Mark Brandt felt in perfect health when he went for a regular check-up in April 2015.
Six months later he was in surgery after a shocking discovery that changed his life.
The Blacktown firefighter had prostate cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia.
He had no symptoms, and was lucky to catch the disease early thanks to regularly checking his prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood level.
“It was a little bit surreal. Quite frightening. It’s a fairly big thing to be told you’ve got cancer,” Mr Brandt said.
His wife Linda Brandt said it was “quite daunting” trying to find more information, get a second opinion, and make decisions about treatment options.
They believe a prostate cancer nurse would have helped them both through the diagnosis, treatment and recovery process.
Although prostate cancer is as common as breast cancer, there are currently only five specialist nurses in the state and 29 in the country. The closest for western Sydney residents is based at Macquarie University Hospital in Marsfield.
Mr Brandt said he received “excellent” treatment at Nepean Cancer Centre, and the couple get ongoing support through the Nepean/Blue Mountains Prostate Cancer Support Group.
But they agree a prostate cancer nurse would be helpful for all patients, especially men who don’t have a strong support network.
“It’s hard to take in,” Mr Brandt said. “I was lucky to have Linda by my side, because a lot of it went over my head. With the emotion of the whole thing you lose that focus.”
Mrs Brandt added: “That’s where these nurses are so crucial. They bring everything back into perspective, they deal with this every day so they’re at the forefront of different treatments and possibilities.”
The federal government recently allocated a further $5.9 million over three years to training and employing prostate cancer nurses. The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) is aiming to recruit a further 14 nurses, and is encouraging health service providers to submit an expression of interest.
Western Sydney Health is applying for a nurse to work at Blacktown Hospital and Westmead Hospital. Radiation oncologist Sandra Turner said prostate cancer made up 20 per cent of all cancer diagnoses in the health district over the past five years.
“A dedicated prostate cancer nurse would enhance the great work being done by cancer care staff across the hospitals,” Professor Turner said.
Mr Brandt now encourages all men to check their PSA levels regularly. Thanks to his advocacy, one of his close friends just had surgery after catching his prostate cancer early.