The ‘Angelina Jolie effect’ must extend to men. This is why Carolyn Gower’s shared journey with her husband Tony is so vital in a bid to hit home with men across their community in Ballarat.
Tony Gower died late last month with prostate cancer, five years after his diagnosis. Carolyn said he was diagnosed by accident and there was no chance of curing him.
What the Gowers discovered was Tony had a genetic fault that for male carriers increases the risk of prostate cancer four times more than the general population. The BRAC2 mutation also dramatically heightens the risk of a carrier in developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Angelina Jolie had a similar fault, BRAC1, and made public her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in 2013. Referrals to cancer genetic testing boomed. Two years later, Jolie had her ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed after another health scare. She told her deeply personal story in a published essay.
It put a human face and experience to somewhat obscure, unrelatable medical terminology.
Tony’s family has a history of breast cancer. Links in the gene to prostate cancer are only a relatively new discovery.
He is now one of three donors worldwide to donate organs and tissue to a study to try and revolutionalise treatment and awareness for carriers like himself.
Carolyn said it was bad luck that Tony did not know his genetic risk for prostate cancer earlier, so he could have been more proactive younger, but together they hopes his legacy would help others.
Tony’s legacy is not just about shedding light on groundbreaking genetic discovery. It is about getting men talking about their health and understanding their bodies.
There are some fantastic men’s health initiatives across the region focused on encouraging men to talk and become more proactive, like the Pub Clinic and Western Bulldogs-led Sons of the West programs.
Male Bag Foundation, with AFL legend and prostate cancer survivor David Parkin, has played a key role in delivering a transperineal grid prostate biopsy machine and probes to Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital. The less invasive biopsy machine is the only one of its kind in an Australian public hospital.
But it is the courage in Tony and Carolyn sharing their stories, that are the most powerful wake-up call for awareness.