Living in the moment with Tim Baker

Listen to Tim Baker’s full story on Australian Seniors’ Life’s Booming podcast

Anyone who’s received a cancer diagnosis knows it isn’t always delivered with the care and compassion they might have hoped. Tim Baker is among them.

After noticing he was using the bathroom more than usual, he booked himself in for a post-50 check-up. After a battery of scans and tests, a urologist presented him with an image of a bone scan. Tim had incurable stage four prostate cancer that had spread to his bones.

“The horse has bolted,” the urologist said and Tim and his wife Kirsten were left clutching a pile of brochures, a diary full of treatment appointments and the understanding Tim could expect just five more years of reasonable health. “I can’t think of too many circumstances where life just changes in an instant with a few words uttered from a medical specialist,” Tim says. “It’s like being hit in the face with a baseball bat.”

"I will beat this thing."

They returned to their Gold Coast home and their children Vivi, then 13, and Alex, nine, with Tim vowing he was going to beat this thing. That was almost eight years ago. Tim hasn’t beaten his cancer however, he has used what he’s learned to become an advocate for a more integrative approach to managing the disease. 

“I had a realisation that if survival was my only goal I’d be forever on tenterhooks, sweating the next blood test or scan,” he explains. “If I can try, instead, to make peace with my mortality and work on living in the present and being comfortable with whatever comes my way, I’m able to live with greater joy and presence.” 

“Also, a big focus for me is not being a burden on the people around me so I can hopefully comfort them and offer solace.”

Journalist Tim has written a brilliant book, Patting the Shark, which, while celebrating Australia’s excellent health system, looks at other evidence-based supportive therapies and attitude changes that can help patients and their support teams. 

The journey has not been easy

Tim Baker pictured surfing

He admits his journey has not been easy. Chemotherapy left him so bald and pale, friends barely recognised him. Hormone therapy blocked the testosterone that fed his cancer but left him with fatigue, loss of libido and dramatic mood swings. 

The main strategy he’s developed is to take his MEDS – an acronym for meditation, exercise, diet and sleep.  

Meditation, he says, has been a huge part of his ability to make peace with his diagnosis. “I think I’ve got a bit of leaning towards the Buddhist philosophy that our life’s work is to prepare for death. For most of us, it’s the homework we put off until the last minute,” he explains.

“A lot of my focus has been about becoming comfortable with the idea that one day I won’t be here. Ultimately, that’s something we all need to do and it can be quite liberating in an odd kind of way.”

Family support and therapies

With the help of his acupuncturist wife Kirsten, Tim has trialled a range of complementary and supportive therapies to improve his quality of life and mitigate treatment side effects and he no longer sweats the small stuff. Instead, he seeks out “high-definition, vivid” days, for instance when surfing with his son or watching dolphins frolicking in the water. “I never feel I’m having an ordinary day.” 

And what about a bucket list? He doesn’t personally have one – although he is grateful he made the most of his pre-cancer life including taking his kids out of school to travel around Australia and following his passion to become a surf writer.

“However, I do tell people, no-one’s going to quibble with someone with cancer deciding to go to art school, indulging their love of swing dancing or whatever,” he adds. “Do what makes your heart sing and have plenty of love and joy in your life.”

Listen to Tim Baker’s full story on the Life’s Booming Podcast