THE meeting room is filled with more than 70 men of senior years - 15 of them with their partners. A grey-haired man stands up, "Hi, my name's Ian and I was told I had prostate cancer about four weeks ago. It's caused me some emotional problems and I would love to talk to someone." The empathy in the room is instantly so intense as to be almost tangible.
This scene is nothing new to Rob Tonge, co-convenor of the Sunshine Coast Prostate Cancer Support Group.
"We have blokes who are pretty shattered when they come here. A couple of weeks ago a man walked in here and he was in tears, then five of our blokes sat down and had morning tea with him and he left the meeting smiling."
Rob's group meets once a month at Maroochy RSL and with 431 members is the second largest in Australia. It was formed in 2002 and takes in an area from Landsborough and Caloundra in the south, then north to Cooran and west to Kenilworth taking in the Blackall Range townships, in all, 22 communities. The southern area is covered by the Glasshouse Country Support Group.
In Australia, 20,000 Australian men are diagnosed with the disease annually and there's a mortality rate of close to 3500.
Rob is 77 and was diagnosed when he was 65. "I didn't know which way to turn when I was told. I reeled out of the doctor convinced I was going to die. I picked up a brochure about the group at the local library and spoke to the convenor. I discovered I wasn't going to die immediately so I went to the meeting and that was it."
The group is very hands-on, operating on a self-help, peer support basis and the monthly meetings feature guest speakers who are doctors or other professionals in allied health services.
"Support and awareness are our primary roles. If someone has no family and no one to go with them to a medical appointment, we have a network to enable one of us accompany him. It's important to have two people and we get the doctor's permission to be there. We take notes and later sit down with the patient and go quietly through what was said.
"We have a referral register which enables men who are deciding on treatment to talk one-on-one with members who have had that particular form of treatment.
"Also, because of our working relationship with Community Health, a social worker now attends our meetings to assist members.
"We recognise the very important part played by partners and the strain they are under. We encourage partners to attend meetings. We have a marvellous lady on our committee who is our partners' representative, Shirley Prior, of Tewantin.
Rob says many new treatments have come through since he was diagnosed. "We have robotic surgery, doctors are more experienced, new drugs are being tested and a lot more research results are becoming available.
"As lay persons our group has worked hard to build credibility within the medical profession and the hospital. I think we have achieved it. "
Info: call Rob (5446 1318) or email scprostate @gmail.com