Dealing with testing time

By Ashlea Witoslawski

Michael Jones has always been a ‘‘she’ll be right’’ kind of bloke, up for a laugh and a drink with his mates.

After several years attending the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia Biggest Ever Blokes’ Lunch in Echuca, the Kyabram dairy farmer was looking forward to the 2016 event, never expecting it could be a life-changing one.

After hearing from numerous speakers over many years, Mr Jones recalls hearing from a doctor discussing a PSA test.

‘‘I was thinking, I don’t know what a PSA is.

‘‘So I listened and didn’t think I was taking anything in but I obviously was because he said, ‘next time you’re at the doctors getting a check-up or a blood test done, ask for a PSA and if he doesn’t give it to you, get another doctor’.’’

In February last year, Mr Jones was visiting Dr Michael McQueen-Thomson at Kyabram Regional Clinic for a general check-up, and asked for the test.

‘‘A few days later, I got the phone call that I needed to go back and see them,’’ he said.

‘‘I was thinking my bloody cholesterol was too high or something but then he started talking about my PSA being over four.

‘‘I didn’t think four sounded too bad, but anything over zero is no good.’’

The Prostate Specific Antigen test measures the level of PSA — a protein made in the prostate gland — in the blood.

Although the test is not specifically for cancer, a raised level in the blood means something is happening in the prostate.

About one in three men with a PSA level between 4 and 10 nanograms per millilitre will have prostate cancer.

In March, Mr Jones and his wife Judy visited Shepparton urologist Dr Peter Mortensen before undertaking a biopsy and scans at Shepparton Private Hospital in April.

It was at this time, Mr Jones received his diagnosis of prostate cancer at age 51.

In May, he underwent a PET scan which accelerated his diagnosis to metastatic prostate cancer, meaning the cancer had spread to other parts of his body.

On May 31, a new PSA test returned a reading of 44.8ng/mL.

Mr Jones said he was ‘‘numb’’ when they heard the diagnosis.

‘‘I’ve always been a bloke’s bloke, if you want to call it that, and even now it’s always in the back of your mind,’’ he said.

‘‘Luckily I had Judy because most of the time I was sitting there hearing ‘blah, blah, blah’ because I was in shock — but Jude was taking everything down because there is that many appointments going in different directions.

‘‘I couldn’t have done it without Judy.’’

On June 1, Mr Jones began hormone therapy, having hormone implants to reduce testosterone in the body.

‘‘The idea is that you starve the cancer of testosterone and that worked really well,’’ Judy said.

‘‘His PSA went back down to 4.8 and it’s continued to go down from there all the time.’’

Mr Jones began chemotherapy on June 22 and completed his last round on October 16 at Shepparton Private Hospital.

‘‘I suppose there’s an array of emotions,’’ he said.

‘‘You get a bit angry and then you finally work your way through it and you just think; well, I’ve always been positive and that’s what I’m going to do.’’

Mr and Mrs Jones believe his positive attitude has been a large part in his success so far.

‘‘I just let ‘It Is What It Is’ become our motto,’’ he said.

‘‘Michael is such a positive person that because of his attitude it’s been much easier to handle,’’ Mrs Jones said.

‘‘Nothing fazes him.’’

Mr Jones continued to work through his chemotherapy.

‘‘He was calving cows and doing all sorts of stuff,’’ Mrs Jones said.

‘‘He didn’t let anything stop him.’’

‘‘I’m not the sort of person to just sit and stare and think ‘woe is me’ — so I think actually having everything helped with being able to keep working and focus on other things,’’ Mr Jones said.

One of the biggest challenges for Mr Jones came on October 31 when they made the decision to sell their cows under the guidance of the oncologist and support staff.

‘‘That was an extremely hard day,’’ Mr Jones said.

‘‘I’ve been involved since I was a kid and then the breeding of these cows for all that time — and then you’ve gotta watch them get loaded up on a truck.’’

The Joneses kept their young stock and still have a few beef calves and some calves on agistment from friends and family, which keeps Mr Jones busy without adding too much stress.

‘‘We now say ‘yes’ to everything and make the most of life,’’ Mrs Jones said.

Mr Jones said calving season was one of the busiest times of the year for him so this year had been a ‘‘bit weird’’.

Mrs Jones said the drop in stress had been wonderful for Mr Jones in comparison to last year, when they were trying to organise appointments around work.

‘‘The best thing ever was selling the cows as far as health-wise,’’ Mrs Jones said.

Mr Jones said he’d felt fine before he received his diagnosis and was glad he learnt what he did at the prostate cancer awareness lunch. ‘‘I felt a million bucks, I wouldn’t of known anything if it hadn’t of been for the PSA.’’

He is now on hormone implants indefinitely, until the cancer stops responding to this form of therapy.

His oncologist will then find a new treatment.

Mr Jones’ three most recent PSA tests have been called non-detectable, meaning they are less than 0.03ng/mL.

‘‘That means that’s doing what is supposed to be doing,’’ he said.

‘‘What we want is for that level to continue for as long as possible, but the cancer will come back because it’s already spread,’’ Mrs Jones said.

Mr Jones’ other lumps are laying dormant and have reduced in size.

Every three months he has a blood test and sees a specialist for a check-up.

‘‘You sort of live from three-month appointment to three-month appointment,’’ Mrs Jones said.

‘‘There is always new research coming up, so really, the longer you can stay well, maybe they will come up with something. All you can do is hope it stays low for as long as possible,’’ she said.

‘‘I don’t walk around thinking about it all the time,’’ Mr Jones said.

‘‘But I suppose it will always be in the back of my mind for the rest of my life.

‘‘But in the meantime, you’ve just got to stay positive and get on with life,’’ he said.

‘‘You’ve gotta live your life while you can.’’

Mr and Mrs Jones are extremely thankful for all the support they have received from medical staff during and after his treatment.

‘‘Wherever you went, they couldn’t do enough for you and try to make it as easy as they could.’’

Mrs Jones also praised prostate cancer specialist nurse Sonia Strachan, and all the support staff at GV Health, and of course family and close friends.

Mr Jones continues to encourage everyone to get a PSA test.

‘‘People are scared to go to the doctor,’’ he said.

‘‘You can just do a normal blood test and it’s as simple as that.

‘‘If hadn’t of had mine done, I don’t know what would have happened.’’

Mr and Mrs Jones continue to keep a positive attitude, having a laugh about their experiences so far and using humor to think about the future.

Michael Jones will be sharing his story at the upcoming Biggest Ever Blokes’ Lunch in Echuca on Friday, October 5.