MY STORY - by Michael Hagan
Friday 1st, May - 2020
My father Tom died from prostate cancer on June 28, 1992. He was just 73 years old. Both of my older brothers, Bob and Max were diagnosed with the disease during the early 2000s. They were in their 60s at the time. I felt obliged to use my profile in the Newcastle and Hunter Valley community in a way that would help raise awareness about the importance of early assessment and detection. This lead to my volunteering as an ambassador for Hunter Prostate Cancer Alliance (HPCA) in April of 2009.
My family history of prostate cancer meant my risk of developing the disease was tremendously elevated. Dr Martin White, my urological specialist, had informed me that due to my family history, the likelihood of me being diagnosed was 14 times higher than the normal male population. My long time Newcastle Knights GP, Dr Peter McGeough, strongly recommended I be assessed annually from my 40th birthday onward, including annual PSA testing.
This was excellent advice and it came not a moment too soon. Barely two weeks had passed since I had become an ambassador for HPCA when my PSA test results indicated a concern, and that I should have a biopsy. The results of that biopsy confirmed that I in fact had an aggressive tumour with a Gleeson score of 7. I must confess that I was not completely shocked by my diagnosis, albeit I was only 44 years old, relatively young, fit and healthy.
Following the positive biopsy results, it became a matter of seeking counsel from Dr White who recommended two options; 1. Radical prostate surgery or 2. Brachytherapy (a form of radiation treatment.) I had an appointment with an outstanding surgeon Dr Phillip Stricker as well as appointments with urologist Dr David Malouf and oncologist Dr Joseph Bucci to discuss both options. Dr White was also included as we discussed the options in full detail. Together we agreed on the best course of action, which in my case was Brachytherapy. I was a suitable candidate, it was less invasive and it would allow me to recover more quickly. More Brachytherapy information available at the bottom of this article.
Michael Hagan, Director and Ambassador for HPCA and ProCare
The procedure required a lot of preparation work including a volume study to determine how much radiation was needed to treat the cancer. I was then required to attend St George Private Hospital for an overnight stay. I had a procedure where radioactive ‘seeds’ were placed directly into the gland under general anaesthetic.
I am now 10 years post-treatment and my results have been excellent. My PSA is .07 and I am not required to see the urologist for another five years, which is great news. The prospect of my cancer returning is now highly unlikely.
In a sense, I became the perfect ambassador for HPCA as I am a textbook example of someone who has overcome the disease due to being checked at the earliest occasion. I received excellent advice and tremendous care along the way and my message to all men is that my story should act as a guiding light for your own health.
Upon reflection, my survival and ability to continue to live a normal life came down to three critical factors. The first and most critical is early assessment. If there is one concept I want men and their families to take away from any of this, it’s that early detection saves lives. Annual check-ups for men should start at the age of 50, and those with a family history should start annual check-ups from age 40.
Prostate Cancer is very manageable if detected early and there are many treatment options available to you. This leads me to the second most critical factor, and that is seeking the highest quality advice available and understanding what the best treatment options are based upon your situation (age, type of cancer, current health, etc). HPCA can help with this, but more about that later.
The third critical factor in overcoming prostate cancer is support. For me, I was lucky to have the support of my amazing family. My beautiful wife Sue and our three beautiful daughters all looked after me during the diagnosis, through treatment and post treatment periods, and their continuous understanding, love and support really got me through the hard times.
All three of these critical factors can help men and their families through a difficult, life-changing diagnosis. Fortunately there is help. The Hunter Prostate Cancer Alliance offers free counselling services to men and their families who are effected by the disease. Without hesitation I refer those with any questions to their confidential counselling service expertly provided by their councillor Aaron Elliot. Sessions include advice covering everything from PSA testing through to treatment options based on your situation. The emotional and psychological support the HPCA offers is more valuable than I can put into words, but as an ambassador I won’t stop trying.
My passion continues to be to provide support to prostate cancer sufferers. I have had countless conversations with men and their partners who have had symptoms of prostate issues or have been diagnosed and need to talk to someone who understands what they are going through. I also give presentations to groups about the need for early detection and I share my story as often as I can, including my unique family history where three of four boys from the same family have been diagnosed.
Prostate Cancer allowed me to reassess my work, life, family balance. I have become a strong advocate not just for prostate cancer awareness, but also for men’s health in general. Furthermore, I have also championed the expansion of HPCA into Procare Mental Health over the last five years. ProCare provides mental health care, not just to those suffering with cancer, but to all who have psychological challenges and personal difficulties.
My thanks to my good friend Nick Sovechles - the long-standing Chairman of HPCA and ProCare - who invited me to tell my story as an Ambassador back in 2009. He, along with former board member Leigh Maughan, helped pioneer this much-needed charity to help provide awareness and support for prostate cancer sufferers and their families.
My outlook during this long and successful journey has been to keep a positive and optimistic mindset, an active lifestyle with plenty of exercise, a good diet and finding some areas of interest that I am passionate about, but without causing me too much stress! I am truly grateful to the medical practitioners who have supported me and cared for me along the way. There were some scary times and anxious moments, especially waiting on test results and trying to choose the best path forward. Along the way, I learned to trust in the process, focus on what’s really important and to remain patient. With early detection, informed direction and amazing support from my family, HPCA and the community, I am able to tell my story today. Hopefully, it will make a difference in the lives of men all over this amazing region and beyond.
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Michael Hagan's Father Tom
Michael Hagan with Brothers Bob and Max