During the 2006 check, however, I did bring it up, and without hesitation Rob had me positioned for a digital examination. “That’s benign,” he pronounced.

I didn’t ask for another one the following year (2007), what with the PSA practically nil still, but in November, 2008 (a couple of months behind schedule for the annual because I’d been busy at work), I mentioned the slow pee stream again, so we agreed another digital was in order.

This time, the probing lasted a bit longer than usual. Rob ummed for a moment, then said he’d like a second feel. “Hmm, just feels a bit rough on the surface on the right. May be nothing, but let’s get you along to a urologist. Better to be sure.”

Prior to my first appointment with Wellington urology surgeon Rodney Studd, the latest PSA result came back: .77, about as low as you go. But Rod’s digital exam quickly confirmed that Rob had indeed discovered something (later described by one of them as like “feeling a bit of gravel in a soft apricot”). I would now need a biopsy, involving taking samples from the prostate and analysing them.

Right. Paul Holmes sprang to mind again. Wasn’t this the procedure he described in a newspaper column as “like being punched up the backside”. Terrific. I was terrified by the time the day for the biopsy arrived. Thanks Holmesy.

All I can say is, my experience was different, something which now seems quite common with nearly every aspect of the PC path. No two people tell of the same pain, results, feelings, outcomes, etc, as you proceed through what is a complex and individual journey.

Again, I was lying on my side with pants down and knees drawn high as Rod conducted the biopsy procedure. He explained that the probe he would introduce to my back passage (I’d had a self-administered enema before going to his rooms) would firstly give a local anaesthetic, so the biopsy needle going through the wall of my bowel would not cause any pain.

It didn’t, and we chatted away, analysing the merits or otherwise of the Dominion Post while he took 12 samples from various parts of the prostate.

To me, each felt like a barely noticeable, dull thud (not the “punch” described by Paul). It was all over in what seemed like 10 minutes, when – inexplicably – I felt faint and slumped a bit, showing what the nurse and my wife later said was a very pale face. Some sort of delayed shock reaction, I guess, or maybe just relief that nobody, especially me, died.

Rod gave me his cell number and told me to ring if any infection showed up. As he said, the puncture was through the wall of the bowel, so there was a small chance of infection, which would likely happen about three days afterwards and show up as a fever. If that happened, I was to get to A and E and give him a call. Nothing happened and I was back at work the next day, albeit walking about gingerly.

That didn’t stop me worrying, of course. There are side effects, carefully explained beforehand by Rod but nontheless disquieting. My pee was rose for a day, but quickly turned to a healthy-looking sauv blanc. Having the first crap was daunting, knowing your bowel had a wound of some kind in it; but by chance I’d been on a liquorice bender that week, so the usual straining wasn’t needed, and there was no sign of blood.

Then my good and helpful mate Lance – who’s had a couple of these procedures because of his high PSA count – laughingly warned: “Wait till you come!” He was referring to the pre-procedure advice there would be blood in my semen. Sure enough, the usual creamy grey was sort of dirty-looking, brownish rather than red, but certainly not standard colour. Again, as warned, this lasted a week or two, then cleared. As the doc said, usage “clears the pipes”.

Two weeks later, the standard wait for results, we were approaching Christmas and I was getting anxious to know my fate. My call to GP Rob revealed the following:

  •  Three of the 12 samples showed indication of cancer.
  •  The level of aggression seemed to be low.
  •  The prognosis was good.

So. In a reverse kind of way, the Waiheke GP had been right, sort of. My low PSA, which had given me a certain piece of mind, turned out to be completely wrong. How come? I would need to wait a couple of weeks for my appointment with Rod to find out, as Christmas festivities intervened.

Next: What goes through your mind when told you’ve got cancer – and who do you tell?

For information about prostate cancer,  go to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ

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