A brush with prostate cancer convinced Amanda Gillies’ dad of the value of an annual check-up, and now Amanda has taken on the role of Men’s Health Week ambassador to convince other blokes to take care of themselves.
It was a tiny scratch. Dad had knocked his ankle on the side of a table he was moving. It stung for a second, an expletive escaped, then he thought nothing of it. No real damage done.
A week later, he was overseas with Mum, cruising around Asia before arriving in Singapore for a few days of shopping and exploring. He felt fit, relaxed and healthy, just turned 65, with no intention of retiring from work. He was, he reckoned, in the prime of his life.
It was scorching hot in Singapore that week and on his first day there, he dived head first into the hotel’s pool… instant relief. But when he re-emerged he noticed that the tiny scratch on his ankle was now inflamed. It didn’t hurt, but it hadn’t healed. Dad wasn’t overly worried and planned to do nothing about it. A plaster would do the trick, he thought. Mum, however, took one look at it and immediately dragged him to the local hospital, where the scratch was cleaned and dressed. The doctor was concerned and recommended Dad have a check-up once he was back home in Gisborne. So he did, with the urging of Mum.
The Gisborne doctor also cleaned up the scratch and ordered some tests, which revealed an abnormality. More tests were ordered, and then Dad was booked in for a biopsy. Those test results came back and, to be honest, we weren’t prepared for the diagnosis. Dad had prostate cancer. Our fit, robust, gorgeous, healthy, six-foot-two dad had the big C. It seemed impossible. He looked and felt great, he had no other symptoms. But the test results were conclusive.
The specialist assured us there was good news, a glimmer of hope: Dad’s cancer had been detected early and could be treated fairly quickly and easily. He needed to undergo brachytherapy, a form of radiation, to treat the cancer. It did mean travelling nearly four hours to Tauranga for the treatment, but it did the trick – before long, Dad was cancer-free. We were elated and relieved, and weirdly grateful for an unrelated scratch caused by a temperamental table.
The power of the check-up
Dad is now 76, fit as a fiddle and still working and loving life. But this could have had a very different outcome.
Back then, Dad never went to the doctor for a general health check-up. He didn’t have the time or think it was necessary. It could have been months, even years before his cancer was detected, and by then, it could have been too late to treat.
We are so grateful to Mum for insisting he go to the hospital for a check-up in Singapore and for following up with the doctor back home; this essentially saved Dad’s life.
Fast forward 10 years and Dad doesn’t need that urging any more, he happily books himself in for an annual check-up with his doctor – no complaints or resistance.
How women can help
And Dad’s story is part of why I agreed to be an ambassador for Men’s Health Week. Women play a vital role in men’s health.
We are surrounded by the opposite sex – at home, at work, at play. Grandfathers, fathers, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, sons, nephews, grandsons and mates, we need to look out for them and look after them.
On average, Kiwi men die four years earlier than women and die at a rate of eight per day from an illness or disease that is potentially preventable.
We need to encourage the men in our lives to book in for an annual check-up, maybe even suggest they do it on the same day they book in their car for a service or warrant of fitness.
It’s simple but life-saving. Mum and Dad celebrate 54 years of marriage in October, with all indications of them being in good health. It won’t be a big celebration this year, but they will both be there and that’s all that really matters.