CHAT WITH VANESSA
This series shares the stories and experiences of individuals whose lives have been affected by men's health issues. In the spirit of our drive to increase awareness of men's health, read each story at your leisure or share with a loved one to remind them of the importance of getting regular check-ups.
This first instalment introduces us to Vanessa and her experience of a loved one's prostate cancer diagnosis...
How has prostate cancer impacted you, and the people around you?
My father was diagnosed with an elevated prostate level two years ago (2018) from a blood test which then worsened, and he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the beginning of 2019. He had surgery in the middle of last year (2019) and subsequently has had radio and chemotherapy treatment.
How has your experience with prostate cancer changed the way you live?
The experience with prostate cancer has had an impact on my family because my mother is an older woman in her 80s, same age group as my father. She was ill at the same time as him, with her own issues, so she was unable to actively assist with caring in the way she may have ordinarily been able to. This meant that the family, as in the children, had to step in and take a much more active role in his caretaking.
In turn, it had an immediate effect on me and provided a wakeup call to us that both our parents were really now in their 80s, at advanced years of life, living each with chronic illnesses and needed more support from the family.
Why do you think so many people shy away from prostate checks?
Within the context of my father's experience my parents are both quite proactive in terms of their healthcare, so my father had had the elevated reading and then took the initiative a year later to have another blood test himself.
They found evidence of cancer, so he actually initiated that diagnostic procedure himself which led to the surgery and radio and chemotherapy later on.
What was the most important thing that helped you during your experience with prostate cancer?
My father being proactive and taking the initiative on his health care was very helpful with getting a hold of the situation. The fact that my mother is also proactive with her healthcare I think sort of created a sense of support for him, even though at the time she was dealing with her own issues, it gave him the ability to take responsibility and see it through.
I think the thing that most helped me as a support person for my father was the fact that he was managing his own health, but also that he needed support from me because my mother is older and wasn't able to give it herself. I live close to them, so I was able to help out and I also had time off work last year, I was on long service leave, so having a break from my own work gave me the time and capacity to support my parents.
What information do you wish you knew before your experience with prostate cancer?
I think when he was having the radio and chemotherapy he was pretty positive because he felt as if he was doing something to deal with the cancer but I think that one of the challenges that he faced, and it's difficult for people who are supporting him, is that he found dealing with the doctors a bit confusing.
It was very hard to get a coordinated response from the different sorts of specialists who were involved with his treatment and to get a sort of a an overall response from his GP. He found that communication frustrating and he really had to take the initiative to follow up with the different specialists to actually get a sense of from them and an understanding of his prognosis and what he could do after the radio and chemotherapy finished. Had he not followed up he wouldn't have heard anything.
Also, given that he is a person with his mental faculties intact there's no reason and no authority for anybody else to get involved, other than my mother, so I think that’s a challenge of getting information and understanding how you can support people when you don't necessarily have the authority to be involved because of privacy issues.
So I think that had we understood that we needed to be more assertive in our follow up treatment that it would have diminished a lot of anxiety for my father in the sort of first half of 2020 post the radio and chemotherapy.