Not just an ‘old man’s disease’

FOR Moe’s Les Parkes, hindsight is a frustrating thing.

He can only wonder what could have been done, if he knew cancer could have spread so quickly from his prostate to his bones.

“I assumed automatically it was a slow moving cancer, but with hindsight it wasn’t – by that point the cancer had gotten out through the prostate lymph glands and into my ribs and spine,” Les said.

“While prostate cancer can be nipped in the bud, through radiotherapy or surgery, (depending on the cancer’s severity) once it has spread to the bones, it is with you for life.

“Hormonal medication is keeping the cancer levels low for now, but it’s not knowing your future that puts you in a state of constant limbo, and one day, it is eventually going to get you.”

At the age of 56, Les had never shown any symptoms of prostate cancer – such as the frequent need to urinate – however not all men with prostate cancer do.

For Les, it was an impromptu blood test through his GP in 2009 which found he had elevated levels of prostate specific antigen in his system, of which raised levels can indicate prostate cancer.

A series of biopsies found he had prostate cancer, at a severity of 7/10.

While no stranger to the medical world – hehad already undergone unrelated abdominal operations in previous years – Les’s attempts to develop a course of action threw him and his partner, Rhonda Read, into a world of conflicting opinions and advice.

“It was a confusing minefield of bits of information from each specialist and doctor you see; there is no one response (to prostate cancer) that fits all, and you get a different opinion every time you see someone,” Rhonda said.

Les underwent a ‘radical prostatectomy’ only four months after his diagnosis, a surgical procedure which completely removed the prostate.

The invasive operation has affected his bladder function, and Les now must deal with ‘severe incontinence’, a personal problem he must manage hourly. It was a price he was willing to pay, if it meant complete eradication of cancer, however only a few months after the operation, Les’ PSA levels began to rise again.

“We thought we had made the right decision, but then the cancer leaked; it could’ve been avoidable if removed quickly, however when you are in the public health system (without private health cover) you just have to get in the queue,” he said.

A post-operative bone scan revealed PSA ‘hot spots’ in his rib and spine; Les is now confronted with the lifelong struggle of curtailing the cancer, and is currently undergoing hormonal treatment Zoladex, which helps keep PSA levels at bay.

However the side effects of Zoladex have already taken their toll, including osteoporosis, which causes a brittleness in the bones.

“I’ve had two rib fractures in the last 12 months, once when I was leaning over and fell only 30 cm to the floor, and the other when I gave the lawnmower a strong pull when it was stuck in long grass – it nearly killed me,” Les said, adding he has needed bone infusions.

The effectiveness of hormonal treatment can last only so long; Les has been led to believe it may only be effective for another six to eight years, after which radiology and chemotherapy are his next and final options.

“At this stage it depends on how effective the hormones are, but we are both on this journey together, and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Rhonda said.

Les pleaded with men of the Latrobe Valley to have their PSA levels checked, and to cover their bases by booking in a digital rectal examination, especially if over the age of 40, regardless of showing symptoms or not.

“The message is don’t be frightened to go out and get checked, so you can prevent having to go down this road; it’s not an old man’s disease anymore,” Les said.

“Blokes can’t have too much pride, and need to talk about this; I never had any symptoms myself, but it can hit anyone, it doesn’t wait around for men to get old.”