By Tim Baker
Readers close to this blog, and indeed the PCFA website, may have discovered the carefully guarded secret that I have written a book about my life experience with prostate cancer and its treatment.
As it’s launch week, I thought I’d try to clarify what the book is and isn’t, anticipating questions some might have about this important tome and its intent.
Patting The Shark is not another guide on how to “beat” or “defeat” cancer, full of questionable alternative therapies. I am not a doctor and have no interest in offering unqualified medical advice.
It’s essentially my own experience, written with as much liveliness and candor as possible, through the difficulties of cancer treatment, the brain fog of chemo, the fatigue of hormone therapy, and the lingering existential dread of a diagnosis. advanced and incurable cancer. .
It started my life purely as a personal coping strategy, writing therapy, to try to help me deal with the many stressors and uncertainties of this experience. Over time, I began to suspect that this writing might have something interesting to share with other men going through a similar experience.
It is also a call for a more integrative approach to cancer care, treating the whole person and not just the tumour, providing patients with a greater sense of dignity, agency and empowerment in how they navigate their way through cancer treatment.
This word “integrative” rings some alarm bells for some people, as I learned to my detriment. I’ve been yelled at at prostate cancer support groups for daring to utter the word, or simile, “holistic,” basically because I think some people misunderstand what those words mean.
I believe in medical science. I am on intermittent hormone therapy, had early chemotherapy, targeted radiation therapy and surgery throughout my journey with prostate cancer. But I also try to meditate and exercise daily, eat a mostly plant-based diet, use medicinal cannabis oil to help with sleep, have seen integrative doctors, and to try a range of off-label supplements and medications they have recommended. In my understanding, integrative is practiced by qualified physicians who employ evidence-based complementary or supportive therapies alongside traditional cancer treatments.
I am not qualified to say whether any of these complementary therapies improved my prognosis or slowed the progression of the cancer. But seven years after being diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer, with damage to my right femur and left rib, I’m still here, still writing and surfing, and the frontline treatment for the disease. hormone therapy is always effective. In those seven years I’ve written two books (the first on the history of iconic Australian surf brand Rip Curl), I’m halfway through a PhD in creative writing, I’ve done surf trips with my son to the Maldives and Melanesia, I skied in Japan and snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef.
Although prostate cancer and its treatment had a cruel impact on my mental health, my masculinity, my marriage and my professional life, I also didn’t want to let it stop me from doing things. I never wanted to portray myself as some kind of miraculous cancer survivor. I still have cancer and I have ongoing blood tests, scans and treatments. What I tried to do was come to terms with my diagnosis and, therefore, my mortality. My book is very voluntarily subtitled: “learning to live well with cancer”.
Many, if not most, of the many memoirs on cancer that I have read as part of my doctoral research seem to fall into one of two camps: the stoic cancer victim who courageously faces the end of his or her life and the supernatural cancer survivor who somehow defies medicine. orthodoxy. What I have tried to write about is the considerable space that exists between these two poles, which I think occupies the time and energy of most of us living with cancer. And it’s the slightly more mundane business of waking up each day and trying to find meaning, purpose and joy in our lives here and now.
I don’t always succeed, and I have tried to document the moments of despair and darkness as candidly as the transcendent experiences of peace and acceptance. I also tried to initiate a more open conversation about the impacts of hormone therapy on our self-esteem, our masculinity, our sexuality and our relationships – topics that us guys don’t usually talk about. talk. I also hope this helps other men feel less alone and that some of the lessons I learned along the way to lessen the side effects of treatment and stave off hopelessness may prove useful to others. .
Ultimately, it is a plea for the medical establishment to more fully recognize the enormous psychosocial challenges and quality of life issues that men living with prostate cancer face, and how lifestyle strategies life can be an important part of their personal care. It seems to have come into the world with a bit of a splash, with my weathered noggin featured on the cover of national broadsheet Weekend magazine and a snippet inside. If the book helps make a man’s experience with prostate cancer less traumatic, I would consider the alarming sense of vulnerability and self-exposure it induces in me entirely valid.
In August, Tim will launch his latest book, Patting the Shark. This candid story documents his learning journey to live well with prostate cancer. To kick off Patting the Shark, Tim will join Professor Suzanne Chambers at Brisbane Library on August 21, 2022 from 11am-12pm to talk about his journey. To attend, click here.
About the Author
Tim Baker is an award-winning author, journalist and storyteller specializing in the history and culture of surfing, 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 Australian Council as one of the ’50 Books You Can’t Put Down’ in 2008, and ‘The Rip Curl Story’ which documents the rise of the iconic Australian surf brand will celebrate 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 of 9. He was told he only had five years of reasonable health left, but seven years later at 57 , he still surfs, writes and loves being a dad. Her latest book, Patting The Shark, also documents her cancer journey and will be published in August. Tim will share weekly insights into his journey to help other men who have also been affected by prostate cancer.