Being diagnosed with cancer at any age is a shock. So, being told I had prostate cancer 14 years ago at the age of 55 was a huge wake-up call because I had no symptoms whatsoever and considered myself reasonably fit.
It started with a routine medical check by my GP. The check-up showed my levels of PSA, found in a blood test to determine prostate health, had risen slightly from the only other test I had had a year or two previously.
My results came back at 5.6, which wasn’t that high for someone my age so the doctor said to have another test in three months. The next lot of tests showed a drop to 5.0, so my doctor recommended one more test in another three months. My results came back at 6.0.
At that point, with my PSA levels increasing, a biopsy was the next step. I duly went along like a lamb to the slaughter, totally innocent of what was to happen except that it involved an uncomfortable invasion of my nether regions.
To say it was uncomfortable is putting it mildly. It was not quite as bad as being kicked by a horse but not far off.
A little while after the biopsy I got the call from the doctor’s clinic asking that I book an appointment to see my GP as soon as possible. I was fearing the worst.
He gave me the bad news and recommended a urologist for me to see and on making an appointment, which was some weeks away, I had time to dwell on how fate deals some cruel blows but was determined that I was not going to let it get to me.
I set about trying to find out as much as I could on prostate cancer via some reputable websites and information from the Cancer Society. None of it sounded particularly pleasant with some rather disturbing side effects as an adjunct to the various treatments available.
Armed with this information I went off to the appointment with the urologist, who repeated much of what I had already found out and recommended I also see an oncologist. At this point I came to the conclusion that I was about to see a considerable amount of the medical profession and the health system.
After MRI scans and CT scans the oncologist informed me that I had “significant cancer”. Apparently this meant that the cancer had started to spread outside the prostate itself, which complicated things.
My urologist went over the various treatment options with me. I was fortunate that he had a very calming nature and I felt he was going to do the very best he could for me.
This was compared to my impression of the oncologist who irritated me by emphasising the negative aspects of the treatments when I was trying to stay positive about the process. He was just doing his job, I know, but I was trying to keep the negatives at bay as much as possible and he wasn’t helping.
My personal view was to not have anything inside my body that was not functioning the way it was intended, so the preference was to have the urologist take it out. The alternative was to have a dose of hormone therapy to reduce the growth of the tumour and then hit it with some radiotherapy.
At around this time Paul Holmes, the New Zealand broadcaster, had been diagnosed with the same problem and he opted for the latter treatment of hormone therapy.
The urologist agreed to do his best and remove my prostate with a margin to hopefully get anything that had spread nearby.
Some months after I received the bad news, I was on the operating table in a Southern Cross Hospital in Auckland awaiting ‘lights out’ for what I was told would be a five or six hour operation.
On gaining a tentative consciousness, there was the surgeon telling me it had all gone. This was a relief. I had been told he would check any nearby lymph glands for any signs of cancer first and would not proceed if any was found.
After a rather restless night, I had some light relief in the morning with a full body wash by a couple of (matronly) nurses. Not that anything too intimate was going to occur as things were trussed up to hold the catheter in place and a drainage tube was protruding near the wound which ran from my navel to the pubic bone.
Eventually after a three month recovery it was found the PSA level was still a little above the level it should have been. So, a six week course of radiotherapy was undertaken and sure enough over the next few years my PSA level rose ever so slowly. I was then administered a testosterone reducing hormone drug and over a three month period it finally reduced my PSA level to near zero.
I was told the testosterone treatment was not a cure but I have survived so far and that is the main thing I have concentrated on. I am staying positive, trying to have a healthy diet and to keep as fit as possible by working part time in landscaping and garden maintenance with the help of a female friend.
I have since had one other hormone treatment and there is also good news coming out on effective alternative treatments and advances in conventional treatments.
Finally, the reason for writing this story is that I am currently a Board member of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand and have been a Support Group Coordinator in West Auckland for four years. The Foundation’s main mission is to raise awareness of prostate cancer and support those who are diagnosed.
To this end, I recommend anyone who has a family history of prostate cancer to get a regular PSA test after the age of 40, or if there is no family history then to get tested after 50. A more accurate diagnosis can be achieved with a series of regular tests as it is not necessarily the number that indicates a problem; it is what those numbers are doing.
For information on PCFNZ and to find a nearby support group, go to www.prostate.org.nz, email [email protected] or to contact me at [email protected]