Patient stories / 30 Sep, 2020

Moving forward through the toughest of times

Icon Writers

How war veteran Bernie fought through life’s greatest challenges

From serving in the Vietnam War to getting through a prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment, 74-year-old Bernard ‘Bernie’ Maher has faced some of life’s biggest challenges. Through it all, he’s learned that staying positive can help get you through the toughest of times.

Bernie was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in July of 2019. He’d been complaining that he was having to go to the toilet very often throughout the night, and after blood tests found that his PSA was rising, he says “that’s when it clicked”.

“I was quite upset at first and had to come to terms with the fact that I’ve got prostate cancer and there is nothing I can do about it,” Bernie said.

After speaking with a surgeon, Bernie was given the option of surgery or radiation therapy to treat his prostate cancer. With concerns around his age and undergoing the surgery, Bernie took a few weeks to consider his choice before deciding on radiation therapy treatment at Icon Cancer Centre Rockingham.

“The most important reason was that this treatment could help me stick around for a bit longer. I said I’d love to see the Fremantle Dockers win their first premiership; they can’t guarantee that but hopefully I’ll get a card from the Queen!”

After having three gold seeds inserted into his prostate to ensure the radiation was delivered with precision accuracy, Bernie went on to receive 39 doses of radiation therapy over eight weeks and completed his treatment in November of last year. Receiving fast and accurate radiation therapy treatment close to home made a big difference.

“I live in Safety Bay and the Icon centre is a five minute drive down the road which was ideal, especially with free parking. The treatment only took about ten minutes each day. I would listen to music during treatment and would come back every day with new songs the team had to try and find. We had a lot of jokes and laughter; they thought I was a bit cheeky!”

He says that the support of the team at Icon Rockingham and his loved ones helped him overcome the physical and emotional impact of treatment.

“The staff at Icon made my journey very easy and took the worry off me. When I started to get very tired from my radiation, the team helped me get in touch with support services including an exercise program. I went twice a week for 16 weeks and still make sure to go for a walk with my dogs every day.”

“I really couldn’t have asked for more. I didn’t have any concerns and knew everyone, from the staff to my wife, daughter and granddaughter, had my back. If I got down, they would cheer me up. My 10-year-old granddaughter used to come around and make sure I was okay.”

For Bernie, getting back to reality was the hardest part of completing his radiation therapy treatment.

“When you’re a cancer patient, your whole world revolves around your treatment.  It’s been really difficult to get back to my normal life again. I didn’t feel like doing anything, but now I’m getting on top of it and back out in the garden.”

Ultimately, he believes you have to focus on moving forward to overcome life’s biggest challenges and take the opportunity to grow from every obstacle you face. Bernie urges fellow cancer patients to stay positive and focus on their mental health as much as their physical health, particularly for the countless men going through prostate cancer – Australia’s most commonly diagnosed cancer.

“The mental side of things is very important. You have to work on it yourself and say ‘okay, I’m going to beat this’. I believe that 9/10 people who have a positive outlook will have a positive outcome.”

“Some of the things I saw in Vietnam weren’t very nice and one of the hardest parts was the negative reaction when we got home. I suffer from PTSD and found it very difficult to handle, but that’s life and it’s in the past now. It’s important to just move forward. I think that difficult part of my life has helped me get through cancer. I would tell myself ‘if you got through Vietnam, you’ll get through this’.”

Bernie continues to receive hormone therapy treatment every 16 weeks and is thankful that he can now look forward to living life to the fullest with his family by his side, while enjoying some of his favourite things such as sport and travel, and maybe even get that centenarian letter from the Queen!

“I’ve learned that life is a lot better than it used to be. Everything is feeling good.”

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