5 minutes with Buck Shelford

All Blacks legend and Ambassador, Prostate Cancer Foundation NZ

You’ve been very open about your own health journey. What made you do that?
While I was going through my treatment I noticed that there was very little documentation on the walls concerning men’s cancer e.g. prostate and testicular.
So, I decided to join up with the Prostate Cancer Foundation and I’m still here today – 12 years after my blast with cancer.

What response to your story have you had from the public?
My story of having Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma is very short but I do spend a lot of time talking about health and wellbeing.
I believe our lifestyles determine many of the choices we make regarding diet, exercise, doctors and so on, especially after our 30’s and moving into our 40’s. Where we sit in the income bracket can determine how we live our lives.
I talk to a lot of people and they all agree with where I’m coming from.

How do you compare having cancer to being a world-class athlete?
Finding out you have some form of cancer is never good news as we don’t know much about it. It will be the hardest battle most people will ever face.
The game of rugby is in your total control – including whether you win or lose. Cancer is a minefield as no one really knows all the answers. It feels like you are always on tenterhooks… not knowing what might happen. 

You wrote a book on men’s health, ‘The Real Bloke’s Guide to Getting Healthy and Living Longer’, what are the most relevant messages from that for shareholders? 

  • See your doctor yearly.

  • Eat real food (there is a lot of crap out there) to keep your body strong.

  • Keep exercising until the day you check out.

  • Communicate with your family, friends and work colleagues about a possible diagnosis of cancer. It is not just you that it affects.

What interaction have you had with farmers?
I’m a townie! But whenever I chat to farmers the talk is usually about rugby; it is rare that you talk about cancer.
I do appreciate that most farmers have very unsociable lives as they work long hours but the ones I played rugby with were always a joy to be around.

What is the single biggest thing that you have found contributes to your wellbeing?
Exercise can be anything you want – it is time away from work, the family and you can concentrate just on you. That is like my ‘man cave’ time.

From a female perspective, what’s a good way to raise prostate checks with your man so he takes action?
Women are great as they are more aware of their bodies than men. They just need to talk about the issues at hand as there is no hiding from this disease – it is not just him that is affected.

Do you believe having a positive outlook can help you to recover from illness faster or with better results?
Positivity is a must – you have to live in a positive environment. Negativity can make things a lot worse when you are working to defeat a disease.

Some survivors have had a doctor refuse to do one of the prostate tests – what should a bloke do in that instance?
If your GP disagrees with tests, find yourself another doctor. I have heard that story so many times. Change to a doctor that is willing to do thorough investigations into your health.

In the 80’s and 90’s you were a symbol of ‘tough’. What do you think tough looks like now?
Many people don’t understand the meaning of tough on the rugby field. For me, it is about preparing yourself mentally for all the things that could come your way out on the field. Mental prep is the number one thing all players should learn to master. Being tough is all about the mental.

What would you like to see more of in our health sector?
One of the areas that I do touch on is wairua (spirituality). Many doctors would not talk about this aspect of treating a patient but for me it is huge. Sometimes we do need a bit of divine support and inspiration. It can help us on this emotional rollercoaster, because emotions do take over when you are a cancer patient.

You’re heading to Japan for a Rugby World Cup tour in September. Having lived there before, what do you think we can learn from their culture?
I don’t know much about the Japanese and their health but I do know that on the whole, the Japanese diet is very good. Today, many of the younger ones are right into their fast foods which will change this over time. The western diet of fast food is not real food.

What did cancer teach you?
Always expect the unexpected because you never know what is around the corner…
No one prepares for cancer, it usually just creeps up on you and bites you in the arse. That is why doctor’s checks are a must.