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Relay for Life celebrating life, creating hope


Zoe Satherley
26 October 2006

Professor Paul Clark suspects that like himself, most men think they are bullet proof.

But Southern Cross University’s Vice-Chancellor realised what a very tenuous grasp on life we all have when he was diagnosed with cancer last year.

“It came as quite a shock really. I have always considered myself fit and healthy. There were no symptoms of any kind to indicate anything was amiss,” he said.

Professor Clark will this year have the honour of starting the Lismore Relay for Life cancer fundraiser on Saturday, November 4, at the Lismore rugby fields in Brunswick Street (behind Trinity Catholic College). The relay opens at 4pm and runs continuously until the closing ceremony on Sunday at 10am.

Relay for Life is a festive team event which raises funds for cancer research and shows support to cancer survivors and their families. Opening the relay is a special honour reserved for survivors of cancer.

Kath Mitchelson, a human resources officer at Southern Cross University and Peter Brown, supply administrator, who are both also survivors of cancer, decided to field a University fundraising team for the first time this year. Kath has survived bowel cancer and Peter has twice survived melanoma.

“People often don’t know what to do when they hear someone has cancer. This is a simple and direct way of showing support to cancer sufferers and their families,” Kath said.

“Southern Cross University – like many local organisations and businesses – has lost many fine staff members to cancer and many of us have lost partners, children, parents and friends to cancer.

“Cancer is something that is touching us all with increasing frequency. So it is good to get cancer out of the closet and for people to be more open and to start talking about it more and sharing their experiences. We can all learn a great deal from each other’s experiences with cancer.”

Professor Clark couldn’t agree more.

These days when he goes to a dinner party or a gathering of friends one of the first things he might ask a male friend is: ‘and when did you last have your prostate checked?’.

“It is surprising how many men don’t get any regular medical check-ups and so something like prostate cancer can get missed in its early stages,” Professor Clark said – and he should know.

He puts himself in that category of men who don’t go for regular medical check-ups.

“Well, when you are healthy you don’t think you really need to bother,” he said. “Most men think they are bullet proof and I was pretty much the same.

“But when I turned 60 I thought ‘well, it is the big six-O, so I suppose I should go and have a full health check’.

“There I was breezing through life in perfect health and I really didn’t expect the doctor to find anything.

“But the GP picked up an asymmetric prostate and what followed was a whirlwind of CAT scans, whole body scans, MIR scans, blood tests, medication, biopsies and visits to specialists.

“I thought ‘cripes, this could be pretty serious’ and it was. They found that the cancer was quite advanced and that it was a fast-growing aggressive type.

“Thankfully, it appeared not to have spread to any other organs and surgery seems to have removed it, although I need to have regular check-ups from now on.”

Professor Clark urged men to have prostate cancer checks regularly and from an early age.

“I know men wince and say it is an invasive and uncomfortable examination but really, it is so quick and simple. They will understand what invasive really means if they have to undergo prostate surgery and the subsequent damage it can inflict on the body.

“I was in the operating theatre for four hours and even with the best nerve-saving surgery, there is a certain amount of damage you just have to live with.

“One of the most annoying things for me was that they took a nerve out of my leg to reconstruct nerves that were damaged. That has left me with a numb foot.

“I had to do a range of exercises to help rebuild muscle strength and control and have had to learn to live with the consequences of such delicate surgery.

“If I had gone for a check-up sooner, the tumour would have been smaller and the treatment less damaging.

“I don’t think having cancer is something you should hide. It touches so many people. The more open we are, the more likely we can influence others to go and have regular check-ups for all kinds of cancer.

“The thing with prostate cancer is that there are no tell-tale warning signs you are likely to observe in your own body. You don’t feel unwell in any way.

“So it is even more important to have a doctor do an examination and time is of the essence. Don’t delay. My cancer could have been detected earlier if I had gone for regular check-ups from a much earlier age and not waited until I was 60.”

Professor Clark could not say enough about the strong love and support of his wife, Jean, during his diagnosis and treatment.

“It makes a tremendous difference to your attitude when you have that level of love, care and encouragement,” he said.

“Now I have gone back to a more or less normal life, but I am more self-aware and I value all of my body parts much more. You realise just how valuable they are and what a good job they do in keeping you alive and healthy.

“But overall I’d say life is just as much fun as it ever was!”

About Relay for Life in Lismore:

The weekend event begins on Saturday, November 4, at the Lismore rugby fields in Brunswick Street (behind Trinity Catholic College). The relay opens at 4pm and runs continuously until the closing ceremony on Sunday at 10am.

4pm Saturday: official opening – Don Whitelaw (academic in Education) is Master of Ceremonies. Dr Andrew Penman, CEO, NSW Cancer Council, Thomas George, Member for Lismore, Merv King, Lismore mayor and Professor Paul Clark, Southern Cross University Vice-Chancellor, will take part in the ceremony.

4.30 pm: Survivors’ Walk. Cancer survivors and their carers walk the first lap of the relay. Michelle Torrens, a PhD student at Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples, will lead the relay and Joanne Rigby, a Contemporary Music (Voice) student will sing during this lap. Other relay participants can join in after the first lap. The survivors’ walk is followed by a special afternoon tea for survivors and their carers catered for by the local CWA.

Around 7 – 8 pm (on dusk): Hope Ceremony – a time to remember and light a candle for those we have lost to cancer.

10 am Sunday: closing ceremony.

During the event there will be music by local musicians, entertainment for the kids with Prime Possum and other characters and a ball throwing competition organised by the Titans football team, ‘crazy hat’ competitions, trivia competitions etc.

Food will be available from the Rotary Clubs barbeque and MacKellar Range Coffee will also be available throughout the event.

Southern Cross University staff are encouraged to come and join the United Uni team. Register with Kath Mitchelson on 6620 3032 or 66217218 or Peter Brown on 6620 3740.

What is Relay For Life?

• It is an event where teams of 10 to 15 people take turns walking or running around a local oval to raise funds for cancer research, education, support services and advocacy.
• Relay is for young and old and you can walk as many or few laps as you like. It’s not a race and you don’t need to run.
• A festival-style atmosphere is created around the event with participants being encouraged to pitch a tent, camp overnight and enjoy the community atmosphere. Participants are entertained with bands, food and fun.
• Each person on the team pays a registration fee which includes a polo shirt and breakfast. Relay is a fundraising event where team members are encouraged to raise $100 each. Fundraising can be fun and easy.
• Annually it raises about $10 million for cancer research.
• More info: or phone the Cancer Council on 66 811 933.

Photo: Professor Paul Clark.