Black and white photo of family, left is young daughter with glasses, right is mother, and behind in the middle is father
Matt alongside his wife, Tania and daughter, Kiah. Image by: Matt Starr
Black and white photo of family, left is young daughter with glasses, right is mother, and behind in the middle is father
31 January 2024

Matt’s story: Prostate cancer is not just an ‘old man’s disease’

Matt Starr
5 minutes read time

It was 2017, I had just turned 45 and a nasty ear infection led me to see my GP. I never could have imagined how that doctor's visit would change the course of my life. Without the ear infection, I don’t know when I would have next seen my GP. Then who knows how long before my prostate cancer would have been detected.

If someone asked me back then about prostate cancer I would have said, “what, that old man’s disease”? But the truth is, 1 in 5 Aussie men will develop prostate cancer in their lives. Even though I was young, had no family history of prostate cancer, and was asymptomatic, that ‘old man’s disease’ was soon to become my life’s biggest battle. Thankfully my GP suggested, since I had recently turned 45, that we run a full health check including a PSA test.

" This is the most important lesson I learnt, to get checked regularly. It’s just a simple blood test after all. "

My PSA test results came back with a reading that was enough to get the doctor recommending further tests. What ensued for the next couple weeks was a series of tests and a biopsy of my prostate gland, until I heard the words, “I’m sorry, you have prostate cancer…”

Throughout the process, your head begins to spiral. I had watched many family members go through various cancer treatment and I'd never seen any survive. Cancer had taken them all. Mental health and depression had never been issues I’d dealt with personally. But once I started down the rabbit hole of testing, waiting, more tests, something's not right, off to a specialist, and then in for biopsies, more waiting, the anxiety really starts to take over. I was not equipped to deal with it.

To be honest, getting a clear answer after weeks of uncertainty was a bit of a relief. I now had a confirmed diagnosis and treatment path. My wife was my voice of reason in these tough moments. OK, you have cancer and that sucks, but how do we move forward from here? Where do we go next? How do we try and beat this thing? I couldn't get a better rock than that for support throughout the whole process.

Four weeks later, my prostate was removed in a successful surgery and the road to recovery began, including saying hello to Mr. Catheter (interesting experience that one), urinary incontinence, and erectile dysfunction. “We're dissecting your urethra from the bladder and taking a wide margin around the cancer to make sure there's nothing left behind,” my surgeon explained pre-op, “which means taking all your nerves on one side along with it, it will never be 100%,” so incontinence pads it was for me until I regained my continence many weeks later, and months of penile rehabilitation meds.

Like most men, erectile dysfunction was an unsettling topic for me. I was only in my forties and, in many ways, still thought of myself as a teenager. I’d been warned that I was going to have issues in that department. But 18 months after the surgery, I was still having issues - it was hit and miss with the ED medications. I’m not going to lie, it was a frustrating experience filled with some dark days. But once I was able to come to terms with it and say, ‘hey this does not define me’. I could put it all into perspective.

I have been cancer free for 7 years now. If it wasn’t for the early detection from my GP, then it could have been a different story. I am the fittest I have been in 20 years. I’m an avid walker, moving for Movember each year, which always helps keep my body and mind in check. I’m getting regular check-ups, watching my cholesterol intake, and I must admit was a little too excited for my bowel cancer testing kit to arrive in the mail when I turned 50.

To see the progress being made in treatment options and support is heartening. I had an open prostatectomy, whereas these days most are robotic. You didn’t have prostate cancer nurses like you do in most hospitals today. Physios are provided throughout the whole process, unlike the one pager I was given about how to do my Kegels. New research into prostate cancer treatments is helping delay the progress of advanced prostate cancer and artificial intelligence is speeding up the development of personalised treatments.

Today, I support my friends and colleagues who are going through their own cancer journey. I reassure them that improvements are being made every year by the likes of Movember and the organisations they support. True North and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia have amazing resources where you can speak with survivors, just like me. Don’t bury your heads in the sand, start the discussion and surround yourself with your loved ones. And please, don’t search WebMD like I did!

Cancer impacts not only the patient, but everyone around you. Its reach is far and wide — and it does not discriminate. I am so thankful for the support I received (and still receive) from my loving wife and daughter, my parents and sister, friends and my wonderful urology specialist and nurses.

This World Cancer Day I urge you to take action, see your GP and start the discussion — early intervention leads to better outcomes. Do it every year. And if you can't remember a date, use November.

Matt Starr is now 52 years old, healthy, and looking forward to his long life alongside his wife, Tania and daughter, Kiah. He lives in Shell Harbour, NSW, walking every day, and working at the Wollongong City Council as a Geographic Information Systems Officer. He has been a Mo Bro since his prostate cancer diagnosis in 2017, raising over $17,000 for Movember along the way. Visit Matt’s MoSpace and show your support.