By MITCH RODD

PROSTATE cancer. It’s an uncomfortable topic for men both literally and figuratively.

Mildura’s Alan Harris, however, is a prime example of why men should put their conceived ideas of the disease behind them and give due diligence to their health.

Having to convince yourself that a nurse has a small enough finger to make a prostate exam worthwhile is a thing of the past. A simple blood test could tell you everything you need to know.

And early detection is vital, as Mr Harris, 73, preaches. Not only has it saved his life, but he is still fighting fit some four years on from having his prostate removed.

“For some people, hearing they have cancer can be thought of a scary death sentence, but it’s absolutely not,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be like that. It’s why early detection is so important because you have time to put processes in place to continue to live to the full.”

While Aussie men stereotypically try roll out the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to their health, Mr Harris was proactive with his doctor. Doing so, combined with local services and those provided by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA), ensured he is alive and well today.

Mr Harris was a regular patient of urology expert, Dr Peter Liodakis, and would have an annual prostate specific antigen (or PSA) test. Once his levels began to rise, Dr Liodakis sent him for a biopsy in Melbourne.

“After that I was found to have a pretty high dose of cancer,” Mr Harris said.

“From there I was introduced to Craig Millard, our prostate cancer care nurse at Mildura Base Hospital, and he’s absolutely brilliant. You can always understand what he’s saying, and he’s a great sounding board and support person. He’s one of the best.

“Every three months over a five-year period, I’d have a PSA test and in December 2015, a test found that it had doubled it’s reading. My family were fairly well involved in all this as well and we came to the decision to get my prostate removed.

“I had my prostate taken out in January 2016 and from then on tests were positive. The surgery went well and with an early diagnosis, and the back-up from Craig, I’ve been living life well since.”

Ever since his initial diagnosis of prostate cancer, Mr Harris has been a member of Sunraysia’s prostate cancer support group. Now he runs the monthly get-togethers and is trying to expand the support network for all attendees.

“Our support group meets on the third Wednesday of the month at the Mildura Working Man’s Club, who have been brilliant in giving us a room for no cost,” he said.

“We have members who have beaten their cancer but still come back, others have just been diagnosed, and we’re lucky that Craig Millard attends as well. Having his presence just makes you feel a bit more comfortable as he can answer any questions we have.

“Living in a city you may get to see a prostate cancer nurse once or twice before surgery, but here we can access Craig at almost any time.

“Since I’ve run the group I’ve introduced bringing your wife along as well, which has been a huge thing. The support of my wife and daughter was phenomenal, and some members bring their kids to meetings. There is nothing worse than feeling like you’re on your own.

“Professor Jeff Dunn, who is the CEO of PCFA, said if you are going to get prostate cancer anywhere, Sunraysia is the place to have it because there is a huge support network. It’s a wide area to cover too, as we head across to the South Australian border, Broken Hill, Balranald, Pooncarie and down towards Ballarat.”

Mr Harris said prostate cancer is often stigmatised as an “old man’s problem”, however this form of cancer does not discriminate based on age, location, occupation or lifestyle.

“We have some support group members in their 40s and I know others in their 30s who have had their prostate removed,” he said. “I also know some young men in their 20s who are now getting tested as they have a family history of prostate cancer.

“I’d like to see everyone get regular testing for prostate cancer. It’s so simple, when you go to your doctor, just ask if you can have a PSA blood test. You may never have it but the earlier you can find out, the better. I was lucky to catch mine early and get on top of it.

“Looking back 10 years ago till now, testing and treatment of prostate cancer has travelled so far ahead. It’s been amazing. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, it can potentially hit anybody.

“Farmers especially could have some trouble but say they don’t have the time due to their work, but we ask people to take this seriously. It doesn’t take much.”

Mr Harris said research is the key to a better future when it comes to cancer, and that’s why fund-raising programs such as Dry July are so important.

“Research is the key, without it, there is no future,” he said.
“We’ve already come a long way in a short space of time, but we can do even better if we get the chance.”

Dry July challenges people to go alcohol-free in July, while raising funds for cancer patients and their families. Funds raised through Dry July go towards cancer support organisations across Australia, to help improve patient comfort, care and well-being. Having a month off alcohol also has great health benefits, such as sleeping better, having more energy and of course, no hangovers! So you’re not only helping others, you’re helping yourself. It’s a win-win!

To sign up head to https://www.dryjuly.com.