Stepping into the unknown – what happens once treatment finishes?

Icon Writers / 06 Jun, 2020

One year on from his radiation therapy treatment, Icon Warrnambool patient Bill reflects on his journey

78-year-old Warrnambool local William ‘Bill’ McKellar never expected that after retiring in 2016, his vision of a relaxing future would soon be filled with appointments, tests, treatment sessions and the stress of a prostate cancer diagnosis. He had just returned from a big trip to France and Belgium, feeling fit and rejuvenated after years of manual work at a saw mill.

“I was 75 and still going good, other than a completely stuffed left knee. It was after a knee reconstruction in July 2017 that the first signs of prostate trouble began. Things had been brewing for a little while and I knew something was going on.”

After a visit to his GP, Bill was told that he had a very enlarged prostate and a PSA level of 9.7. He was then referred to a specialist urologist for a biopsy but as the risk of infection could have affected his knee, this was pushed out until the new year.

“The doctor told me he wouldn’t be surprised if I had cancer. My wife Marg asked if I wanted her to come with me to the follow up appointment after my biopsy but I said no. I go in and the doctor says my tests came back positive and starts talking about Gleason scores, but I just sat there not listening.”

“All I could think is that ‘this is it, I’ve got cancer’. Prostate cancer – that new word that would occupy my mind constantly. The first lesson I learnt, always take someone close to you to appointments like this.”

Following a PET scan, Bill was diagnosed with locally advanced prostate cancer and told he would need hormone injections every three months and eight weeks of radiation therapy.

“The doctor said the cancer was treatable and they were aiming for a cure; that there was no reason why I wouldn’t be around for a few years yet.”

He says beginning the hormone injections was one of the most confronting parts of treatment. “It was scary to think that from then on my life had changed. When the side effects started I had no idea what was happening to me; it was a real shock to the system.”

After five months of hormone injections Bill was referred to Icon Cancer Centre in Warrnambool which was only ten minutes from his home, where he received 39 doses of radiation therapy over two months of treatment. Bill says that having the support of family, friends, staff and fellow patients made the experience much easier.

“I can’t help but be impressed by the doctors, nurses and staff at Icon. They do everything they can to keep your spirits up. I would show up with a full bladder, empty bowel day after day, sitting around in my white dressing gown with fellow patients. It is like a brotherhood and sisterhood. Most of the blokes with prostate cancer, the girls with breast. We would talk about our lives and celebrate each other’s treatment countdowns. We came from everywhere, all with one ambition to beat this bloody cancer.”

Just before Christmas, Bill finished his radiation treatment and found himself facing an unexpected challenge – what next?

“It was strange. You look forward to the end so much and it was a bit of an anti-climax. I thought I would be happy and jumping all over the place when I finished, but just thought what am I going to do now?”

He says that the support of survivorship nurses at Icon Warrnambool through the South West Regional Cancer Centre’s survivorship program helped him make the transition to life beyond cancer treatment.

“I explained how I was feeling to the nurses and they said it was very common. It was fantastic to have nurses who led me through the transition and told me what to expect. If I need any help I can just give them a call, even now that my radiation therapy treatment is over.”

Although he still receives hormone injections and went back to Icon Cancer Centre for one more short course of radiation in 2019, for the most part Bill’s life has now returned to normal. He continues to meet with nurses at Icon Warrnambool who check in regarding how he’s holding up physically and mentally, and his doctor to monitor his PSA levels, which now sit at 0.03.

“I still get nervous before every check-up appointment. I try not to think about it until I get closer to the time, as they are every six months now.”

Looking back on his experience since being diagnosed with cancer, Bill says the secret to getting through it all is to stay positive, tell your loved ones how you are feeling, and spare a thought to how they are feeling too.

“The mental side is a big part of the journey. Treatment side effects can get you down, and whenever you feel an ache or pain you start to fear that the cancer is spreading. The stress of not knowing if the cancer is being treated successfully consumes you 24/7.”

“You put on a brave front but sometimes when you’re on your own you start to crack up a bit. Don’t be afraid to cry, it’s no good bottling it up and helps to release tension. It helps to also remember all of the support you’ve received along the way.”

“Different people have different ways of handling things, but it’s important to keep a positive mindset and hope for the best.”

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