Gentlemen, drop your pants. It might just save your life.

July 30, 2013

I’m on a mission for blokes to drop their daks. I want to hear the clang of belt buckles on the floor.

I want to be the Ambassador of Strides Down. Think of me, and you’ll think of trousers sitting around ankles.

Not in front of Woolies, mind you. No bare bums near the checkouts. We don’t want to scare the kiddies. This is for the medical centre only.

Regular readers will know where I’m heading with this. Newcomers, stay with me. I promise there will be no weirdness ahead. Well, no more than usual.

The reason I want men to be in a state of undress, is so they can get their prostate checked. Yes, I’m banging this drum again.

I beat prostate cancer. Most of you know that. I received the news that I was free of this dreaded disease a few weeks back. A blood test that came back clear. I can tell you, they were the sweetest of words.

It makes you hug those you love, and not want to let go. It makes you cry, when you thought you’d fought off the tears. And it makes you want to celebrate. I did that too.

But my surgeon, The Genius, said something else that day. He said I needed to spread the word. Take a stand, and get the message out there.

About an hour before he made me smile, he’d been dealing with a bloke who had nothing to smile about. His cancer was advanced. He’d been late getting checked. His future was grim. He was 47.

You see, this is not an old man’s disease. More and more men in their forties are being diagnosed. Like me. And the bloke who’s thinking of what might have been.

They tell me 40 is the new 30. And that means most men continue to think they’re bullet-proof. Visiting the doctor is a sign of weakness. So they don’t.

The stories don’t help. Everyone has heard jokes about the snap of rubber gloves in the doctor’s surgery. For most red-blooded Aussie men, reason enough to head in the other direction.

That’s what we have to change. Because that simple, painless, sixty second examination, saves lives. And keeps families intact.

I’ve come to realise that the best people to change the thinking around prostate examinations, are women. Wives, girlfriends and partners.

Females are smarter at this stuff than we are. They get that early diagnosis is vital. So girls, I’m enlisting you to help.

Don’t let up on your bloke. If he’s 40 or older, he needs to be checked. Regularly. No excuses accepted. Book the exam yourself if you have to.

Already, I’ve had female colleagues tell me that they’ve done exactly that, as a result of my battle. Mates, too, have been jolted into action. Getting checked, to avoid what I’ve been through.

I’ll remind you on these pages every now and then. Spread the word yourself. Tell your Dad, or your brother, or your favourite uncle.

Let’s get those pants hitting the floor. And when it’s done, tell the doctor that you would usually wait to be taken for dinner and a movie before such activity. He wouldn’t have heard that one before.

How I plan to kick cancer’s butt. Let the battle begin.

May 28, 2013

The first struggle will be with that stupid hospital gown.

Try as I might, I won’t be able to fasten it properly.

I’ll be the one with the rear section flapping merrily in the breeze. My pimply white bum on show for all to see.

In the scheme of things, it’s not my greatest problem. I have prostate cancer. And the time has almost arrived to go under the knife.

Some of you already know. Others may be surprised. And a few will be wondering why I’m telling you about it.

I’ve pondered that too. Keep it a secret, or put it out there?

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered since embarking on these scribblings, it’s that sharing usually helps. So be it. I’m enlisting you all to be part of the fight.

They found the first tumour late last year, during a routine procedure. A tiny one. Time was on my side.

Back then, it didn’t quite sink in. This was a disease for old blokes.

Everyone had an opinion. Get it out tomorrow. Do nothing. Wait a few years.

Those who mean the most to me became upset. A few offered comfort, by explaining that if you had to get any form of cancer, this was the one. They meant well. And it’s probably true. But somehow, when you have the tumour, it doesn’t help.

My surgeon is the most amazing of men. A gem. So when he decided on one more scan, just to make sure, I had no hesitation.

In the meantime, I got on with things. Did my best to push those dark, nasty thoughts aside. Did I tell you this was a disease for old blokes?

The second lot of results came back. I knew straight away, things were crook. Doc wasn’t smiling. I’m guessing he’s no poker player.

They’d found a second, more sinister blob. Hiding underneath. It’s unusual, apparently. He’d consulted other specialists that morning. All agreed this changed our game plan. The prostate needed to come out. Sooner rather than later.

For the first time, I actually felt like a cancer patient. No more waiting. At no stage had I entertained the idea that this thing might spread. Dark, nasty thoughts.

That’s when the fight began in earnest. I decided I needed to approach it as a battle. Physically and mentally, I had to prepare.

So began the fitness regime. Early morning walks. Gym work. I’m almost back to my playing weight. How ironic, that I feel healthier right now than I have in years.

I have loving, caring people around me. True friends. We’re a giant pool of positive. They’re refusing to accept anything but a successful outcome.

I’m off the grog. I’ll miss Stradbroke Day for the first time in years. And those wonderful racing lunches sprinkled around it. I’m sure the boys will avoid the temptation of ringing to tell me how much fun they’re having. For the first ten minutes, maybe.

If I get down, I think of friends who have done it much tougher. Just last week, a wonderful family I know lost a mother, and a wife. Another great man, who happens to be the father of a mate, is battling cancer for the second time. They’re operating on him the same day as me. It makes me realise I have nothing to complain about.

Alone, at night, I get scared. I wait for those positive forces to kick in. Mostly, they do. No time for negatives.

I hate this disease with every fibre of my being. I want it out. I refuse to accept that it will get the better of me.

There’s so much to do. The girls need me harping about the need to clean their bathroom. I must take more photos of them. And of the sunrise.

I have to pick a Melbourne Cup trifecta. I’m booked for a night picnic by the river. I’ve promised to visit the farm. So I can see someone’s special place. Holding hands.

I want you to get tested. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this. I want my mates to hear the snap of rubber gloves behind them. You simply can’t put it off.

Forgive me if you don’t see anything on this page for a week or so. I’ll be busy, trying to sort out that bloody hospital gown.

Prostate cancer isn’t just a disease for old blokes. It can strike any of us. My plan is to be talking about it as an old bloke. Wish me luck.

Angels in flat shoes. Why our nurses deserve so much more.

August 28, 2012

From a 5-year-old, it was a stroke of brilliance. A plan that just had to work.

I was in a little coastal hospital, with tonsils that were deemed no good. At a time when the mere whiff of tonsilitis meant an operation to whip them out.

It was sold to me as being necessary to end the weekly sore throats. And as a bonus, there’d be unlimited ice cream afterwards.

Sounded good. Until they told me that I’d be spending the night there alone.

No beds for parents back then. Mum and Dad had to go home without me.

Dad told me everything would be fine, and they’d see me first thing in the morning.

Mum, however, was teary. It was the first time we’d been apart. She was as upset as I was.

She hugged me, a giant squeeze from a tiny lady. And that gave me the opportunity to put my plan into action.

I grabbed her wrist, and held on for dear life. Small fingers in a death grip. Everyone else laughed, but I was serious.

They couldn’t leave me, if Mum was trapped. I’d hang on all night, and keep her with me.

Mum tried to reason with me. Dad tried to unwrap my bony fingers. He could have succeeded, of course, but let the show continue for a little longer.

It was a nurse who saved the day. Or night. I still remember her smiling face, promising me she wouldn’t leave my side, until my parents returned.

My grip eventually loosened, and with more tears, they departed. True to her word, that lovely woman stayed close, until I fell asleep. My first encounter with the angels who nurse.

A few years later, I broke my wrist. Playing soccer in the backyard, I fell, landing on the concrete lid of the old septic tank. This time, it was off to the big hospital.

I don’t remember much of the ordeal, expect that it hurt like hell. But there was a bigger drama, that Dad explained to me when I was older.

There were no beds. So we spent seven hours on a trolley, in the hospital corridor.

I do remember Dad doing his block. It was one of the first times I’d seen him blow up. While he was battling anyone who came near, it was a nurse who took pity on us. Not a doctor or administrator. Another angel.

Somehow, she got me a bed. And soothed the old man at the same time. Quite a feat.

Since then, I’ve seen them work their magic through the eyes of a parent. When you need all the help and reassurance you can get.

One night as a youngster, The Teenager had a fever that would have fried eggs. We’ve always been able to tell her temperature through the soles of her feet. Weird but true.

They were scorching. So it was off to an even bigger hospital.

Every parent knows the feeling of helplessness, when a child is sick. You think the worst, immediately.

The emergency ward was bustling. Doctors were flat-out. When it was our turn, the medico didn’t waste time or words. If the fever didn’t come down in the next few hours, our first-born would be admitted.

I thought back to the five-year old’s death grip, all those years ago. I didn’t want her to have to come up with the same plan.

For her part, the Not-Yet-A-Teenager was more interested in reading their colourful books. With steam coming off her forehead. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince her to drink the water they’d given her, to get that temperature down.

Panic wasn’t far off. Until a nurse came to the rescue. Male, this time. He convinced her what a cool idea it would be if she could read AND drink. Made it a game. It worked a treat.

All those stories came back to me, as I sat in hospital myself over the weekend. An unpleasant but necessary bout of surgery.

Late at night, it wasn’t the surgeon who provided me with comfort (although it should be said that he, too, was fantastic).

It was my nurse. Full of caring and compassion. With expertise to match. And the ability to ignore major levels of yuk. At all hours. Making things better. For scared little kids and impatient old farts.

What a noble profession. What wonderful people. Worth so much more than they’re getting.

Next time you’re in hospital, or visiting someone who is, thank the people in uniform. Our nurses. If you can’t keep Mum with you, there’s no better replacement.

A night with the brothers-in-snore – our midnight roar from the hospital ward.

February 21, 2012

Nurse Jane steered me into the short-stay area. Unlike the bustling Emergency Ward where I’d spent ten hours being poked and prodded, it was empty.

“You’ll like it in here”, she assured me. “It’s nice and quiet”.

The adventure of the Exploding Gut began two days earlier. ‘Unwell’ on Thursday evening, became ‘Crook’ on Thursday night.

We advanced to ‘Worst Bug Ever’ on Friday, and officially made ‘John Cash Songs At My Funeral Please’ in the early hours of the weekend.

I know what you’re saying. Bloody man flu again. Well, you’re wrong. I have it on official medical paper that this was something only the brave or foolhardy could face. I’ll find it for you later.

The local doctor made me go hospital. As well as the swirling virus that had me setting up camp in the toilet, there was another concern. He thought I had appendicitis.

So it was that I became an Emergency Department patient.

As disgusting as I felt, there were others with far more serious symptoms that needed attending.

While I waited, I saw amazing, hard-working nurses. Doctors looking for answers, wearing constant frowns. And all types of patients.

Like the large, intimidating woman who came in just after midday. She made it her mission to fight staff trying to help. Took four beefy security blokes to restrain her.

Then there was the hairy bloke who spent an entire examination talking on his mobile. Not sure even he knew what their finding was.

And Jill. Poor Jill. A woman who it seemed had been dealt some rough hands in the game of life. She arrived just before I did. No-one seemed to be coming for her. After her fifth seizure, she was moved. Not sure where. I hope she’s ok.

After tests that went all day and into the evening, my much-accused appendix was given the all-clear. The gloved finger of blame was pointed at the adjacent colon, found to be inflamed like one of my famous mango snags on the BBQ.

It meant I was in for the night. Around the corner from my Emergency friends.

My time alone in this new ward didn’t last long. I was joined by a bloke with a heart scare from an extended walk. A young guy, who I think was battling his way through drug rehab. And a short, round gent, who had something wrong with his tongue.

Four brave men, fighting their own demons, in one room. Three of whom had something in common. The ability to snore. A gown-clad orchestra of the night

Of course, all three would have been praising me when I was away, for being the only one not belting out a sleeping note. I think. They’ll need to provide recorded audio for me to believe anything different.

To be fair, the young bloke wasn’t too bad. Like me, he wasn’t sleeping much. When he did, it was a short, sharp snore.

The walker was more measured in his breathing. Not that loud, but noisy enough. Especially through the thin blue curtain dividing us.

There was a gold medal winner among them, however. Directly opposite me, with a bung tongue, was a man who could snore for Australia.

This was the sustained, thumping growl of a Blackhawk, propped up on two pillows. Chainsaw constant. Cheap picture frames around the room were trembling.

The nurse had to wake him every two hours. When she did, he jumped. And then spoke in a quiet, measured tone. The noises just didn’t match up.

Daylight saw my roomies gradually move on. I’m home now too. Not great, but better. Fewer trips to the toilet. And a room that’s nice and quiet. Unless someone can play me the tape.

Leaving us in stitches. A father’s tribute to a brave daughter, and her beautiful scar.

January 31, 2012

I think she knew the answer, but the question came anyway.

“Dad, will this needle hurt?”

The Teenager was sitting in a cubicle at the Children’s Hospital, looking at me with wide eyes. And a gaping hole in her chin.

An hour earlier, she’d fainted. Dropped in the kitchen like a sack of spuds. On the way down, she caught the sharp edge of a kitchen cupboard.

She stood up, her gorgeous face sliced. A serious wound, in the shape of an uneven horseshoe.

The Treasurer and Daughter Two rushed her to the emergency ward. No tears or fuss.

I’d arrived from work soon after. There she was, still in her summer pyjamas, sitting on the bed, smiling. She showed me the damage. My heart sank.

Doctors and nurses fussed over her, prodding, and asking questions. She smiled at them too. Gave polite answers. Then asked for her phone so she could send a photo to all her friends.

It was then decided that the repair work needed to be done by a plastic surgeon. Just to be sure. We were lucky. It was early on Australia Day. The public holiday rush hadn’t started. The specialist was available.

He arrived within twenty minutes. Good looking, naturally. Blonde hair, fit and confident. And young. I have socks that are older.

But his manner was calming. He explained what needed to be done. There would be stitches. And an injection into her face, to stop any pain.

Up until this point, The Teenager had been remarkably calm. Unlike the rest of us. When Doctor Dashing left, her mood changed.

My daughter has two great fears in life. Vomiting, and needles. She was about to experience one. With fears it would lead to the other.

“Dad, will this needle hurt?”

As parents, we spend our life protecting. Shielding children from pain whenever we can. I wanted so much to say she wouldn’t feel a thing. That everything would be ok.

From experience, I knew what was ahead. And I couldn’t lie.

“Well, the needle will hurt. But that’s so you don’t feel the stitching. Some discomfort, to make sure the rest is painless.”

Tears welled in those big eyes. And there was nothing I could do.

We moved to a bigger room, where such procedures are done. Doctor Dashing scrubbed up. His nurse told The Teenager to lie on the bed. No turning back now.

The Treasurer stood bedside, holding her hands. Tightly. I ended up at the other end. Holding her knobbly kneecaps. I don’t know why. It seemed like a soothing thing at the time.

Her loving sister was also in the room. I stopped worrying about how the ordeal was affecting her, when I realised she was practising dance moves next to the oxy-viva. And posting updates on Facebook.

I had a clear view of the pain killing needle going in. That giant, long, thick, ghastly needle. That made my little girl cry.

Doctor Dashing was trying to work quickly, but it seemed to take an eternity. Numb the area, and irrigate the wound. She was trying so hard not to sob.

They gave her time to compose herself, before the stitching began. I told her to close her eyes, and go to a happy place. She nodded, through the tears. I swear I felt her pain.

My daughter dug deep, and found strength I didn’t know she possessed. She lay still, eyes closed, possibly imagining she was on a beach somewhere with Cody Simpson. The place that allowed her to receive twenty stitches without flinching.

That night, there was extra chocolate, and even more chick flicks than usual. She went back to school the next day, even though we said she could have the day off.

The Teenager’s dream, for as long as any of us can remember, has been to be a model. And she won’t be letting a bunch of stitches get in the way.

She has already devised a strategy. Australia’s first Supermodel with a scar. With the gory photos to prove it.

Her positive attitude blows me away. So, too, her bravery. And in my eyes, she’s more beautiful than ever. Every bit of her. Even those kneecaps.