Firefighter Shaun Vincent works for an organisation that saves lives. And in an ironic but incredibly fortunate twist of fate, Shaun’s employer has saved his life. During a routine health check in 2009 with the New Zealand Fire Service, Shaun, on the cusp of 40, was offered a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) examination – a test to measure a man’s predisposition to prostate cancer. PSA is a protein produced by cells in the prostate gland. Some men with prostate cancer may have high levels of PSA in their blood.
That test proved a life-saver for the Buckland father of three – its results showed alleviated risk levels and catapulted Shaun onto a roster of regular testing to monitor his health.
‘‘Basically I was told at the time that the results were outside the parameters of normal – it wasn’t a diagnosis, but it meant they would keep a close eye on me.’’ Test continued over the next few years and in mid-2012, Shaun’s PSA level jumped and his doctors and specialists were concerned.
Despite Shaun not suffering any symptoms, his urologist insisted on specific testing and Shaun underwent a transperineal biopsy, a procedure in which a sample of tissue is removed from the prostate for examination. The results were gut-wrenching, Shaun was diagnosed as having a mildly aggressive tumour. Surgery to remove the prostate was his only option.
For the Vincent family, the timing could not have been more cruel. Shaun and wife Maree’s eldest child, daughter Nikita, 17, had just been re-admitted to hospital with brain cancer, which had returned after two years’ remission. ‘‘I was so gutted at the timing,’’ Shaun said. ‘‘The biggest thing for me was they (doctors) were going to take me out of the loop as a support person for my family which was already going through so much with Nikita. ‘‘Since the first PSA, I had an understanding my prostate was going to give me trouble, I had an inkling and yes it was scary, but the timing was particularly cruel.’’
Shaun’s surgery went ahead on January 29 and to the huge relief of his family, his friends and his work colleagues, it was a success. The entire cancer was removed and Shaun did not require radiotherapy. His recovery has been swift and last week Shaun returned to work and a new challenge of training with the New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue team.
The family is also hopeful of Nikita winning her fight against cancer – she is nearing the end of her treatment. During his ordeal, Shaun said he was supported greatly by family, friends, his employer and workmates – but none more than is wife Maree. He is also grateful to the Franklin Silver Lining Trust which has shown unwavering generosity during Nikita’s and his own journey with cancer. In 2010, the trust provided Maree and Shaun with a luxury campervan to tour the North Island and more recently the family was treated to a limo ride and Maree a pamper session. ‘‘Franklin Silver Lining Trust personifies what makes small towns across New Zealand great,’’ Shaun said. ‘‘We are so fortunate to have such a charity which is specific to local families and non discriminate – it’s open to everyone. ‘‘We are just average people, with three kids, and yes, we would have survived without the limo ride. But we loved it. Why shouldn’t a mainstream family going through tough times be giving something out of the ordinary? ‘‘And it’s self perpetuating – at some stage now I would like to do something for the Franklin Silver Lining Trust.’’
The New Zealand Fire Service provides PSA testing for all staff when they turn 40 and the national screening age for PSA is New Zealand is 50. Shaun said that if he had waited till he turned 50, it would have been too late. He would be dead. For this reason, he would like to see the screening age dropped to 40.