Cancer dad's brave message for other men

Andrei Norris wants others to know prostate cancer is not just an old man's disease.
Andrei Norris wants others to know prostate cancer is not just an old man's disease.

Andrei Norris is a fighter. At 45, he was diagnosed with aggressive, locally advanced prostate cancer and has spent three years battling it hard.

But it's not going away.

The father-of-two had major surgery, was placed on hormone therapy and underwent radiation therapy. Things were looking positive but the cancer returned nine months later.

More radiation this year failed to work, he's currently undergoing chemotherapy and faces the prospect of further treatment.

His condition isn't uncommon. Prostate cancer is Australia's most prevalent among men and claims more than 3000 lives each year.

There are 230,000 fathers, sons and husbands currently diagnosed with the condition, a number set to increase by 60 per cent in coming years.

The key is acting before it's too late.

"It's not a preventable disease but it's a very detectable disease," Mr Norris said.

In his own case, he went to the extreme - taking his first PSA blood test at 40 because his dad had been diagnosed. It was clear but in the five years until his next check-up, the cancer took hold.

True to its reputation as a 'silent killer', there were no symptoms apart from unexplained weight loss, but Mr Norris put that down to working in a demanding job, raising young children and coaching junior sport.

"In Australia we have a culture where we see prostate cancer as an older man's disease and in many ways it is," he said.

"It's perceived as something we can address by saying, 'she'll be right. We'll whip your prostate out and it'll be okay'.

"But for 3300 men every year, that's not the case. Too many are dying and that's because it's being detected too late."

Latest Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia data shows those most at risk - men with a family history of positive diagnoses - aren't coming forward.

A large number of people who make contact with the foundation are other family members seeking guidance on how best to support their loved ones after a diagnosis, CEO Jeff Dunn said.

"Men whose father or brother has had prostate cancer are also at risk of developing it at a younger age, yet calls to our Telenursing Service from people in their 40s comprise just three per cent," Prof Dunn said.

Having a direct family member diagnosed increases a man's risk of developing the disease by 50 per cent. Having two or more carries a five-fold risk of diagnosis.

"Be aware that just because your dad or brother or whoever it may be was diagnosed at an older age, it doesn't mean you can't be diagnosed at a much younger age," Mr Norris said.

"That's certainly what happened to me and I know of other stories that are very similar."

Living beyond diagnosis can involve debilitating side effects including high rates of mental stress and an increased risk of suicide.

"One simple blood test can significantly reduce the amount of treatment that you need and give an up to 95 per cent chance of survival," Mr Norris said.

"That's my message, I guess."

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. The foundation's awareness campaign, The Long Run, is calling on Australians to run, walk, or wheel 72km throughout the month to raise awareness and funds.

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Australian Associated Press