Patient stories / 04 Dec, 2020

How Paul found peace of mind with advanced radiation therapy

Icon Writers

Prostate cancer patient Paul shares his cancer journey

59-year-old Ipswich local Paul Cahill is sadly no stranger to cancer. With a strong family history of prostate cancer, he knows all too well the devastating nature of a cancer diagnosis. 25 years ago Paul’s uncle died from aggressive prostate cancer, followed by his father who passed away with non-aggressive prostate cancer. With this in mind, receiving a kidney cancer diagnosis in 2016 came as a shock.

In a very lucky accident, a chance doctor’s appointment found a sign that something wasn’t right. When seeing a new doctor for his yearly check-up, Paul confessed he had been going to the bathroom four or five times throughout the night. After being referred for a urinary ultrasound which found a lump on his kidney, Paul faced a whirlwind of tests, scans and treatment.

“It was all a bit of a rush from there. I received a partial nephrectomy of my kidney in the hospital and was lucky that I didn’t need chemotherapy or anything. I took a few weeks off work and then everything was pretty much back to normal,” Paul said.

Paul spent the next few years cherishing life with his friends and family, thankful that he had overcome such a shocking diagnosis. However, in a devastating turn of events, this year’s annual check-up brought another diagnosis – prostate cancer.

“From the age of 50 I’ve also made sure to get an annual blood test. This year, my blood test returned a high PSA reading for the first time. The doctor said they would monitor it, but after seeing a urologist and receiving some further tests I was told I have a very aggressive form of prostate cancer. Then a PET scan found that the cancer had spread into my pelvis.”

“The news really hit me hard. With how advanced my prostate cancer was, I was told if I didn’t receive treatment I would only have 18 months to two years left. At 59, I’ve learned a lot of things that I never thought I would need to know. This has been a fight from day one, with CT scans, MRIs, surgery, biopsies and radiation therapy to name a few. It’s been a very different road than when I had kidney cancer.”

As the secondary tumours in Paul’s pelvis were very small, he was able to receive cutting-edge stereotactic radiation therapy treatment for his advanced cancer following hormone therapy and surgery to remove his prostate. Stereotactic radiation therapy delivers radiation to individual tumours with pinpoint precision, ensuring safe and effective treatment directly to the tumour, while minimising radiation to surrounding organs and reducing side effects such as bowel and bladder irritation. Paul was the first patient at Icon Cancer Centre Springfield to receive this new treatment technique and has had three sessions of radiation to his pelvis in less than two weeks.

Stereotactic radiation therapy reduces the overall treatment time to one and a half weeks, delivering high doses of radiation with absolute accuracy. For Paul, the knowledge that he was receiving this highly-targeted treatment was very reassuring.

“I was a lot happier knowing I was receiving concentrated treatment. Previously people I knew received more of a shot-gun approach to radiation, which targets larger areas and can cause secondary damage, and had very bad experiences. I only had a couple of side effects like fatigue. When I finished I sent the team a card saying ‘Dear Martians, thanks very much for being a straight shot with your ray gun! From a thankful earthling’.”

Paul says being able to receive this treatment close to home made a significant difference.

“It’s brilliant to have this in Springfield. It’s just a 15 minute drive from my work in Bundamba, instead of having to drive all the way to Brisbane. I would have lost a whole day every trip! With this treatment I could continue working in the mornings and head to treatment in the afternoon.”

“The staff were all reassuring, they immediately knew your name! The radiation therapists were also really good and very strong; I’m not exactly a little bloke trust me. When they said excuse my cold hands, I thought don’t apologise for your cold hands, because it reminds us we’re alive. I can’t put into words just how much their care and understanding meant.”

Paul continues to receive hormone therapy treatment until the end of 2020 and awaits his follow-up appointment in the New Year to learn what comes next. Looking back on his journey, Paul says he is now more thankful than ever to have the support of loved ones through it all.

“What kept me going was my grandkids. I have three children and six grandchildren. They bring you down to Earth pretty quick! I told them grandpop had fallen over and went to the doctor and showed them all the bandages after my surgery. It became a joke that they needed to look at my belly all the time to make sure I was getting better.”

“It definitely affects friends and family more than it does yourself. That’s the most difficult part. I just told them that I’m not ready to go yet, there are too many people left to annoy in this world!”

With a renewed outlook on life and a passion to make the most of his downtime from work, Paul looks forward to spending his time living life to the fullest.

“It’s the old cliché, but I don’t want to take life for granted. I’ve been very lucky and had a great life; I’ve been married for 30 years and have three kids, six grandkids and a dog. This cancer gave me a big fright. I definitely have lots of life left to live and have decided to do all the trips you say you’ll do ‘one day’. I can’t afford retirement yet but will be taking some extended leave and travelling around Australia.”

After his prostate cancer was detected through a simple blood test, Paul has become an advocate for the importance of regular blood tests and check-ups. He urges all men to consider their risk of cancer and ensure they put their health first.

“Go and get checked. It’s as simple as that. After my diagnosis, my 29-year-old son mentioned his family history and now he is starting PSA tests. I work in a 99% male workforce and a few of us are getting on in years. If I save one bloke by being open about my experience, it’s worth it.”

For more information on stereotactic radiation therapy, click here.

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