03 February 2023

Tony Banfield was diagnosed with prostate cancer just under two years ago. Working as a Principal Advisor at Rio Tinto, Tony is now passionate about raising awareness in his workplace about the disease and encouraging more men to get tested. Tony also took part in The Long Run last year to help increase his awareness efforts! A true legend!

Tony recently shared his story with us, as told in his own words.

“I had my first symptom of prostate cancer in April 2021, although I didn’t realise it at first. I’d never really considered cancer as being an issue that I would need to address or be concerned about.

I’ve always loved keeping fit, particularly running, and I was training with my daughter-in-law to help her prepare for her first marathon. We had a weekend doing two long runs, each over 20km, and when I got home and went to the bathroom, I noticed my urine was really dark. I thought Google could sort this with a quick diagnosis, and from my internet search I concluded I had blood in my urine caused by “runner’s haematuria” – a common and benign result of things rubbing and bleeding during physical activity. It sounded reasonable and also what I wanted to hear.

I would always go for my annual health checks, and for some time as part of that I had been getting a blood test for PSA – prostate specific antigen. As men get older, they can often produce higher levels of PSA. This can indicate a possibility of prostate cancer, but it can also be caused by several other things.

My tests started to show that my PSA levels were rising, and at the end of 2021 I was offered an MRI scan, which can look for abnormalities in the prostate. I didn’t go for the scan straight away; I waited until April 2022, when my PSA levels were continuing to rise. With hindsight, I should have just made the call and gone for the scan when I was first offered it. After the MRI, I was sent for a biopsy, and it diagnosed that I had prostate cancer. 

In the early days after my diagnosis, I made the decision to share it with my team. I could feel myself not altogether handling things the way I would like. So I asked them to call it out if I wasn’t doing things quite right or was seeming a bit flat. It was difficult to do, because I’m a very private person, but I have no regrets. There have been occasions where they have done what I asked, and then asked me how I’m feeling, and it has really helped.

In July, I had what they call a robotic prostatectomy. I was away from work for a month or so, and am left with five little scars on my stomach – including one near your belly button where they pull the prostate out.

I’m in a good place compared to many and I’ve been really fortunate. I’ll be monitored every three months for the next couple of years. I’m gradually trying to get back into exercise. Some days you feel better than others, and some days you may not react the way you would normally – it’s just ups and downs.

Sometimes the mind gets in the way, things happen that scare you. One Friday recently I had some follow-up tests to look for any traces of cancer cells or infection. At 8am on the Monday morning I got a call from the doctor saying he wanted me to go in to see him. I couldn’t get an appointment until 3pm, so I spent seven hours convinced he had found cancer cells. Fortunately, what he had found was an infection – something that could be easily treated with antibiotics – but occasions like this can send your mind wayward.

If you know someone – a friend, a colleague, a family member – who is going through cancer, I think the best thing you can do is just be there, so they can talk to you, share their story if they want to. Don’t avoid them, just ask them how they are. It can be a really casual chat, it doesn’t have to be about cancer. Ask them about their weekend, their hobbies, whatever – just talk to them normally.

Early detection means a lot of things can be avoided or fixed. Whatever age you are, pay attention to the little signs and don’t just write them off as an everyday event. As in my case, the symptoms might not be the things you’d expect, or maybe you won’t have any symptoms. Look at your family history. Be inquisitive. And if you want to start getting tested, take it up with your doctor. It might cost you money, but it’s an investment in your future health and your quality of life.

If my story has made just one person more aware – for themselves, or for their loved ones – then, mission accomplished.”