Paul Wagner was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017 at the age of 55 after obtaining a second opinion. He first attended a GP in 2012 but was not tested for prostate-specific antigen.
Five years later and symptomatic, Paul was again denied a PSA test. Paul’s wife, Susan Stacpoole, has also experienced a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Paul and Susan met on his cancer journey and married in 2020.
When Paul was given his cancer diagnosis, he was alone.
‘I went from the [specialist’s] office to Lake Wendouree and I started walking [around the lake]. I was about halfway around before I really realised where I was. The thing [is], when somebody tells you, “You have cancer,” you're numb. And then I thought I've got to talk to somebody.
So, [I’ve] gotten [my] phone and I've scrolled through. But everyone that I called was not answering. Finally, I [got through to] my sister and spoke to her. Then I rang another friend and spoke to them. I pulled myself together so that I could drive from Ballarat back to Cobden, which was an hour and a half away.’
‘You weren’t safe to drive home,’ adds Susan.
‘Yeah,’ agrees Paul. ‘Knowing why they’d called me to see them from a distance, [the health service provider] should have made sure that I brought somebody with me. That is the biggest thing, having somebody else to listen to what was going on. Because, when I walked out of there people asked me questions. I didn't have the answers, even though I probably was told. Your mind hears, “Cancer.” What does it do? Does it listen to everything else going on around you? Afterwards, I took somebody with me. Because I knew I wasn't hearing it. And it's not that I didn't want to hear it. But your mind shuts down.’
‘Having someone who would even check in on you the next day,’ suggests Susan. 'And to make plans. Someone who had counselling ability [but with] that medical knowledge [to tell you], “If you're going home from surgery, you're not going to be able to get to the supermarket – make sure you’ve got a dozen cans of baked beans."’
Paul used up his work leave after having to take time off after surgery and lost his job. ‘He had totally run out of sick leave and money and annual leave and everything,’ says Susan. ‘But it wasn't until, out of the blue, a church woman who heard about Paul knocked on the door and asked to come in and had a look and realised that he had no food. She provided him with lots of frozen meals and bits and pieces, a food hamper.’
‘If I would have been told about a [cancer] counsellor, who could've sat down and talked to me about all this. They would have had the right questions to ask me,’ agrees Paul. ‘They would have realised I had lost my full-time job and only got some occasional casual hours – they would have sent me to Centrelink. I [would have] got sickness benefits, which would given me something.’
‘When I got the cancer diagnosis, I needed to talk to somebody to get my head around everything,’ Paul continues. 'I went to [a local counsellor] and got a mental health plan. And we went through the cancer. But I had to initiate everything. It's not easy to think about what you should be initiating.’
‘Paul really needed counselling or social work and all that,’ concurs Susan. ‘To understand, “Well, this [is what the] whole prostrate journey could look like. Because, you know, you often see [a survey ask], “Did you get information?” And yes, you get information, but what does that information mean? And you go to the doctor and [they say], “If you've got any questions...” But if you don't know what's likely, how do you ask a question?’
‘You can't ask a question,’ finishes Paul, ‘if you don't know what to ask.’