Issue 21 - The Walnut Warrior

Mike (centre), with his 10-year-old son and wife


Happy-go-lucky Mike dressed up as the God of Prosperity

Ask Mike Rollings to describe himself in three words and his answer would be “happy-go-lucky”. True enough, the 67-year-old lives up to his description with his jovial attitude and positive sense of humour. It does not take much for Mike to crack a joke or break into a smile, especially when he talks about his 10-year-old son, whom he enjoys spending quality time with, be it taking walks, playing together (especially bowling), or reading bedtime stories.

To bystanders, Mike may come across as a free-spirited individual leading a carefree life. However, behind the chipper facade lies a tale of determination and strength, and this is his story.

Mike and his son on one of their walks

A trip down memory lane took us back to 2013 in Australia, when Mike accompanied his wife to her General Practitioner to collect her medical results. After his wife’s consultation, her doctor asked Mike how he was doing and he casually mentioned that he had recently been experiencing slow urine flow at night. Upon hearing this, the doctor recommended that Mike have a blood test and he gave a blood sample on the spot. The results came back with a fairly high Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) reading so Mike was referred to an urologist who found that he had an enlarged prostate and arranged for him to undergo a biopsy.

As the urologist had felt fairly confident that the problem was Benign Prostate Hypoplasia (BPH), the results of the biopsy came as quite a shock to Mike. He was diagnosed with aggressive Prostate Cancer throughout the left side of his prostate. After the initial shock, disappointment followed as the thought of being diagnosed with cancer had not been something he had seriously considered; especially given the minor symptoms he had experienced.


Mike bonding with his son over kite-making activities

A pragmatic person in nature, it did not take Mike long to accept his diagnosis. Instead of asking the cliché “why me?” question, he did just the opposite and asked himself “why not me?” since, after all, thousands of people were diagnosed with cancer every day and there was no reason for him to be given a free pass. After rationalising the situation, Mike asked the inevitable question – “how long do I have to live?”, and took comfort in hearing about the high survival rate of Prostate Cancer.


Not wanting to waste any time, Mike arranged to have a robotic prostatectomy performed two weeks later. Despite experiencing some discomfort during his recovery, Mike was grateful that his recovery was quick and that he had the support of his wife, who made sure to take special care of his dietary needs during this period. Mike sung high praises of his wife’s excellent culinary skills, which he believes is a major factor in his ongoing survival and his ability to remain positive!


Mike keeping active by playing basketball with his son

Unfortunately, the fight was not over. To Mike’s disappointment, the surgery in Australia did not fully eradicate the cancer cells and his PSA increased over the subsequent nine months, to a point where further treatment was required. Not wanting to give up, Mike decided to seek treatment in Singapore as he had to relocate for work, and undertake salvage radiation therapy, despite being aware of having only a 30 per cent chance of a cure as he was at Stage T3a. Initially, it seemed as though there was a good fighting chance with radiation therapy but unfortunately this prospect was short-lived. Six months later, his PSA level escalated once again and this time he was recommended to undergo hormone treatment.


Throughout his treatment process, Mike chose to stay positive and kept his spirits high. He decided not to make a big deal of his condition and adapted to the side effects as being part of his daily routine. So as not to worry his wife, he chose to go for all his treatments and consultations at the hospital alone, keeping her duly updated of his progress back at home. In Mike’s own words, he is a warrior and he does not want his wife to be a worrier!

Today, Mike is an active patient ambassador with the Singapore Cancer Society's Walnut Warriors Prostate Cancer Support Group
Some side-effects of treatment have caused Mike minor discomfort and inconvenience. One of these includes inevitable stress incontinence after surgery, which Mike worked to overcome by performing daily Kegel exercises. Later on, with hormone treatment, there were hot flushes that Mike would experience on-and-off during the day, but was not a life-threatening issue that a small towel and handheld fan could not resolve. Occasional fatigue would also take over, but rather than succumb to being a couch potato Mike would gather up every bit of his energy and go for walks to overcome this particular side effect.


Mike with his fellow Walnut Warriors Support Group members

Mike’s cancer experience has opened up new possibilities. He joined the Singapore Cancer Society’s Walnut Warriors Prostate Cancer Support Group and is now actively involved as a committee member. He is also a patient ambassador, where he finds fulfillment and meaning, sharing his experiences with other men facing similar ordeals. Every Friday morning, some of the group also bond over a morning walk at the Botanic Gardens, which he jokingly remarked is more talking than walking.


Mike’s priorities in life have also changed, his focus now centered on spending his time more meaningfully, especially with family and friends. He has also adopted a simpler lifestyle, making a point to do some daily exercises as well as eat healthily. His brush with cancer has also made him more aware of the importance of advanced planning; particularly in the areas of finance, medical care and legacy planning.


Today, while Mike continues to undergo hormone treatment, he takes pleasure in the simple joys of life, spending more of his time relaxing with his artwork, writing and reading, as well as going for daily walks and taking life as it comes.


To other men who are going through a similar battle, this is Mike’s advice:

“Like anyone else, I do not want cancer to be inside me so I work with the doctors to contain it. They fight the cancer to keep me alive. All I can do is help them by eating well, taking reasonable exercise, sleeping as best as I can and spending happy times with family and friends.

I find that taking a minimalist approach to life helps reduce stress. Less is better, so get rid of unnecessary clutter and activities that overload you. I try to keep life simple by focusing on what is important to me and having fun.

Each person needs to make their own decision about treatments, but it helps to discuss your options with men who have been through the same treatments you are now facing. They can share their experiences, concerns, mistakes etc. Talk to a patient ambassador if you want to discuss anything in confidence or join a support group if you just want to enjoy some comradeship with fellow warriors.

Lastly, own the problem and embrace it, fight it but don’t hate it. Life is for living so make the most of it and don’t forget to laugh as often as you can. Laughter is a powerful medicine!”


For more information about Prostate Cancer, click here.