16 May 2023
By Tim Baker
Greetings from beautiful WA, where I’m fresh from a delightful weekend at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. My official duties included a morning at the Margaret River Men’s Shed speaking about men’s health and prostate cancer self-care.
When I wrote Patting The Shark I had not envisaged that it would lead to such regular speaking engagements, or that its message would be so welcomed by the relevant medical specialists. But I do seem to have stumbled into some kind of advocacy and peer support role and I’m just going with it and seeing where it leads.
One thing I’m learning is that men with prostate cancer like to hear from other men with prostate cancer. It seems obvious and support groups provide an important form of social support for many of us. But among the many medical consultations we endure along our PC “journeys”, there is a particular power in opening up conversations with your fellow PC comrades, sharing knowledge, offering empathy, exchanging useful bits of information and lifestyle strategies we’ve picked up along the way.
It was a decent turn out for a Saturday morning in a surf town, where a large part of the male population won’t commit to any weekend morning commitment without first checking the surf conditions. Fortunately, Huey the Surf God was kind, and the wind was howling onshore, and the surf was junk. Thus 40 blokes assembled at the Men’s Shed , where the order of the day is more commonly various woodworking classes or other DIY projects. I, on the other hand, am just about the least handy man you are ever likely to come across and should be permanently banned from ever handling a power tool.
What I can offer this morning is my eight years’ experience living with metastatic prostate cancer and the generally successfully lifestyle strategies I’ve adopted to maintain quality of life and offset the side effects of treatment. The main obstacle to me delivering my inspiring message of hope was that the Margaret River Hawks were playing at the adjacent footy oval and a local woman known only as “Footy Lady” was zealously guarding the gate and insisting that only people headed to the footy, rather than a talk on PC self-care, were allowed to pass. Delicate negotiations were required to diffuse this volatile situation but eventually all attendees were able to make it safely to the Men’s Shed, despite Footy Lady’s protests that it was “footy day!”.
My job, as I see it, is really to start a conversation, to try and dispel any awkwardness or sheepishness about discussing the delicate nature of some of our PC-related issues, charming topics like urinary retention and erectile dysfunction. It is generally a case of making oneself vulnerable by speaking openly and honestly about my own experience, which seems to give others permission to be vulnerable too. Pretty soon a frank and wide-ranging conversation is taking place.
It’s often said that blokes aren’t great at self-care or discussing health-related issues, but in my experience most of us only require some gentle encouragement and the open and candid sharing unfolds organically. It seems many of us have just been waiting for the opportunity to have these kinds of conversations, which there never seems to be time for in your typical urologist’s or oncologist’s appointment.
The good menfolk of Margaret River seemed entirely receptive to the message that self-care strategies and lifestyle interventions like meditation, exercise and diet have significant roles to play in helping us manage our diagnoses. Men from the 40s to their 80s spoke openly and I’m always struck by how quickly a warm collegiate spirit is generated in such circumstances.
Later that night, I was at a book event at a local tavern where a few authors were speaking, and a woman seated in front of me turned around and asked, “Are you Tim?” I confirmed I was he. “My husband went to your talk this morning and he came home on such a high, I just wanted to thank you. It’s the most optimistic I’ve seen him since his diagnosis.”
I hadn’t foreseen this role of PC poster boy but as long as I’m getting feedback like that, I figure I’ll keep going. Sharing is caring, right, and a PC diagnosis is too much to face on your own, or to rely entirely on your nearest and dearest for support to get through. Building a matrix of mutual support seems like a great way for us all to live better lives.
About the Author
Tim Baker is an award-winning author, journalist and storyteller specialising in surfing history and culture, working across a wide variety of media from books and magazines to film, video, and theatre. Some of his most notable books include “Occy”, a national bestseller and chosen by the Australia Council as one of “50 Books You can’t Put Down” in 2008, and “The Rip Curl Story” which documents the rise of the iconic Australian surf brand to mark its 50th anniversary in 2019. Tim is a former editor of Tracks and Surfing Life magazines. He has twice won the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame Culture Award.
Tim was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic prostate cancer in 2015 with a Gleason score 9. He was told he had just five years of reasonable health left, but eight years on, at 58, he’s still surfing, writing, and enjoying being a dad. His latest book, Patting the Shark, also documents his cancer journey and will be published in August. Tim will be sharing weekly insights into his journey to help other men who have also been impacted by prostate cancer.