Here’s to Staving off Dementia and other Demons


Txt me later - Waiouru Army MuseumI’ve been working on my CV over the last few days as my division and role are being disestablished. On the template there was a field for interests. Now if you know me, you will know I am addicted to learning. I am not happy if I am not developing a new skill, a new understanding or keeping up with the constant state of change in this amazing era I feel privileged to live in.

Why do we need to learn? For a start, we have a massive set of wetware in our skulls, that like any muscle, needs to be exercised. Just like muscle sinews, the dendrites in our brain grow or shrink as they are used or neglected. We have discovered this concept of neuroplasticity, or perhaps more to the point of it, science has proven it exists. We actually knew it all along. The link above has some great ways to grow your brain.

The challenge is to keep learning and my bent is to understand, not just absorb data. We have Wikipedia and Google to do compile the data, we need to understand what it means. We need to be ready to identify our weaknesses and keep pace with change. If we don’t the consequences are dire.

I told someone this morning that I feel like I am living in a science fiction novel. The space race is back on, our oceans, lakes, rivers and seas are polluted. Temperatures all over the globe are reaching extremes, we’re getting rid of plastic bags, the political trend around the world is becoming more nationalistic in many places, as we try to protect something we may not have actually had. Children are rising up and being recognised.

I have to chuckle at this one, because I tried that back when I was a kid. I was lucky to have the opportunity because whilst children were sent to schools and universities to learn, their views were largely ignored. Today they are realising that they can’t let grownups screw up the world that they will inherit.

The challenge was that we didn’t have social media and broadcast systems that allow children on one side of the planet to encourage people on another side of the planet to ban plastic bags. I remember being involved in seminars as a teenager with groups like the World Council of Churches and Paulo Freire, whom I was very lucky to have met and spent time with.

Paulo’s critical pedagogy which is now considered new, included the premise that “Study is not measured by the number of pages read in a night, nor by the number of books read in a semester. Studying is not an act of consuming ideas, but of creating and recreating them”.

That’s how we moved from the Morse Code machine to owning, often more than one smartphone, each with more computing power than was used in the entire Apollo 11 Space Programme.

Successes didn’t happen overnight. For example there were many failures before that light bulb lit up and stayed on. We didn’t stop with that incandescent light, we tried and failed and failed and tried and look at the amazing options we have now. Garden lights powered by the sun that work for years and cost less than $5 each!

So what happens when we stop learning? Have you had the sad experience of having to put a family member into a rest home? What happens in most of those places? They have limited resources and the people in them spend a lot of their time withering away until they no longer know who they are. Yet, we know that playing them music they were once familiar with, can bring them back. Things they learned are still there, but the dendrite connections turned off.

I wonder how we will use that knowledge now that it has been accepted as scientific fact, because dementia is at its highest level in recorded history and I’m not sure it needs to be.

I actually wanted to write about interests and one of mine is linguistics. At various times I have learned and spoken around 8 languages. I formally studied 6 of those. The other one, which I have forgotten was Hungarian, which I learned at 3 because my neighbours at the time only spoke that language. It was easy for me because I already spoke Dutch and English and learned French and German because my parents used it when I was a child, to have a conversation they didn’t want me to understand. Now there’s motivation for a kid to learn something!

I also wanted to talk about conferences, having attended, chaired and spoken at venues in 10 countries around the world, frequently sharing the frustration that most of the people that needed to attend weren’t there, because they were struggling to survive in a changing world and didn’t have time to learn the very things that would save their business. So instead of using Freire’s pedagogy, they kept repeating what they had once been taught, even though it was no longer relevant.

The number of people I have come across who say they know all about their business seems interesting proportional to the number of businesses that are going broke, or the models that are failing because disruptors have delivered what customers were asking the incumbents for, and not getting. So we were frequently preaching to the converted.

I’ll come back to the importance of language in another article, because it is a subject in its own right. Language and linguistics has provided me with a rich career in business and communications. It has taught me much about culture and helped me develop friendships and business relationships around the world.

But haven’t they changed over the decades? My cousins in Holland frequently use words I haven’t heard before and the technology is also now taking us into a whole new area of language, much of which is international, like emojis.

Anyway, I’d like to tell some stories about languages and the value of learning, but you’ll have to watch this space to find them. That’s assuming you still read, but of course you are here. That’s probably a sign of your age, because after writing my latest book targeted at millennials, I realised that many do not like to read at all, but will happily spend hours on YouTube watching educational videos. Maybe one little take away if you are in a business where you want to communicate with people. It used to be simple back in the day.

The things we were taught about in communications decades ago may still work in some niches. The principles still apply, but as Freire said, you have to create and recreate ideas.

So WTS and I’ll BRB 🙂

The Backstory on My Back


acc HELPHi, I’m ACC 18 Number 201905123684, I’ve swapped the numbers a little, although it probably doesn’t make any difference. I’m fairly well known.

My back story consists largely of digital files and probably a few manila folders and other storage media in several Accident Compensation Commission, medical, physio, specialist, hospital, surgeon, Occupational Therapist, Pain Specialist offices around New Zealand. They get shuffled from time to time.

Having said that, everyone on my journey has been friendly, thoughtful and most have tried to help me. A few, who I haven’t met, somewhere in the system have the job of helping ACC to not have to pay for my surgery, with considered justification. I’ll talk about that too.

Blackroom Relay for Life 2016 Print-47In March 2018, I hurt my back getting ready to set up for the Auckland Cancer Society’s North Shore Relay for Life event. The annual 18-hour relay, raising funds for cancer services which I have completed 6 times. I started with my family in honor of family members who have died from cancer, including my late father-in-law.

Then I got cancer myself, and during the fund-raising process I’m proud to say that over 30 men got tested for Prostate cancer because of my story, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I was given the honour of speaking at the opening, having refreshments in the survivors’ tent and carrying one of the flags in the first survivors’ lap. A humbling and emotional experience.

20170325_155154Trying, unsuccessfully, to awkwardly pick up a bag of tent poles out of a trailer provided at the venue by the organizers, for a 4 room tent, would set off a chain of events that has opened my eyes to the plight of many New Zealanders, who desperately want to work, but can’t, because the health system is underfunded, under resourced and inefficient.I became one of them.

I have a job. I hold a management role at the NZTA, a job I love with an awesome team of people who provide mostly Real Time Travel Information to motorists and travelers around the country.

It’s been 14 months since my injury.

My Occupational Therapist, GP, Pain Specialist and my Manager have agreed that I can work 2 three-hour days a week. ACC funds taxis to get me there as I could be a danger to myself and others, under the daily pain medication regime I’m on. That allows me to do something productive as well as socialize with my colleagues and not feel totally divorced from my work.

It was part of my back to work program, which has stalled since the Orthopedic Surgeon advised me that we had ‘painted our backs into a corner, having tried every alternative to fusion and discectomy surgery.’

I am incredibly grateful that the NZTA hasn’t dropped me under the bus and that I still have a job, although I am not currently able to perform my normal duties.

Over the next while, along with other activities, I’m going to talk about my life, one shared with my family and friends, colleagues and the health system.

I’m going to talk about what happened, about why I still can’t go back to work, why I am still waiting for surgery after 14 months. How ACC don’t want to pay for the surgery, how I can’t afford to pay for the excess if I went private, and my current experience with the Auckland District Health Board and North Shore Hospital, where I was referred as an Urgent Patient on the 9th of April.

I have not yet been able to connect with the person who makes appointments. When I rang them at the end of April, the hospital representative at the Patient Service Centre said they must see me within 4 months, and it was too early to ring. I was told it wasn’t worth ringing before the end of May and even then, not to get my hopes up. I rang today and left a message on their voicemail.

I have Prostate Cancer.

Mercy ScannerDuring the dark days of 8 weeks of radiation treatment, followed by chemicals, I think I had less than a week off work, on the odd day when I was so fatigued that I couldn’t function.

I arranged my radiation sessions to be around 7AM every morning so that I could go straight on to work afterwards, and still be on time. That’s how I roll.

I am now fortunately in remission, and my latest blood test last week showed a good result. The irony is that Cancer is fatal and there is every possibility that one day, hopefully decades away, it will kill me.

On the other hand, chances are very good that after back surgery, I will be a little sore from time to time, manageable with over the counter pain relief. Yet, for cancer I had less than a week off work and with a back injury it has now been over a year!

Mine is a common story, but one with which for the first 40 years of my working life I had no personal experience. I’d heard stories, mostly about people who allegedly don’t want to work, and enjoy living off the taxpayer’s dollar, but there are so many more people like me, who desperately want to work and contribute to society. If you have a look at my profile on LinkedIn you will read that my goal in life has always been to help people.

I consider my work important, a contribution to reducing the pain of traveling on our ever more congested road network by offering information about planned and unplanned events, about expected delays, alternative routes, alternate modes of transport, helping people plan for holiday road trips and much more.

I lead a team of awesome people who really care about you, their customers. It matters to me, but I’m being kept from it.

It’s funny, we talk about the cost to society of people who are needlessly killed on our roads. The cost takes into consideration the contribution they will make to the country’s GDP over their lives. Yet, the cost to taxpayers to get me back to work by providing me with back surgery, is far less than the cost of keeping me away from work.

As I said, mine is a common story, but it’s not one that people like you and I can easily relate to, unless we are directly affected.

Of course, in each instance, it’s not just the patient, it’s our partners, our family, our friends, our colleagues and of course the workload that must be done by someone else, or perhaps not at all.

seatI’ll try to make the story interesting, maybe even have the odd laugh. But let me tell you, this is no joke. I have gone from being super positive and highly motivated, with a bucket list of things I want to do which I prepared when I found out I have cancer, to being virtually trapped in my home, on the border of depression, not being able to stand, sit or lie down for any length of time without significant pain.

I’ll share an email I sent to ACC after having read a report prepared for them by a specialist, who said that “The patient appears to be doing reasonably well”.

Interestingly, this person who was paid by ACC to investigate my case did not once speak to myself, my GP, my Orthopedic Specialist, my Case Manager, my Pain Manager or my Physio.

I guess ‘reasonably well’ is a relative expression. I’m not dying.

The email is quite personal, but that’s really the point. I am a person.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m hoping to hear back from the hospital today and am getting on with other things in the meantime.

You may find my story interesting; you may be in a similar situation yourself. I know I’m not alone. I understand it was stated in Parliament Question Time last week that the number of elective surgeries completed last year was 10,000 ‘elective’ surgeries less than the year before. Reasons included strikes and funding. It’s little wonder it could take months for me to just be able to speak to someone.

Feel free to comment or ask questions. I know I’m not alone here and you may be in a similar situation to mine. I grew up as a fan of New Zealand’s welfare state. I learned that we are the system and that if we don’t stand up for something, no one else will either. I just didn’t know how bad it was.

So, you there. Have you had any experiences like mine? How do you get some action without ruffling people’s feathers and having your manila folder dropped down the list a little? Of course, that wouldn’t happen would it?

I welcome your comments.

 

 

 

 

What Cancer Patients Really Think When You Tell Them “You’re Looking Well” AND 4 Reasons I Need Your Help for Relay For Life


IMG_2082

Contains the robes we wore when undergoing radiation treatment

Four of the people who have supported me in my cancer journey were  worse off than me. There was Shelley, who had a fall 2 weeks ago and we had her funeral on Saturday. They had said she had maybe a couple of months, but it spread faster than expected to her spine and brain. Then there is another Shelley who has to have chemo every 3 weeks for the rest of her life. Because she chose a low cost insurance policy (who thinks you’re going to get cancer?) she had to sell her house to get quick treatment to save her life. There is Lee, my colleague and friend who is still fighting. Finally there is my great friend of over 30 years, Daff, who we buried in December, right before Christmas.

IMG_3482I wrote this song about our shared experiences. Things that cancer patients say to each other and to the medical people who support them. Relay For Life helps people like us. Can you?

Isn’t it Ironic

©Luigi Cappel 2017

Verse One

When I’m down on the ground
Where do I go from here
I’m feeling flat, well fancy that
I’m feeling sorry for myself

Pre Chorus

I ought to feel ashamed
I get another day
Others aren’t so lucky

Chorus

But my friend says
In the morning, I put on my face
Wipe away my tears
You don’t see me then

Verse Two

I need to fight with all my might
Put on a happy face
Take off that frown, bringing others down
Impact my fate

Pre Chorus

Isn’t it ironic
The people you use as a tonic
Are worse off than you

Chorus

But my friend says
In the morning, I put on my face
Wipe away my tears
You don’t see me then
I’ve trained myself, sometimes it works
I paint a picture, that hides the hurt

People used to say to us “You’re looking well!” They were trying to pep us up and when I was depressed and fatigued (I didn’t think of it as that, just frustrated) I’d start my day looking in the mirror and say I’m alive and well and I feel great and try to get some endorphins going with a big fake smile. As you know, I shave my head. The other four all lost their hair. They were all struggling emotionally with that but they kept brave faces.

Read the last chorus and this will tell you what is really going on.

Out of 13 countries, New Zealand has the lowest ranking for access to cancer medicines. Relay For Life is working to help that and the Cancer Society who helped us all doesn’t get Government funding. Do you reckon you could donate $1 for each of my friends and myself, to go to the Cancer Society? That would be $5. That could make a real difference, truly. You can do it here.

Thanks for coming a little way into our journey. I will be walking all through the night for them and dozens more in two weeks time, with your support for which my gratitude.

 

How to Reduce the Number of Your People Dying of Cancer in New Zealand Even Though You are not a Doctor


IMG_5145Yesterday we flew to Wellington and drove over the windy Rimutakas for a funeral of a friend and family member who died of cancer on Monday. It all started with a lump in her breast, it ended with tumors in her spine and brain. A prognosis of months became days.

One of the people who spoke lost her husband late last year to cancer, she spoke with raw emotion of how life changing and devastating it still is to her. Several other people there had experience and have lost people to cancer or who are battling it. Five of the speakers shared the following words, driven by raw emotion “Fuck Cancer”. I think that’s the first time I have ever sworn in a blog and I don’t apologise.

I invite a comment from each of you who don’t know someone who has lost the fight with cancer or is battling it right now. Tell me that’s you and I will be thrilled for you. 1 in 3 Kiwis will get cancer. It doesn’t have to kill a third of our population. If you were told you had a 1 in 3 chance of winning lotto, would you go and buy a ticket? IMG_5165

I also spoke briefly about my journey. I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m in remission and she was one of the ones who was looking out for me and giving me moral support. It’s people like her (and another Shelley who has chemo every 3 weeks and had to sell her Auckland home to live in the country to cover the difference between what her insurer was paying and what she had to find to cover the cost of her teatment, that helped me get to remission.

In one of my songs for The Cancer Diaries EP, I wrote, “Isn’t it ironic, that the people you use as a tonic, are worse of than you?”

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly passed away who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March 2018. The day after my birthday.

She was also active on my Facebook Page Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies. She was also a great supporter of Relay For Life which as you may know, we are walking for 18 hours on the 10th and 11th of March at the Millenium Institute of Sport on the North Shore.

We talk about cancer being about OLD people. Many people say it is the Baby Boomers who spent too much time in the sun, smoking and covering their bodies in baby oil. But when I look around, I see a wide mix of people. Toddlers with Leukemia, teenagers with bowel cancer, people like myself and my friends who are (or were still working and expecting to for at least another 10 years. How about the younger people who have lived on a diet of processed foods, preservatives and the many other flavour enhancers documented on the packaging. Of course you don’t see those on the packaging of the fast food many people live on. Would you eat your favorite fast food if the packaging looked like the packaging on a pack of cigarettes? Imagine if they had pictures of obese people, diabetics and those with heart problems caused by eating processed food, along with ALL of the ingredients.

At the wake, after the funeral yesterday everyone had a cancer story and a common thread of discussion was about getting tested before you have symptoms and the time to get tested was typically agreed for people with no symptoms of around 30-40 years of age.

We talked about diet and lifestyle.Those are things that we have control to do something about. Getting tested early is no doubt what saved my life. I had no symptoms that I was aware of and it was a simple blood test that led to my diagnosis.

My friend, Colleague and supporter Lee, who continues to battle her ‘terminal’ diagnosis contacted me  told me I needed to watch a Netflix documentary called The C Word, starring Morgan Freeman. She said that she felt if she had watched it a year ago, she would still be working and not facing a death sentence. I imagine if you followed the learnings from the move and never got cancer.

I watched the movie with her recommendation. If you don’t have Netflix, you might find it on YouTube or elsewhere. If you were told you have a 1 on 3 likelihood of getting cancer, would you do anything different? Well I’ve told you now, those are your odds. What if helping out the Cancer Society with a small donation would help speed up some exciting world leading cancer research as well as help people who have been already been diagnosed with everything from free counselling, free support groups and even somewhere to stay when you have to stop work and travel away from home for treatment, also for free, which is a big deal if you can’t work and get paid during that time.

It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with the fact that there are some key things I have needed to change in my life. The key ones are, more fresh foods of more colours, more exercise, even when it’s hard to even get your body out of bed, attitude particularly avoiding bad stress (stress that is negative in nature and people who bring it) and having positive things to look forward to. I’m feeling really good now that I’m in remission. That wasn’t the case 2 years ago, but I’m a fighter and a survivor.

These days I focus on these things, but not to the level I need to. I still let things and people get to me, but I focus on what I can control. Right now I’m focused on having a first flying lesson next week and Relay For Life on 10/11 March (which comes with a need for donations, which is where I need your help.) Buddy can you spare a dime? I am really struggling to reach my target this year and all I need is some of my friends and readers to help me with $5 by going here. What can you get for $5? You might be able to save a life. Seriously, even by just discussing Relay and getting tested for cancer with friends you could make a difference.

Twenty people, that’s right 20 PEOPLE got tested because I raised the topic and even if some of them had been thinking about it, I helped tipped them over the edge. What’s even more cool is that not one of them has cancer. Wouldn’t you like to know you don’t have cancer?

Here’s a statistic for you. In the USA, around 38% of people WILL get cancer. How do you like those odds? Here are a few more stats from Medicines in New Zealand:

  1. New Zealand’s Cancer Rates are over 62% higher than the world average.
  2. New Zealand’s mortality rate exceeds Australia’s average by 8%.
  3. While survival is improving, New Zealand’s survival rates are less than Australia and US.
  4. Compared to Australia, New Zealand has much higher rates of avoidable cancer deaths.
  5. Out of 13 countries, New Zealand has the lowest ranking for access to cancer medicines
  6. New Zealand only funds 14% of highly effective available medicines for the 8 most prevalent cancer types.

IMG_5169This view on the flight home (no filters used)  last night was a fitting tribute to our friend Shelley who didn’t make it. It reminded me of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan singing The Sky is Crying.

While you are thinking about whether a slight lifestyle change is worth considering, or that like the 60% of people who won’t get cancer (by today;s stats) it won’t happen to you or yours, how about helping out those of us who will be spending 18 hours walking around the track at Millenium Institute on 10th and 11th of March by donating $5 to our team. I need 241 more donations. If all of you who read my blogs made that small donation, we could blitz it together. It’s easy and it’s tax deductible. Please do it today. It will make a difference.

If your loved one isn’t already on our shirts, we will be very happy to walk in their honor if you give me their names.  We are also open for more team members or even just come and walk a lap with us. We will remember them.

How I Chose My Prostate Cancer Treatment AND Got to Remission


I have had feedback from many people that they are reading my blogs about my cancer journey and appreciation for my speaking out, when for many men this is a taboo subject. I really appreciate the feedback. It’s not exactly a comfortable thing to share. There are a couple of things I would appreciate even more. If you think these blogs are useful, please leave a comment or share it with others and if you can find it in your heart to do so, please visit my Relay For Life page. It’s a month away and I am desperately hoping the weather isn’t like it is today!

IMG_3494The biggest win for me has been that I am now up to 20 people who have been motivated by me to get tested for cancer, which is awesome. Prostate cancer does kill people. On Wednesday night I was standing by the window in a stinking hot room at the West Plaza Hotel in Wellington with no air conditioning, looking out at the night sky and hoping it would cool down and watching the Halberg Awards live on TV. From West Plaza

In the memorial section, there was the face of Steve Sumner how died only a year ago from Prostate Cancer, I thought of a radio personality (I haven’t asked her permission so won’t use her name) who told me her father died from Prostate Cancer because he didn’t get checked until it was too late; and I thought of Paul Holmes who on one TV interview said that he wished he had never known he had cancer, but reading this story, I suspect he changed his mind as he realised how important life and his family were to him.

Anyway, I met with my urologist and my oncologist to discuss my cancer treatment options. They gave me an information pack from the Auckland Cancer Society and whilst being very diligent in trying not to let their biases show, explained a little about the options available to me. I have had a little experience with specialists who are very focused on the particular treatments or therapies they offer, and they should, because they shouldn’t be performing them if they don’t believe in them. But one size doesn’t fit all.

I was given four medical options. I did also try alternatives like Pomi-T for a long time and sea cucumber which tasted horrendous and cost a fortune. They didn’t hurt me, but the tumors kept growing.

  1. External Beam Radiation. 8 weeks of radiation, which according to my oncologist has a 95% success rate for people at my level of cancer.
  2. Brachytherapy. This is where they insert radioactive isotopes into the prostate and treat it from the inside out.
  3. Hormone therapy. This is similar to the treatment they use on sex offenders to reduce their sexual urges, reducing testosterone and increasing female hormones. Testosterone feeds tumors, so less testosterone means less for the cancer to thrive on.
  4. Radical Prostatectomy or surgical removal of the prostate gland. As it sounds.

I listened to their arguments for and against. I read the pamphlets. I joined a prostate cancer forum and asked other people who had prostate cancer about their treatments and found that they had all done a lot of research; and uniformly recommended the book Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer by Dr Gerald Chodak, which I mentioned and linked to in this blog.

I also went to a prostate cancer support group which was the most depressing thing I’ve ever been to. I appreciate the intent, but what an experience. One man had been told that day that he had less than 6 months to live and he was telling me how he was bewildered and horrified, struggling to comprehend a life of daily exercise, good diet and basically doing everything right and instead of looking forward to retirement in 5 or so years, he wasn’t going to be around for it; and a guy so depleted of testosterone that he had suffered massive weight gain, hot flushes, emotional swings, inability to reach an erection (and the lack of desire to do so with the depression of not having it) and more. I understand the purpose of the group and applaud the Society for providing this service, but it wasn’t for me. It could have just been that I picked the wrong day to attend.

With regard to treatment and side effects I want to reiterate that everyone is different. If you look at the side effects for any drug you take on the packaging or leaflet, most people don’t experience many of the potential effects, but the odd person could have severe reactions. I’m not trying to influence your decision. You need to make it for yourself and decide even how informed you want to be.

External Beam Radiation

As a poker player, 95% odds of success appealed to me. Imagine going into an 8-week poker tournament knowing you had a 95% likelihood of being in the money at the end if you followed instructions!

The center offering the treatment said they were prepared to provide my treatment at 7AM each morning, so I could go to work afterwards and have minimal disruption to my life.

The side effects to consider were:

  • Hair loss in the area (not a worry)
  • Mild fatigue (about that…)
  • Frequent urination, weak stream and burning pain while urinating.
  • Possible diarrhea, incontinence, impotence and proctitis.
  • Reduced or no seminal fluid with ejaculation

Many of these side effects disappear a year or so after the treatment. Everyone is different.

Brachytherapy

Many of the symptoms are similar to external beam radiation, but instead of 2 months of radiation, it’s a brief surgery where radioactive seeds are implanted and that’s it. A key difference is that the side effects occur fairly soon after the implants have been placed and improve, where the symptoms of external beam occur later. Side effects include:

  • Burning pain during urination
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Sexual Dysfucntion
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Bowel Incontinence
  • Diarrhea
  • Having to stay away from pregnant women (what if they don’t know they are pregnant?) and adolescent children.

Hormone Therapy

In the book I mentioned above, Dr Chodak explained that the treatment is more or less the same as what is known as chemical castration, the treatment that is used to stop sex offenders, because one of the primary side effects is that it reduces your libido or sex drive. Great if that means reducing the risk of a criminal reoffending, but not for a normal male, or in fact a normal couple.

  • Loss of interest in sex (libido)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Hot flashes
  • Loss of bone density and risk of fractures
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Weight gain

Radical Prostatectomy

This is surgical removal of the prostate gland. The things that worried me the most were the risk of nerve damage and the potential to never be able to have an erection again as well as a reduction in penis size. Sorry of this is something that you find creepy to read, but it’s amongst the things I had to consider. If I was 70, these things might not be such a big deal, but I’m not and they are. In the USA this surgery is frequently done by a robot, but here it is humans and I don’t care how good the surgeon is, stuff happens, there is a high risk of at least partial nerve damage.

Ignoring infections and other things that can go wrong and potential risk of tumors crossing the enclosure holding the prostate gland in place (also a risk with biopsies and the Brachytherapy), side effects include:

  • Urinary incontinence and/or urine leakage which can mean having to wear pads for 1-3 years or longer
  • Trouble getting or maintaining an erection, potentially permanent
  • Dry orgasms and loss of sensation and pleasure (and the impact of that on your partner)
  • Infertility
  • Penile shortening
  • Bowel Injury

But Wait There’s More

So this is just scratching the surface. I read the book and it literally gave me nightmares. It wasn’t a short book and went into way more detail than what I have shared above. It was very thorough in explaining all of the details of the different surgeries and what factors you should consider based on the severity of the cancer, your age, your lifestyle. It helped me make my decision from a personal and clinical perspective, but I’m not sure I would recommend it. I was pretty upset and stressed out for a long time after reading the book. I can’t even bring myself to go back to it to quote parts of it to you.

My decision

I want to reiterate again that my decision was based on my feelings about the treatments, the people offering the treatments and my personal circumstances, my relationship (of course my wife was also part of the decision making process because it affected both of us), my age (I plan to be working for at least another 10 years), my family and obviously wanting to survive and live a productive and happy life.

I chose external beam radiation for various reasons.

  • A 95% success rate is not to be sneezed at (unless you become semi-incontinent!). It’s no laughing matter either as people who have semi-incontinence can attest to.
  • My granddaughter was 7 and I didn’t want to lost that special relationship of being able to sit next to her, have her on my knee or miss out on hugs. I was worried that if for her safety, I had to keep my distance that this  might have a long term impact on our relationship. You can’t get that back and she was too young to have been able to understand if I noticeably kept my distance.
  • While it would impact on my ability to travel by plane for work, which I was doing 2-3 times a month, I could do some of the treatment over Christmas.
  • Doing the treatment at 7 each morning meant that I wouldn’t have to take time off work.
  • IMG_4479I wouldn’t have to risk sitting next to someone on a plane with radioactive seeds between my legs. Imagine saying to the airline, I’m flying on Friday. Please don’t seat me next to a child or a pregnant woman. What if the woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant? Okay please don’t seat me next to ANY woman. I wonder how many people do and if any women struggle with fertility as a consequence of having randomly sat next to someone on a plane or at a concert. I wasn’t going to have that risk on my conscience.
  • The side effects seemed to be the least severe of the 4 options.

“I’m sorry, but you’re not in the 95%”

IMG_2105Unfortunately after 2 months of radiation treatment, when I had a series of scans to see how it went, the treatment was unsuccessful. I was in the 5% of people for whom it didn’t work.

I got many of the side effects, some very severe, but the cancer was still there. I may write about the year during and after the treatment for anyone that wants more insight into what it was like. From drinking a bottle of water every morning on the way to Mercy Hospital so that my full bladder would push my internal organs out of the way during the radiation treatment, being afraid that I couldn’t hold it, the painful urination, the loss of libido and erectile dysfunction, a feeling of loss of dignity, chronic fatigue, depression, needing to stay close to a toilet and on the other side, meeting some wonderful people, both fellow patients and those who helped me with treatment of my body and mind.

Another Choice

So then I had 3 more options. Brachytherapy wasn’t much of a choice given the radiation had already failed, so I had to go to hormone treatment, given I do not want the surgery.

This treatment was just pills, nothing more. I had side effects and continue to have some lingering effects. I had to make use of the counselling from a psychologist at the Cancer Society.

IMG_2290The end result was about 7 months ago my Oncologist said “You are in remission”. I had to ask what that means, because sometimes people talk about being cancer free. There is no such thing, but you can be in remission for years or decades.

This is important because I frequently read or hear stories about people being cured of cancer. As I understand it, there is no such thing. We all have cancer cells, they may be dormant or managed, either with treatment, diet or our immune system, but you do not get cured.

I am now on 3 monthly visits and in January had my 3rd one where my oncologist said my testosterone levels are good, my cortisol levels are lower than we would like, but I am producing some, I am still barely producing adrenaline, but my PSA levels are low and stable. I don’t have to go back for another 2 months.

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly past who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March. The day after my birthday.

I’m in remission. I am focused on Relay For Life. Check out our Team Early Birds singlet. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of the people we are walking for over 18 hours. We are raising funds for the Cancer Society who do amazing work. They don’t take any money out of it for admin or running the society. It goes to research and supporting services like the psychologist who helped me and accomodation for people who have to travel a long way from home for their treatment. I’m on a mission to get people like you to donate $5 to this wonderful cause. Think of it as a koha for the time I spent writing this blog.

For those who are facing decisions like mine. I’m happy to answer questions and I will probably share more details of what it was like physically and emotionally to go on this journey.

CLGR7749In the meantime, I’m working on recording my EP of 4 songs called The Cancer Diaries. I am struggling with the rhythm guitar for the second demo, called Who Stole My Words and may need to call on one of the guitarists who offered to help me with this album to lay down a track for me. I hate asking for help but I need some with this.

I hope this has been informative and not an uncomfortable read. It is an uncomfortable condition as is any cancer and I hope that this blog is helpful. I hope that I can increase the number of people who get tested early beyond 20. I hope you will leave a comment, question, share, or make a little donation to Relay For Life.

 

 

 

Prostate Cancer. No Pressure. Need Help for Relay For Life 2018.


So when my GP told me that my PSA levels had increased every test over the last couple of years when they should fluctuate, he said there was a risk that I might have cancer. He told me to lie up on the bed in his surgery, pull my pants down and my legs up and before I had a chance to ask, “is this necessary?”, his gloved finger went where the sun don’t shine. To say that it was unpleasant was an understatement, but I barely had time to feel embarrassed.

We wasted no time in making an appointment with a urologist and off I reluctantly went. I’m not sure what I was dreading most, being told I had cancer (If I did) or having yet more insult and injury to my dignity.

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A sign on the track at Relay For Life

He was a very nice, gentleman who explained to me what was going to next and asked if I had any questions. I was feeling pretty much in shock and bewildered and was barely taking in what he said.

He asked me what my flow pressure was like when I peed. I thought it was OK most of the time. They told me on the phone that I had to arrive with a full bladder for a urine pressure test, so I was ready to relieve the pressure.

I had to pee in a basin that had a sensor in it and I thought I did pretty well, as he stood in the next room, watching the gauge. He then burst my bubble and said that my flow was well below average and asked, would I like a script for something that would make it flow faster.

I declined. Up on the bed and he started prodding my stomach and then asked me to pull my pants off, lie on my side with my knees hard up against my chest.

20160320_095520Now dear reader, you may be feeling squeamish, you might be feeling embarrassed, you might be thinking, I’m pulling out of this story.

You might be thinking, why is he telling me this? Is it necessary?

No it isn’t, but I want your help and if I get some donations for our next Relay for Life, I won’t share the next step with you and I won’t tell you graphically how I felt.

People ask why I share my story. I’ll tell you why. All around me people are either battling or losing the fight to cancer. One in 3 people in New Zealand will get cancer and we have to do something about it. We can do something about it. The numbers are pretty similar in the western world.

Early Birds 2018Relay For Life isn’t just for raising money for cancer research, it is about remembering the people we love, work with, our friends and family who are affected by cancer. It is as much a celebration of life as a sharing of loss.

We walk for 18 hours in relay, and the number 18 on our singlets if you zoom in, you will see it is made up of the names the 13 of us are walking for. Some have passed away in the last few months, some are battling, some have been gone for some time and some are in remission like me.

When you walk around the track and you see an 11 year old in front of you and on the back of his shirt it says ‘I miss you Mummy’, you know why you are there.

So to stop me sharing the rest of this visit to the urologist, how about going to the Relay For Life website here and making a small donation. $5 is tax deductible if you are in New Zealand and it would mean a lot to me to have your support. If you’re overseas, maybe you won’t get a tax rebate for it, but I’d still be very grateful if you could share the cost of a coffee.

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These are the bags we put our clothes in, when we go in for radiation treatment. Each one of these bags represents a person being treated for cancer at any given time, just in this clinic

I hate asking for money, but it isn’t for me. It may will help you or someone you care about. Remember that number. 1 person in 3 in New Zealand will get cancer at some stage in their lives. Draw up a little list of people in your family and then separate one third of the names on that list. Imagine if those people got cancer. This is personal folks.

This year Relay is on the 10th and 11th of March. We got through the night to symbolise the cancer journey. You don’t have to walk the whole time, it’s a relay, but many of us like to do as much as we feel able. Our team is quite small this year. So far only 13 people. If you feel you would like to join us please head to the Team Early Birds page and let me or one of the team know.

Will you join us in person or in your thoughts?

Fighting Cancer with my Family and Friends at Relay For Life 17


2017 shirtGreetings friends. This is a special weekend where we remember those people we have lost to cancer over the years and encourage and embrace those of us who are still fighting this horrible disease.

As you can see on the photo, the team that my daughters created is called Early Birds. That’s because those who get tested and find out early that they have cancer are much more likely to survive and have a good outcome than those who don’t. I am so proud to say that due to my pushing over the last year and a bit, 17 people have had PSA tests and as well as knowing they do not have prostate cancer and in one case no breast cancer, they now have a baseline to allow them to catch it early if they do get prostate cancer like me and their survival rate will go up dramatically if they get a little blood test every year.

You will see the number 17 on the back and my daughter’s name on the bottom of the shirt, which was designed and made by her company Empire Promo. The 17 is made up of the names of the people I mentioned above, family and friends that our team is going to spend today honouring, all night and into the morning walking around a track at Millennium Institute on Auckland’s North Shore. You can see there are a lot of names and with a few late additions to the team there would be more if there had been time.

iPhone 280So today and tomorrow we will be walking to honour our people, to help fund research for accessible cures that save lives and don’t require that people sell their homes to pay for treatment, have somewhere to stay if they are coming to Auckland from out of town, like some of the great people I met when I was having radiation treatment at Mercy Hospital, and to thank those of you who donated to our cause, for your generosity. Whilst we do enjoy the event, the camaraderie and activities, we are here for only one reason, which is to save lives.

If you are one of the many people who donated to my account I want to thank you sincerely for your contribution. This is my 4th Relay and my second as a cancer patient. I am 25% short on my target of $1,000. If you would still like to donate, it isn’t too late and you can do so on my Relay For Life page here. I suspect most of you donated either for me (which is very humbling) and/or because of challenges you and people you care about have faced with cancer. I will dedicate laps to each of you and yours and especially to some very good friends who are still fighting the fight and aren’t in a condition to make it today. You know who you are.

I am planning to post a Facebook Live video at some stage so those of you who are friends with me on Facebook will be able to see a little of the event. For the rest, I will put something on YouTube after the event so you can see it too.

I won’t go on. You can follow me on Twitter under the handle of BluesBro, there will be some photos and tweets there as the weekend goes on. If you see them, please let me know. It would be great to share the event with you.

I do also want to send out a special thanks to my friends and colleagues at the New Zealand Transport Agency and Auckland Transport who have supported me in so many ways to date including donations, but much more than that. It hasn’t been the easiest of years and with awesome people giving me encouragement and helping me out during the tougher times, it has given me strength and Hope. iPhone 141