After a lifetime managing and owning various businesses in the motor trade, Ken Cook did not expect to spend his retirement talking to men about getting their prostates checked – but after surviving prostate cancer 14 years ago, Ken is busier than ever working to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
Ken first experienced cancer 25 years ago when he had a lump removed from his back. “My GP cut it out and I thought little more of it until he called me back in. I was shocked to learn it was a malignant melanoma and I had to have further surgery to remove the melanoma and some lymph nodes. Luckily, the cancer was all removed, and I was able to continue on with my life.”
However, when Ken began to have difficulty with urinating he returned to his GP and after PSA test and a biopsy, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Ken says following procedures to implant gold markers that help to target the radiotherapy, he underwent 37 fractions of radiation. “I’m very pleased to have been cancer-free since. It was a difficult time – the process is unpleasant and the waiting is not easy. But again, I was lucky. I have a PSA test every year and I am able to continue on with my life.”
Ken’s wife Lyn has been through breast cancer. They describe themselves as fortunate to have survived all the treatment and want to be able to help others experiencing cancer. For Ken, this started through attending a prostate cancer support group. Six years ago, he was shoulder-tapped to start organising the Dunedin meeting. “We get around 50 men attending some of our support group meetings and we always have a guest speaker along to provide information on the latest developments in the treatment of prostate cancer.”He says the support group meetings held every two months are invaluable for those going through the prostate cancer journey. “It really helps them to know they are not the only one going through this experience.”
Ken also attends a wide range of community and club meetings to speak about the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer, and the importance of all men over 50 years having an annual PSA check. “Two men die every day of prostate cancer in New Zealand, but if this cancer is detected early, we can get better outcomes. By going out and speaking to a wide range of groups, mostly ones that are male dominated, we can hopefully increase the number of men who ask for PSA checks.”
Ken’s work in the community has also led to him being elected to the Prostate Foundation Board of New Zealand Inc. and become a member of Southern Cancer Network’s (SCN) South Island Cancer Consumer Group and the New Zealand Cancer Consumer Group. SCN partners with the South Island Cancer Consumer Group to ensure the patient voice is at the forefront of work planning and implementation. Being involved in the consumer groups offers Ken the opportunity to look at different parts of cancer care, and provide patient perspective to policy and service improvement: “I enjoy being able to discuss the bigger issues affecting people with cancer, and making sure patients are listened to.”
Ken, now 85, has two more years on the Prostate Cancer Board, at which point he plans to step down – but it would be a reasonable guess that he will never stop his work to raise awareness of prostate cancer.