01 Jun Prostate Cancer | John Vogels’ plea to all men
John Vogels has lived much of his life in the public eye and now he’s sharing his prostate cancer fight with as many men as he can reach.
The former Corangamite Shire and State Government politician is in the middle of treatment for prostate cancer and secondary cancer in the lymph nodes of his groin.
In his own words he has a fight on his hands, but he is positive and optimistic that his current treatment will get him back on track.
John turns 74 this month (June), but he was 60 when he first noticed some blood in his urine. Ever since then he’s had yearly check-ups to make sure everything was okay.
“I was worried because my dad had prostate cancer and my grandfather on my mother’s side did as well, so I was straight onto it and religiously got tested every year,” he said.
“I would get the physical test and the PSA (blood) test and I was told my prostate was enlarged, my PSA was fine and to keep getting tested. I did that for 10 years.
“Then when I turned 70 I was finding it difficult to urinate. When I needed to do this, I found I only had about five minutes to find a toilet stop.
“I was also getting up three to four times a night. It was getting harder and harder and more difficult to live with. Obviously, there was something wrong with my waterworks.
“I was told by the experts that now that I had passed the age of 70 I would probably die of old age before the cancer got me and not to worry about further physical testing…I was told the PSA test should continue to be my guide.
“People find this stuff uncomfortable, but that’s part of the problem. Men need to talk about it, they need to stop worrying about getting checked and they need to listen to their body. I didn’t listen to mine.”
‘TRUST WHAT YOUR BODY IS TELLING YOU – I WISH I DID’
John remembers asking doctors if he could have his prostate removed when the urination issues presented about four years ago.
“I didn’t know a hell of a lot about it then – not like I do now. They told me it was a big operation, that some people are incontinent afterwards and put me on Duodart to try and shrink the prostate instead,” he said.
“It helped a lot – I didn’t have to get up four of five times during the night and when I did go my stream was much better.
“Then about six months ago I was harvesting on the tractor and I had to stop all the time as the symptoms reappeared. I was really worried then and went for more checks.”
John had a colonoscopy, endoscopy, ultrasound, a CT scan, MRI, bone density scan and range of other tests to find out what he was dealing with.
“They found some spots on my lungs, a cyst on my liver and an aneurysm in my stomach…I found out a lot of things that were wrong with me, but not why I was having problems down below,” he said.
“I knew there was a problem, but I couldn’t get the answers. Then in January this year a specialist in Melbourne did a physical exam and told me immediately I had cancer. He sent me off for another MRI and biopsy and told me to come back the following week.
“When I went back, he said sorry to say this but you have a very large aggressive cancer in the prostate and it’s spread to your lymph nodes which is secondary cancer and I’m worried about the spots on your lungs.”
John was immediately put on hormone therapy. The process involves an estrogen pellet being placed under the skin every three months.
“The doctor explained that the cancer feeds on testosterone – it fuels it. So, the estrogen stops the fuel and stops the cancer from growing. It also means that I am going through symptoms that women experience during menopause like hot flushes.
John said that learning about the wonderful work of the EJ Whitten Foundation, through CEO Nick Holland, led to him being accepted as a patient by the team. They research the latest developments for prostate cancer and are funded by the foundation.
“That’s when we met Professor Nathan Lawrentschuk who is a specialist in this field.
“He explained it all, what was happening to my body and gave me a roadmap for what was ahead of me. Things I thought were not options for me due to the advanced prognosis of my cancer, were all of a sudden back on the table and my outlook was vastly improved which was wonderful.”
In recent months, John has undergone a TERP operation which he said was like a ‘rebore of his waterworks’ so that he could urinate again more normally.
More recently, a physical shield was inserted between his lymph nodes and other organs in preparation for radiation therapy which began last month.
“The shield is put there so they don’t damage other organs with the radiation. They also put gold specks in my prostate which acts like a GPS for the radiation to target more accurately.
“I’m happy to say that they’re zapping my cancer hard with two months of daily treatment in the hope that I end up in remission.
“My message to other men is to get the PSA test, don’t fear the physical test but most of all listen to your body. Those tests are there as a guide but they aren’t definitive.
“My only regret is not being guided by my body. I know now I’ve got the best team for the job and my treatment is underway and going well, so I’m really positive about my future.
“Lastly – don’t give up. I had a pretty bad diagnosis to begin with but the team at the EJ Whitten Foundation and the Epworth have given me hope.”