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Dodging the big 'C'

Date

Sylvia Pennington

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Celebrity builder Scott Cam endorses the campaign.

Celebrity builder Scott Cam endorses the campaign.

Ben Peacock is the first port of call when his mates want to know whether a lingering malaise or a newfound lump on their body should be ignored or greeted with alarm.

It's not because the marketing agency founder also moonlights in the medical industry, in between juggling creative gigs for the likes of Vodafone, Sony and Ikea – all clients of his Sydney firm, Republic of Everyone.

It's because Peacock is also a survivor who is now six years in the clear after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2006, at the age of 33.

Cancer survivor Rob Forsyth: 'As a bunch we need to talk more about it.'

Cancer survivor Rob Forsyth: 'As a bunch we need to talk more about it.'

Two major operations and four rounds of chemotherapy over six months is a pedigree of suffering that has made him the go-to guy and agony aunt for other males who are worried about their health and chary about seeing a doctor in case their worst fears are confirmed.

Getting men to talk about their health and take better care of their bodies is the focus of a new Cancer Council NSW campaign to reduce the number of Aussie blokes who are felled by the Big C.

Men are 84 per cent more likely than women to die of preventable cancers that are common to both sexes, according to the Council.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show they accounted for 24,552 of the country's 43,298 cancer deaths in 2010, compared with women's 18,746; a pattern which has remained consistent for the past decade.

Launching on Wednesday with a video takeoff of the YouTube hit ShitGirlsSay, the campaign's theme is "Shit Men Don't Say".

It's endorsed by a clutch of well known Aussies whose lives have been touched by the disease. They include celebrity builder Scott Cam, Choirboys lead singer Mark Gable, Sydney Swans footballer Jude Bolton and Vashti Whitfield, the widow of Andy, the star of TV show Spartacus, who died of non-Hodgkins's lymphoma in 2011.

The campaign will encourage men to reduce their risk of developing cancer by improving their general health, and raise their odds of a successful cure by heading to the GP as soon as they notice something is amiss.

Far too many don't, says Associate Professor David Smith, an epidemiologist and researcher at the Cancer Council.

"We're programmed not to be keepers of health," Smith says. "Not going to the doctor is a lifelong pattern. Men don't go to the doctor as much when they're sick and they don't have as many check-ups."

Other high-profile executives to have faced and beaten the Big C include the managing partner of McKinsey and Company, Michael Rennie, who was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma 25 years ago, and Asciano non-executive chairman Malcolm Broomhead.

Experts say a healthy lifestyle can prevent a third of cancers but when it comes to the unhealthy stuff, men are at the forefront. They drink more alcohol, have poorer diets, spend longer in the sun, exercise less and carry more excess weight than women.

The campaign has men aged 30 to 50 in its sights. It's a demographic where cancer is relatively uncommon and the optimum window in which to make lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of it developing, Smith says.

Asia Pacific director of the IT security firm Sophos, Rob Forsyth, was at the upper end of this bracket back in 2000.

A trim, rugby-playing 50-year-old with a high profile role on the organising committee for the Sydney Olympics, he regarded himself as fighting fit until a fast-growing lump on his neck was diagnosed as throat cancer.

A gruelling trifecta of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation saw his weight drop from 85kg to 58kg over the subsequent two months.

Since pronounced as cured, Forsyth says the experience threw his mortality into sharp focus and altered his notion of courage.

"Guys traditionally have wanted to be seen as brave," he says.

"Yet I think there's a lot of my peer group who don't show bravery, they show cowardice in not having tests done … Australian men have a strange mindset where it's braver not to know.

"As a bunch we need to talk more about it. It's really simple, being healthy – you don't have to give up everything. And occasionally go to the doctor – be brave."

Top 5 Tips for cutting cancer risk:

1. Don't smoke.

2. Become more physically active. Take the dog for a walk, say no to the golf buggy or throw on some lycra and hit the bike path.

3. Know your own body and go to the doctor if you notice changes.

4. Minimise sun exposure by covering up and avoiding the harshest rays in the middle of the day.

5. Eat better and drink less. This means less red meat, white bread and salt, more vegetables and knocking back the second or third beer or wine.

5 comments so far

  • In April 2011 I was fit, exercising 4 or 5 times a week, and was diagnosed the day after my 47th birthday with colon and liver cancer. I had no symptoms except for severe stomach cramps over Easter. After 2 surgeries and a total of 12 months of chemotherapy, it's been a pretty hard road and I've lost two years of my kids growing up. Don't wait till something goes wrong, what might be a slightly embarrassing check up sure beats having cancer. It's not brave not to know, it's stupid.

    Commenter
    Peterm
    Location
    Northern Sydney
    Date and time
    November 13, 2012, 9:56PM
    • My husband died a little more than six months ago from cancer. It was a low risk cancer at the base of the tongue that, if cured, carried a very slim possibility of recurrence. Unfortunately, we ignored the early symptoms, which appear so obvious to me now, for too long. Despite being declared cured after six weeks of daily radio and weekly chemo, the cancer returned fewer than two years later, with mets in the liver, lungs and spine. My message? Get your symptoms checked, no matter how benign and seemingly innocuous they might appear - when it come to your health, to your life, there isn't any such thing as a hypochondriac.

      Commenter
      Amanda
      Location
      Naremburn
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 5:51PM
      • Good points but don't take the tips as a guarantee that cancer won't strike. I am a non smoker, non drinker, regularly worked out at the gym and ate moderately. After not feeling my regular self I visisted a doctor who sent me for blood tests which eventually ended in a visit to a terrific oncologist and I was diagnosed with non Hodgkins Lymphoma. Chemo followed and after 6 months I was fortunately in remission - and that has lasted for 5 years now. For me aside from the tips as being useful, the key is that as soon as you feel something is not right, visit a doctor and trust the professionals with their recommended course of action. Just don't delay - there is no shame in seeking help or advice.

        Commenter
        dexxter
        Location
        melbourne
        Date and time
        November 15, 2012, 9:59AM
        • Achieving good health ( and avoiding ilnesses as cancer) is not hard, it just requires self discipline and responsibility, which unfortunately are rare commodities these days. That means the discipline to refuse chips and any deep fried foods, ice cream, pies, cakes, soft drink, iced coffee etc, having never more than two alcoholic driinks in a session and no more than one red meat meal a week and engaging in regular (preferably daily) strenuous exercise. Diet and a lack of stress are the keys to health, and i suspect that those who think they lead a health lifestyle are still eating and drinking poorly and.or geting stressed out by work. Australian men dont need to go to the doctor more, they just need to give up the beer, pie and chips lifestyle, drink and work less and get some exercise. If you are not prepared to make these sacrifices, and i suspect many are not, dontact surprised and complain.when your health goes belly-up.

          Commenter
          captain goodvibes
          Location
          queensland
          Date and time
          November 15, 2012, 3:39PM
          • Dont you think you are all taking this a little bit to far. Meat pies and chips, this aint good for you,
            Have a quick look at any RSL Club patrons, their canteen, bain marie, Bingo winged ladies, fat men, poker machine mentality all telling every one else what, and how to do it. Have a listen to the gossip and you will end up with ear cancer, sitting at the poker machine, crusty bottom cancer, dollar coin fibrosis thumb, index finger and purse. Why dont RSL clubs just serve Radio and chemo therapy next to the weighing scales. When was the last time you saw, if ever, a health, well balanced meal in one of these types of clubs? Thats correct.. never.
            Im lucky, I got out to S.E.Asia/ India to avoid ever having to indulge my temple in any of that rubbish, but upon my returns (infrequent thank goodness) there they all are, giving out advice they received from some scandal sheet and informing everyone what is wrong with them.
            Yes, I have been diagnosed with cancer. No i am not going to subscribe to being a guinea pig when I can continue to enjoy what time is left, (minus RSL club et al patrons advice) and just dont bother anyone about it. After all, we all have a season, it is written. Gently walk the beautiful trail, the Nth American Indians say.

            Commenter
            ooddeee
            Location
            Thailand
            Date and time
            November 15, 2012, 8:46PM

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