Dr Judith O’Malley-Ford
There is a new guy on the block. A new guy in the guise of a book written by new-age men talking about their very own personal experiences of their individual brush with prostate cancer (PrC).
Some time ago, when I was Editor of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia magazine, I was always on the lookout for new material that I thought would interest readers. One day, long ago, I found a story written by a man in the USA about his ‘brush with death’. He pulled no punches and told it like it was for him to be diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease like PrC.
His story was captivating indeed, written from the heart with passion and emotion that could not be feigned. He outlined very intimate details of his feelings and portrayed the problems that he encountered along the way during and after the formal part of his diagnosis and medical treatment. He encouraged people to share his story. I did just that and shared it with the reading audience of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia monthly magazine. I then encouraged readers of our magazine to write their stories. They were assured that they would remain anonymous if they wished; initially men preferred to remain anonymous.
I encouraged men and their partners to write to the magazine about their experiences, explaining that there were no ‘right or wrong things to say’. The initial trickle of reluctant stories progressed to a less reluctant stream of detailed graphic encounters with PrC. Their female partners joined in with their versions, how this disease affected them in their relationships, and how they were coping with the shared disease of the couple in question.
I sent out an open invitation to all readers of the magazine to write a ‘story’…their ‘story’…. in some cases, I ‘coerced’ people to write a piece… my author friends, for instance, and in one instance one of my friends who was my tennis coach when I was a child whom I met again in recent years. She wrote a story on behalf of herself and her husband who has PrC. She said she ‘couldn’t refuse my request’ because she was a ‘fan of mine’. Don’t quote me officially on that, but that is what happened.
I twisted a few arms. I even persuaded the then Deputy Prime Minister’s PA to ask if the Honourable Minister Wayne Swan would write about his experiences with PrC, and the story of his father’s prostate illness likewise. Some stories were presented as a ‘contributing guest editor’ in the front of the magazine. Suddenly it was cool to write about PrC and the idea really took off.
Then the stories started coming in spontaneously. Often I had to edit the story, grammar, and length, and edit some of the more juicy language and typically male expressions, but not by too much because they knew that they were writing for a mixed gender readership. They were really very big-hearted and open in their descriptions. Some of them were so detailed; they gave a blow-by-blow description of every movement, and every pee. All of this was done and received in ‘good fun’, if it is not too irreverent to describe in that way. But as Editor, I felt connected with the reading audience, and I was told that it was a mutual feeling. All of this was done from the reader/patient’s perspective.
Now, the new guy on the block is speaking out in a louder voice and has taken another tentative step forward. We have an anthology of stories and poems about PrC. TRUE.
‘Below the Belt, Experiences with Prostate Cancer’ is a publication and initiative of Busybird Publications. Men are commonly reluctant to talk about their experiences with PrC let alone share the intimate details of their disease, and the feared possible outcomes with a reading audience. Perhaps the tide is starting to turn.
The first few tentative steps have been taken in sharing and normalising discussion about PrC and the possible side-effects that may follow operations, including incontinence and erectile dysfunction. The importance of developing a pre-operative plan for dealing with these possible post-operative problems is now a routine part of pre-operative preparation. The presence of a plan helps to reduce pre-operative anxiety and encourages a holistic approach to treatment and recovery.
Congratulations to Busybird Publications for setting the ball rolling just a little more.