|Waipukurau artist's recent works reflect battle with cancer.|
|Monday, 18 June 2012 17:39|
Art has been a big help to Waipukurau abstract artist Cefyn Gauden in his battle with cancer. He talks to Lee Matthews about the essentials of coping, and why men need to man up about medicine.
When Waipukurau artist Cefyn Gauden lies under the radiation machine at Palmerston North Hospital, a mighty resolve fills him to tell men to man up about being checked for prostate cancer.
It could save their lives.
The expatriate Welshman was diagnosed with the disease – a dab tumour – last July, and now in his fifth week of eight weeks of radiation therapy at Palmerston North Hospital. He thanks his lucky stars that his habit of having an annual health checkup picked up the cancer.
"It's your annual Warrant of Fitness," he says. "Men, just do it."
The routine blood test found higher levels of PSA (prostate specific antigens) than should have been present. The PSA test is sometimes criticised for returning false results, but it's still one of the best first diagnostic tools available for prostate cancer.
"I had no symptoms. Absolutely none. Sometimes you'll get pain, or you'll notice a change in flow when you're urinating. I had nothing like that ... it was the blood test that found it," Gauden says.
"The thing is, I'm 60. But this can happen to you in your 20s, your 30s."
An internal examination found a change in the texture of his prostate gland, which was enough reason to have the changed area biopsied. That confirmed the tumour. Further scans found the good news; the cancer hadn't spread to his bones or liver.
There are several types of treatment available, depending on each man's circumstances. Gauden's oncologist recommended seven months of hormone treatment, to be followed with eight weeks of radiation therapy. In July or August, he'll have more checks to ensure the cancer's gone.
He was injected with doses of estrogen, which lowered his testosterone level, reducing the size of his prostate gland and therefore the size of the tumour. Side effects vary, but Gauden says he got some interesting women's menopause-like symptoms.
"Hot sweats. Lots of hot sweats, you wake up in a puddle. And there's been a bit of softening of connective tissues, so sometimes my joints hurt and my fingers will lock up. Massage and warmth help, and it goes away."
He says the key weapon in the cancer battle is a positive attitude, and his personal big gun is humour. One of the biggest problems with cancer is that too many people automatically assume it's a death sentence.
"I've had friends come round with long faces and send me flowers and cards ... they tell you all the stories about how they knew somebody who was given three months and died in three weeks and they're so sorry.
"I just want to shout at them, I'M NOT DYING!"
He shakes his head.
"I know people sometimes don't know what to do, but I've had to placate people, they've burst into tears when they've heard I've got this."
He doesn't know what's worse; the hushed horror stories, the overly optimistic miracle cures or the people who honestly don't know what to do and just stay away and do nothing.
"Makes you feel like you've got leprosy. Look, people don't have to do anything. They just need to be what they always are, friendly and interested."
Detected early, prostate cancer is treatable.
"It's when you muck around and don't get your checkups, and you're symptom-free and you don't know you've got it, that's when it gets harder."
In the radiation therapy phase Gauden gets "zapped" each week day. He lies on a bed, feet up, and a precisely aimed laser directs a stream of radiation at the tumour. It takes a few minutes, the machine calibrating and turning round him to ensure the radiation hits the correct spots.
"I've got these three little blue dots tattooed on me; they help line up the laser," he says. "It's tiring, your bladder's pretty close to the prostate and so your waterworks gets a bit jiggled up. It means you pee a lot more, you're up several times a night."
Lying there, wearing a one-size-is-too-big-for-everybody hospital gown and staring at the ceiling, Gauden was struck by how supremely boring that same flat white surface was. An abstract artist, he's drawn and painted his thoughts and feelings all the way through his treatment, and his room at Ozanam House is hung with working drawings in pencil, crayon and pastels.
Even on rough paper, they explode colour and shape into the room.
"They're working drawings. They're how I feel about what's happening. You can see when I'm tired and frustrated, and when it's going well. There's impressions of the thin red line of light from the laser, from the figures you see as the machine swings round."
A hobby jazz drummer, Gauden says his art has always been about rhythm, movement and pattern, and he'll use the working sketches to produce a series of paintings when the radiation treatment is over.
He also got to thinking about the boring white ceiling above the bed, and after talking it over with hospital staff, he's going to paint a work to be hung on that ceiling. It'll give others something to look at, and something else to think about, while they're lying on the bed with the laser coming at them.
Gauden says his other tip for people with early-diagnosed cancer is to keep doing as much as possible, to stay positive and interested.
Being busy is a great help to avoid brooding.
"You may need to talk to somebody, get some counselling. It's a huge thing, this, you come slap bang against your own mortality and it's hard to handle. Your family might need some help as well. It's just as hard for them ..."
A theatre fan from way back, he's a stalwart support of both the Waipawa Music and Dramatic Club, and the Waipukurau Little Theatre. He's designed sets for both societies for years, and he recently directed and acted in a season of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
"Painting's first and foremost in my life, but I also play A-grade tennis, and I'm in a jazz quartet."
He's painted from childhood, breaking his family's tradition of coalmining in Wales. His great grandfather was a miner, his grandfather died in a pit accident when his father was 15 and, as the eldest son, his father "went down t' pit" to support the family.
"My father was an academic student, extremely good at maths and science. I think he might have gone into those areas otherwise ... I do know my parents were wonderfully supportive of my bent for art."
He was teaching art at a secondary school in Devon when he realised he had to get away from Margaret Thatcher's policies. He blames her political work for the ruination of Britain; he "couldn't stomach" what she was doing. He heard about an art teaching job in New Zealand and over the phone was offered and accepted head of art for Central Hawke's Bay College.
"That was funny, 400 people in that village in Devon, and one of my pub mates was married to a Kiwi. They asked where I was going and I told them Why-pee-kee-row. They looked puzzled, asked where that was, so I told them near Danny-virky."
They sorted out the pronunciation, but Gauden's voice still hints Celtic music in its intonation.
When his radiation treatment is over, he plans to head home to his studio and spread the word about why it matters so much for men to have regular health checks.
"Women are much better at this health business than we are. I don't know what it is, something macho, maybe we're scared. But the earlier you find this stuff the better ... you can get something done about it."
Gauden's contactable through his website, cefyngauden.com and says he's happy to talk to people about cancer.
More information about prostate cancer is available from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand, at prostate.org.nz or the Cancer Society, cancernz.org.nz, or talk to your doctor or nurse.
- © Fairfax NZ News