Neil Dickinson was a fit and healthy long-distance runner who felt like he was in his prime, but he knew something was wrong.
The Adelaide dad constantly had to go to the bathroom, a problem that progressively became worse and more frequent over the course of the three months.
His family started referring to his regular loo stops as the “Dickinson dash” because he was always running off to go pee.
Having just turned 45, Neil was eligible for a free health check. But this process was delayed when he had to return to the UK, where he originally emigrated from, during the height of the Covid pandemic to see his father who was in intensive care.
When Neil finally got out of isolation and saw his GP in August, 2021, he received the shocking news that he had aggressive prostate cancer.
But the deadly diagnosis did not come as a devastating blow to Neil, who instead viewed it as chance at a better life.
He partly attributes this to his “naive” attitude where he “just accepts bad news” but also to how he was feeling at that time.
The 46-year-old said while he was never suicidal, he had been wishing for a way to escape his stressful work-life balance.
“I’ve always married work and that was one of the reasons why I emigrated, to put work ahead of family and everything else,” Neil said.
“I was just praying for a way out of my work life and the stress I was putting myself through.
“I was almost annoyed myself as I thought ‘I prayed for this’ (prostate cancer) in a strange way.”
Neil immediately started ongoing hormone therapy and has also been through 39 rounds of radiation as part of his treatment.
But throughout the tiring and strenuous ordeal, Neil has never felt “negative”. Instead he views getting prostate cancer as a second chance.
“The good thing is it’s given me a new lease on life … it has really opened my eyes to a better lifestyle where I now no longer prioritise work,” he said.
“I try to enjoy life more and not create situations that create stress. I have never thought ‘why me’ at any stage during diagnosis.”
Neil used the time he had off work during therapy and the reduced hours he is now working to do activities like 6km walks in the morning with his wife and making time for family outings.
He is trying to pass his new-found perspective onto his son, who has only just finished his apprenticeship.
“He’s going to try and be this sort of yes man to climb the ladder of being employable,” Neil said.
“So I’m now trying to teach him that there’s more to life than just marrying work and trying to please everyone.”
While Neil has a positive outlook on life, he does acknowledge the reality of his situation and that he might not see out the decade due to his illness.
“My wife, she’s worried. Don’t get me wrong, she has shed tears,” he said.
“It’s been said that I may not see my retirement age … I’m only 46, there’s probably little chance I’ll reach 65. The early diagnosis they were talking 55-56.
“I don’t honestly think I’m going anywhere soon … but when my wife and I got married we wanted to grow old together. We can’t do that, which is sad.”
But Neil has chosen to live his life and not focus on his own mortality. That is why he is participating in the Long Run, an annual event held each September where people run, walk or wheel 72km to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer.
Neil set himself a “very big challenge” of doing a 56km ultra marathon across the Adelaide Hills.
He has raised nearly $5000, but unfortunately the effects of his disease and treatment have caught up with him.
“I’ve tried to be a hero if you like … I’m pretty stubborn and an idiot sometimes,” he said
“Because I was a runner before prostate cancer and I’ll be a runner long after, I thought I could pick up where I left off.
“But radiotherapy and hormone therapy, it does weaken your bones.
“I’m waiting on a result from an MRI to see if I’ve sustained a slight stress fracture of the hip … I’m walking around with a fair bit of pain.”
Having already felt awkward about asking his friends for money to fund his campaign, Neil is dreading the idea of not being able to run.
That is why he has vowed to do what he can, even if he does have a stress fracture.
“The guilt that I feel that I’ve raised nearly $5000 and I can’t fulfil my end of the bargain,” Neil said.
“I’m still going to do what I can and if I have to do it on crutches, I’ll do it on crutches. I’ll do my best.”
The Long Run also coincides with Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (PCFA), which raises awareness for a disease that more than 24,000 Australian men will be diagnosed with this year and more than 3500 will die from.
Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia chief executive Anne Savage said the number of Australian prostate cancer deaths could drop down to zero within 10 years with early intervention.
“With concerted action to detect prostate cancer at stage 1, before it spreads outside the prostate, we can save lives,” she said.
“Detected at its earliest stage, the five-year relative survival rate for prostate cancer is nearly 100 per cent, which means if we detect it while the cancer is contained within the prostate, we can almost certainly defeat it for good.
In a bid to improve early detection of the disease, PCFA is set to overhaul outdated guidelines for Pharmaceutical Society of Australia testing.
“The current guidelines do not provide men at a high risk of prostate cancer with clear guidance on detecting the disease early, and we plan to change that,” Ms Savage said.
Originally published as Adelaide dad Neil Dickinson says prostate cancer has given him a ‘new lease on life’
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