Graham (Spy) Dunbar

A legendary athlete overcomes prostate cancer

Meet Graham, known as ‘Spy’, he’s the guy who made snowboarding a global sport in New Zealand. He’s also the guy that beat aggressive prostate cancer.

Around the mountain slopes he's known as the guy who made snowboarding massive in New Zealand. But we know him as Graham Dunbar, the Southern Cross member that stopped prostate cancer in its tracks. As his wife says, "Only Spy could do that."

“I got to my early 40s and I would make a habit of every going to my GP and saying I’d like a wellness test.”

Everything was going fine until Spy visited his GP. “I got to my early 40s and I would make a habit of every couple of years, going to my GP and saying – I’d like a wellness test, which was really a whole bunch of tests bunched together.”

One of those blood tests came back with high PSA levels. “There’s two parts to identifying prostate cancer. One is blood tests – the other the digital and I learned that these are digits.” He holds his fingers with a rueful grin. “So that’s a bit of a creepy feeling for a male, to have your male GP do that type of exam. But we did it and the GP reassured me that there was nothing to be alarmed at.”

But when he got a second test with a high PSA, Spy decided to do something about it. “The next step on is obviously a biopsy. I’d gone through public health for my GP but then I thought, “Hang on I’ve got a great opportunity here to go private. So I made a phone call to Southern Cross and within days I was down in Dunedin seeing a urologist.” Once again the urologist did a digital exam, but this time he felt something.

The next week was an uneasy time. “I’ve never seen Spy so pale as he was waiting for those results. Not because he was sick but because he was scared.” Says Laura. “For someone that’s strong, to watch him that way, was pretty hard.”

“Babe I’ve got cancer but it’s going to be okay.”

Spy went back down to the Urologist on his own as he wanted to process everything. The news wasn’t good. “Spy called me up and said, “Babe I’ve got cancer but it’s going to be okay.”

It was a significant tumour that had spread to lymph nodes. “My first thought was – let’s get rid of this tumour immediately. So it wasn’t necessarily recommended, but I went back to the Urologist at the time and said - I want to book in for surgery, a radical proctectomy, at which time he said to me – I’ve already booked you in, which was amazing.”

Through private Spy was able to talk to a Urologist and walk across the hospital and talk to an Oncologist who set him up that day for an MRI. “Within the space of one day I went; Urologist, Oncologist, MRI scans and the process has started.” He pauses reflecting “Now 8 weeks later, I got a phone call from the public health system saying - we’ve got you booked in for a trust biopsy. But I’d had surgery by that time, I was on hormones and I was booked in for radiotherapy and that was a life saver.”

Graham Dunbar doesn’t do things by halves. Even beating prostate cancer.

Spy became really determined to get healthy and so he stopped drinking alcohol, prepared to go into surgery in a positive state.

“The surgeon did such a great job, he managed to get all but one or two of the lymph nodes that had cancer in them.” Explains Laura who also had their son with them, Dylan. “Watching his Dad that weak, whose usually like the strongest person in the world was probably really, really tough on the little kid and it was tough on me to watch him.”

Once the radiotherapy was finished for Spy was unstoppable. “For me it was; fitness, circulation, participation, sport, positiveness, setting plans going forward and continuing with life, but actually setting targets for life, you know. My motorcycle, my mountain bike, my snowboarding, many of those things probably have just as much chance and that’s my philosophy on this going forward.”

There is a happy ending to this and one which was completely in character for Spy. “We returned for a PET scan and they were like, where is it, we can’t find it. The cancer was completely gone, Says Laura “I thought: Only Spy could do that – ace it.”

One final word from Spy…

“What I’m going through could happen at 30. It may not be cancer it could be any medical condition. So if I was going to talk to me as a 30 year old, I would say get insurance because you never know what’s around the corner.”

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*Graham Dunbar is on the Wellbeing Two plan with Southern Cross.