Patting Shark: Book feature for Men’s Health Week 2023


As part of Men’s Health Week 2023, we’re sharing an excerpt from Tim Baker’s book, Patting the Shark, about a surfer’s journey to living well with prostate cancer.

Download the full excerpt, originally published in The Weekend Australian, here.

In Australia, one in five men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer … For many older men, where the cancer is contained within the prostate and deemed not so aggressive, a strategy of active surveillance is considered prudent. However, statistics show an increase in the prevalence of younger men (generally defined as under 60) being diagnosed, for reasons no one has been able to divine.

In cases like mine, where the cancer (stage four) has already spread or metastasised to the bone, aggressive treatment is considered essential, though holds no promise of a cure. Prostate cancer feeds on testosterone, so the younger you are and the higher your natural levels of testosterone, the more aggressive the cancer tends to be (the aggressive- ness of prostate cancer is measured by a Gleason score; mine registers a nine out of 10). The recommended treatment, therefore, is to block or suppress your testosterone with what’s politely termed hormone therapy or androgen deprivation therapy, but in effect amounts to chemical castration.

This news takes some time to sink in when I receive the diagnosis out of the blue in 2015, as do the side effects – complete loss of libido and sexual function. Other likely side effects include lethargy, mood swings, depression, an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, loss of muscle tone, bone density and body hair, weight gain, shrunken genitals and breast swelling. Just to complete the picture, you are also advised to expect hot flushes, like a menopausal woman. Consent to all this or allow the cancer to spread throughout your body. I’m shocked to learn from my oncologist that this has been the accepted treatment for more than 50 years.

It seems to me barbaric, inhuman, cruel, presenting men with an impossible choice – to cease to be men or to cease to be. And yet, many men like me are alive today because of hormone therapy’s ability to halt the spread of prostate cancer.

About the book

Tim Baker was living the dream. A best-selling and award-winning surf writer with a beautiful family, a lifetime of exotic travel and a home walking distance to quality waves.

That all changed on July 7, 2015, when he was diagnosed, out of the blue, with stage 4, metastatic prostate cancer. So began a descent into the debilitating world of aggressive cancer treatments and a fight for a survival as brutal as any big wave hold down.

Tim writes candidly and with a raw vulnerability about this perilous journey through chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation and surgery, and his own determined lifestyle strategies to maintain mind, body and spirit. Happily, surfing provided one of his most powerful forms of therapy, and writing about his experiences has proven deeply cathartic.

In 2020, 1.5 million men were diagnosed with prostate cancer globally and 375,000 lost their lives. In Australia, one in seven men will develop prostate cancer. Yet mainstream oncology concedes its ability to keep men with prostate cancer alive has outstripped its ability to manage the often-devastating side effects of treatment. Men with prostate cancer are living longer but with a steadily declining quality of life.

Patting The Shark documents Tim’s efforts to navigate his way through the maze of conventional and supportive therapies – meditation, diet, exercise, emotional support, counselling. Ultimately, it is a desperate plea for a more integrative approach to cancer care, treating the whole person and not just the cancer, allowing cancer patients a sense of empowerment and agency in charting their path through treatment.

This is a story about facing your mortality, staring down your fears, and working out what really matters in life, when so many elements of your identity are stripped away. It offers hope, comfort and empathy for anyone facing a cancer diagnosis and their loved ones.

About Tim Baker

Tim Baker is the bestselling author of Bustin’ Down the Door, High Surf, Occy, Surf for Your Life (with Mick Fanning), Surfari and Century of Surf. He is a former editor of Tracks and Surfing Life magazines. He has twice won the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame Culture Award and been nominated for the CUB Australian Sports Writing Awards. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review, the Bulletin, Inside Sport, Playboy, GQ, the Surfers Journal and Qantas: The Australian Way, as well as surfing magazines around the world.

Click here to order Patting the Shark.

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