Prostate cancer patients in regional Australia can access a new treatment the same as men living in Melbourne, thanks to a clinical trial at Epworth Freemasons.
Men generally don’t talk about health – you listen to men talking in a bar and they will talk about everything else but their health - their sex life, their tractor, everything but that.
Rodney and his wife, Julianne live in Mibrulong, a tiny farming town with a population of around 120 people in the Riverina region of New South Wales.Two years ago, after a check-up with his GP, Rodney was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and an abnormal blood test result led to a specialist referral for further investigation.
At the age of 69, Rodney’s diagnosis meant immediate treatment was recommended. His specialist suggested a clinical trial that Rodney was eligible to join, through the E.J. Whitten Prostate Cancer Research Centre at Epworth, led by Urologist, Professor Nathan Lawrentschuk.
The SIMCAP (Surgery in Metastatic Carcinoma of Prostate) clinical trial means Rodney can access hormone injections through a prescription filled at his local chemist and administered by his GP, close to home.
It’s a gamechanger for regional patients like Rodney. It’s an 11km drive to the closest shops in Lockhart and the nearest regional centre is Wagga Wagga, just under 60kms away.
Rodney has regular contact over the phone and electronically with the clinical trials team, including Prof Lawrentschuk and Research Program Manager, Thili Chengodu.
Thili has even travelled to Mibrulong to meet Rodney and Julianne, as part of the clinical trial support – something Rodney and Julianne valued enormously.
“It was nice to walk around the yard with Thili and talk, asking her questions in person.
“The way I see it, there’s not a lot of places for a person to get answers… for people with prostate cancer. It’s hard because you don’t have people to talk to about it,” said Rodney.
For Thili, visiting patients in their homes, especially when they live in remote or isolated areas, means she can find out more about their concerns and respond to their questions in a more relaxed setting.
“For me, it’s about patient care. Throughout the pandemic, it was important both Rod and Julianne saw me and spoke to me face to face, to be assured of their care. Therefore, seeing them, and other patients who live regionally, is something we will continue, with our patients living in both regional and metro Melbourne.”
Rodney is pleased that he can access specialised treatment and care when he lives so far from these types of health services. He worries men his age, and younger, don’t understand the importance of testing for prostate cancer and how that can lead to better treatment options and potentially better outcomes. Of the men Rodney knows or meets, don’t know much about the prostate at all.
“We purchased some steel in town a while back and I was talking to the young fellows there and they had no idea what the prostate was and what it does,” said Rodney.
He’s trying to encourage men to talk more openly about their health, so they can get better care, sooner.
“Men generally don’t talk about health – you listen to men talking in a bar and they will talk about everything else but their health – their sex life, their tractor, everything but that.
“Now, I talk to as many as I can about it and I’m quite open about telling people that they should get tested themselves,” said Rodney.
Rodney also emphasises that men need to follow up on their test results.
“They need to get tested to see if there’s a problem or not. Once you have the tests done, and if there’s a problem, follow it up! Don’t be blinded by ‘it’ll be right, mate’ – the biggest problem with Australian men. She’ll be right, I’m fit and healthy, I don’t need that!” said Rodney.
Julianne agrees men need support to talk about their health, including prostate cancer and so do the people who love and care for them.
“A lot of men aren’t opening up to their wives enough – they don’t talk about it,” said Julianne.
“The partner needs to be totally involved, because when it comes to it, we’re the ones taking care of them. It’s a really big thing to take on for anyone, but you’ve got to be in it together,” she said.
Rodney has challenges with his illness, but one surprising comfort to him is in the form of a pink galah, ‘Silo’, which has now taken up permanent residence in their home.
“If I’m feeling down, or a bad day and I go and lie down on the bed, he’ll come and sit on my hip or my waist or something and won’t get up again until I do,” Rodney said.
“He’s a real asset to me.”
September is Prostate Cancer Month. Find out more about prostate cancer care at Epworth: Epworth.org.au/prostate
E.J. Whitten Prostate Cancer Research Centre at Epworth
Get full access to the specialists, tests and treatments you need for prostate cancer.
Our mission is to develop and implement innovative treatments to improve the lives of men with prostate cancer.