At just 38 years of age, Brent Garner was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He shares why he wasn’t surprised – and what he wants men of all ages to know about the disease.
The now 49-year-old had no symptoms when he received his diagnosis – but, unlike the growing count of men diagnosed at the late-stage of the disease, Brent says he was vigilant with his health check-ups on a count of his family history.
“My grandfather had passed away due to prostate cancer so thought it best to get tested,” he shares. “I was 38 years old.”
Brent’s initial blood test revealed elevated Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) levels – this doesn’t definitively mean a person has cancer, it can also come down to a number of other infections or inflammatory conditions. He then went on to “active watch” to keep an eye on the progression of these PSAs, eventually finding out that it was, in fact, cancer.
“It was explained that prostate cancer is usually quite mild and men tend to die with it not “of” it,” Brent says. “After a few tests it appeared to be increasing, so we went to biopsies as part of the monitoring process as well.
“After a couple of biopsies, it was ascertained that it was getting aggressive and we needed to remove the prostate.”
Prostate cancer is slated to affect 24, 217 Australian men every year with one in six males diagnosed by the time they’re 85 years old. It's why Brent is pledging to take part in Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea this month with his cafe, the Inner Bean Hub. Around the globe, prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in men – to put it simply, it involves the growth of abnormal, malignant cells in the prostate. The danger jumps when these cancerous cells spread around the body, increasing the risk of severity and death – this is why early intervention is so important. With Brent’s family history of the disease, he was onto it quicker than most – but he still had a number of substantial hurdles to face.
After his diagnosis, then came an issue that affects countless cancer sufferers – money. Out-of-pocket cancer treatment costs can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands – but alarming research shows that one in four cancer patients paid $10, 000 for their treatment over two years.
Despite having health insurance, Brent was still told he’d have to pay over a thousand dollars just for his first biopsy.
“I asked how the public system worked and was told I could go that way for free,” The 49-year-old says. “So, I cancelled that appointment and went into the public system.”
Brent was told that neither chemotherapy nor radiation therapy had long-term success rates, leading him to undergo prostate removal.
“Luckily due to my age and being in the public system now, I was eligible for a free ‘robotic nerve sparing prostatectomy’ procedure,” Brent says. “There was a government grant to train Australian surgeons in ‘nerve sparing robotic surgery’. The prostate is encased/surrounded by a web of nerves which control erectile function and bladder control as well as other things.”
This nerve sparing prostatectomy is far more effective than traditional prostatectomy, which tends to have a lower rate of nerve structure damage. Brent had also embarked on a new long-term relationship, bringing the prospect of children to the plate.
“I would be sterile after the procedure,” he says. “So we set about getting pregnant, which we did, then there was some urgency on the procedure so we managed to talk the experts into waiting until my partner had gotten into the “safe zone” of her pregnancy.
“So, at the 16-week mark I had the procedure.”
The 49-year-old reveals the treatment process came with a host of emotional stresses.
“It was a surreal experience,” Brent says. “Other than the tests, biopsies and medical procedure it was like there was nothing wrong. It does sit in the back of my mind; I am 8 years post, yet not considered cancer free until 10yrs!
“This type of cancer can spread to the bones, I recently had some scan etc to clear up concerns I had with sore back and hips, just old age, it also plays on my mind with other “cancers” – am I susceptible to cancer in general???”
Brent’s advice to other men diagnosed with prostate cancer is to seek out support groups and do your research.
“If finances are tight, get into the public system,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, write info down when at specialists/doctors, things can be a blur when confronted by the diagnosis.
“Get second and even third opinions. Ask about treatment options and side effects, research yourself.”
The cancer survivor also wants to get the message out there about how varied prostate cancer can be.
“Symptoms – they are varied and sometimes non-existent,” Brent says. “It’s NOT an old man’s disease. If there’s a family history check it – it’s just a blood test these days.”
While Brent didn't experience symptoms, some men may notice pain in the back, hips or chest, erectile dysfunction, blood in semen, numbness in the legs and, most commonly, a difficult urinating which can include the following:
- A frequent urge to urinate
- A slow, interrupted flow
- A weak flow
- Blood in urine
The 49-year-old now aims to help others stay healthy with his Queensland café, the Inner Bean Hub, serving up wholesome food to the community.
“It wasn’t until recently that we had any goals whatsoever, we have been so busy on the wheel of life to the point that we had no aspirations or dreams,” he says. “We have owned our own business for the last few years, one of our goals is to help others with their food/nutrition journey through our cafe and collaboration with our nearby natural health team.”
Host your own Biggest Morning Tea
Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea spans over May and June, with the goal of raising funds for the research and treatment of cancer, along with the support of patients. You can host your own morning tea by picking up a Host Kit HERE – feel free to get creative with cooking and baking, whether you fancy some dolmades or savoury muffins, you can’t go wrong!
Support Brent's Biggest Morning Tea Fundraiser HERE - with your help, he can reach his goal of $1000 to go towards a cancer-free future.