The Kiwi who has beaten cancer eight times

Getting a cancer diagnosis is hard for anyone to hear, but there's one man who's heard it more than his fair share of times.

Phil Kerslake has been diagnosed with and beaten cancer eight times.

He's the most prolific cancer survivor in New Zealand, if not the world, though it's not a title he says anyone would aspire to.

"I guess it's not something you necessarily get proud about.  I like the fact that I'm still alive," Mr Kerslake says .

It started almost 40 years ago, with a terminal diagnosis when he was 19.  He's now had eight cancer diagnoses, seven of them types of lymphoma.  He puts his survival down to stubbornness.

"I just took it as a challenge and I never believed that I was going to die of cancer," he says.

"Yes, medicine, if it wasn't for chemotherapy and other treatments I'd be long dead.  But I really do believe that a right mental attitude, that has always kept me going."

The lymphatic system helps the body fight disease.  Lymphoma is a blood cancer that develops in the lymphatic system.  It can interfere with the body's immune process and ability to fight infection.

It's the sixth most common cancer in New Zealand - and the rate is rising.

"It is increasing in New Zealand and that's not fully explained, and it is increasing in Western countries and that's not fully explained," says Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand chief executive Pru Etcheverry.

"The magic answer to what is the exact cause is not yet pinpointed," she says. "There are a lot of suspects in the mix, but no one particular thing.  There could be environmental issues, or infections or viral or chemical, or all of the above."

Ms Etcheverry says it's important that people know the symptoms.

"Unexplained weight loss, vague flu-like symptoms that persist.  It might be a persistent cough, night sweat, aches, feeling really tired, raised lymph nodes on the neck or arms."

Phil Kerslake says it's taught him lessons and he now uses his experience to help and support others.

"One in two or one in three people will be diagnosed with a cancer one day.  Don't let it be the worst day of your life.  Just decide to take that on as a challenge and work out how you're going to move forward from there."

He says cancer is beatable, and he's proof of that, again and again.

World Lymphoma Awareness Day (WLAD) is a global event observed every year on 15 September.

  • Lymphoma is the sixth most common cancer in New Zealand
  • Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in 15-24 year olds
  • Close to 900 people in New Zealand are diagnosed with lymphoma every year
  • Close to 300 New Zealanders die from lymphoma every year
  • Lymphoma is increasing in incidence

Visit www.leukaemia.org.nz for more information.

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