Cancer survivor Kenneth Harris says his relationship with his GP saved his life.
The 46-year-old has told his story to the South Western Sydney Primary Health Network (SWSPHN) on the eve of World Cancer Day on Monday, February 4, to highlight the importance of cancer screening and having a regular GP.
This year’s theme, I Am and I Will, encourages individuals to act now to have a positive impact on the future.
Kenneth Harris said he went to his GP of 10 years for a check-up when he turned 40 and told him ‘let’s just check things out’. One of the tests his doctor ordered was for prostate cancer.
“He came back and he said you’re going to live until you’re 100 but we’re just going to have a look at this,” Mr Harris said.
“He’d done the blood test for prostate cancer and it came back as above four, a marker for cancer.”
Kenneth said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and his prostate was removed in August 2012.
“A week later I saw my urologist who had my pathology sheet in his hands – he shook his head and said ‘mate, you’re amazingly lucky’. My cancer was at stage three and they got it at the very last moment to stop it before it spread,” he said.
“People say ‘oh you’re very young, even doctors’. People are under the misapprehension that prostate cancer is something only older men get but prostate cancer feeds on testosterone so if you have it young, you have more testosterone and it impacts more quickly.”
Mr Harris, pictured below, said he’d been lucky to meet the right doctors at the right time to treat his prostate cancer but “it all started with my GP”.
“I consciously made a decision to go to a family doctor when I was in my 30s because I wanted to build up a rapport,” he said.
“You need to actively search out a GP, you need to be able to speak to them, relate to them, be comfortable with them, trust them.
“My GP was someone who listened – that made me feel like he was a good doctor.”
The value of that long term relationship was again emphasised when Mr Harris was diagnosed with a spinal tumour in early 2013.
He said his legs seemed to stop working properly and despite a CT scan which showed nothing wrong, his GP referred him to a neurologist who ordered further tests that found the tumour which was – like the unrelated prostate cancer – successfully treated.
“I was very lucky but it all comes back to having that relationship with my GP when I wasn’t sick. I got sick and he knew because of the things I’d gone to see him about when I wasn’t sick. You won’t have the chance to have that luck if don’t have a family GP,” he said.
SWSPHN chief executive officer Keith McDonald said the PHN supported the community in making informed health choices, and as Mr Harris’s story showed, building a good relationship with a GP was an important part of staying healthy.
He said when in doubt always talk to your GP.
“Your GP is able to provide you with information, support and advice about what cancer screening tests you should be having because of your age, gender or other factors,” he said.
“As we mark World Cancer Day on Monday, I’d encourage community members to talk to your GP about cancer screening – early detection can increase the chances of successful treatment.”
Kenneth Harris agrees: “Catch it early – it may be a journey, but it’s a journey you can survive,’’ he says.
To watch Kenneth’s story, visit https://youtu.be/BreLdpUbPGk