For GPs

‘How radiation therapy helped me tackle prostate cancer’ – Gregg’s story

29 Nov 2017

Thousands of Australian men continue to be affected by prostate cancer every year. It is estimated that more than 3,000 men will die from the disease in 2017  and there will be more than 16,500 new cases diagnosed across the country this year.  Radiation therapy is continuing to play a big part in helping treat prostate cancer.  Here, patient Gregg Gibbons, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the prime of his life, shares his experiences with Targeting Cancer:

Radiation therapy not only helped Gregg Gibbons through his own prostate cancer ordeal – it has given him the impetus to help others improve their lives too.

The former soldier, who lives on the NSW Central Coast, was in the prime of his life and had just become a father for the first time when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998.

After initially being told that he only had months to live, successful radiation therapy treatment has allowed Gregg not only to survive almost 20 years later, but also spurred him to play a major role with an important local charity.

“I’ve always tried to be unselfish, but since my treatment, I guess now I get enjoyment out of helping other people,” the married father-of-one said. “I have a life now and I make the most of it.

“It’s been a long journey but I’ve had a great life and I aim to continue to keep doing so until my time naturally comes.”

Gregg had “barely heard” previously of prostate cancer before one day seeing a television advert encouraging awareness of the disease, which affects one in five men aged under 85 in Australia.

He had a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test – a common method for detecting the cancer  – which revealed some shocking news.

“My PSA levels were so high, my doctor had asked for a re-check,” Gregg said. “He thought they’d put the decimal point in the wrong place.”

Gregg and his family consulted a urologist, who told Gregg that his PSA levels were so high, he would not survive for longer than 12-18 months more.

“I had my mother and my wife next to me when I was told,” Gregg said. “I burst into tears – I was totally devastated.

“My wife and I had just become parents for the first time and I thought I wouldn’t see my daughter grow up.

“About two months later my mum had a stroke which caused her to later pass away. It was just a horrible time.” He consulted another urologist, who carried out a biopsy before referring Gregg for radiation therapy at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital.

Gregg said he received excellent treatment during his two-month course of radiation therapy, which aimed to shrink his cancerous tumour to a non-life threatening level.

“I cannot speak highly enough of the radiation oncology staff at Westmead,” Gregg, who believes exposure to herbicides while serving as a soldier in south Vietnam in 1970 caused his prostate cancer, said. “They are a great team.

“After the first week or two of radiation therapy I felt a bit tired and there were other minor side-effects, but generally I felt fine. “I had lost my mum, which was horrible, but I tried to stay positive and get on with my life.”

Gregg also started receiving hormone therapy treatment before and after radiation therapy to enhance the effect of treatment and still has hormones via three-monthly injections which cause him no symptoms. His PSA levels remain stable, meaning his cancer is still controlled.

After retiring from his work as a security consultant, Gregg started volunteering with a local community neighbourhood centre.

He is now one of the board members of the centre, which provides numerous community projects and programs including an Op Shop and food care centre for the Central Coast’s homeless population.

Gregg has also spent the last decade assisting other former soldiers with various advocacy matters, including obtaining health cards, other entitlements and helping  them with Veterans’ Review Board matters.

“If things had been different, I could’ve been the one needing help from other people,” Gregg, whose wife Judith also works at the centre, said. “I’m glad to help.

“It’s been wonderful seeing my daughter Jessie, who is now 21, grow into a beautiful woman. Judith has been a wonderful support and our love and relationship is still as strong as ever.”

Gregg said he urges anyone needing treatment for prostate cancer to consider radiation therapy as an effective treatment option which cures and controls prostate cancer at rates comparable to prostate removal by surgery.

“I’d recommend considering radiation therapy to anyone,” the 66-year-old said.  “Radiation therapy was a positive treatment for me and I think definitely more people should take advantage of it.”

For more information on prostate cancer causes, symptoms and treatments, click here.

Radiation therapy plan showing how dose is targeted to the prostate and avoids the rectum to minimise side effects.