I got the results over the phone while we were on a walking holiday in the Lake District. A specialist nurse talked me through it, but I was in shock, thinking “this poor woman has had to tell me I have cancer over the phone”.
When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I felt perfectly fit and healthy. I was playing cricket, mountain walking and running regularly. My wife Jane has recently been for a check-up at the Well Woman clinic, and being a modern minded sort of bloke, I thought I would do the same, and booked myself in to the Well Man Clinic. At the time, I didn’t feel it was necessary.
I was given a prostate examination, and the doctor began to look worried, his brow knitted. He referred me to a specialist and the details then become a bit of a blur. I had an appointment at the Princess Royal Hospital, where I had a prostate needle biopsy – a very uncomfortable procedure where 12 samples were taken via needle to check for malignant tissue.
I got the results over the phone while we were on a walking holiday in the Lake District. A specialist nurse talked me through it, but I was in shock, thinking ‘this poor woman has had to tell me I have cancer over the phone’.
I felt completely stunned. When I was a youngster, everyone who had cancer, ‘The Big C’, well, that was it for them. My attitude and knowledge hadn’t been updated at the time, and I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t realise how much treatment had advanced.
I wanted to read everything. A GP friend described me as ‘a very cerebral kind of bloke’ and I think that’s true – I wanted to understand everything about what was happening to me. I was surprised to find that a lot of people weren’t like that – many of the other patients I met were really quite passive. I didn’t question the judgement of my doctors, but I wanted answers. The staff always answered my questions, and were deeply sympathetic, understanding and compassionate.
Prostate cancer is unusual, as in a lot of cases it is not possible to tell if it will spread or cause any serious problems. The statistics show that prostate cancer is incredibly common in older men, and, as they say, “more people die with it than of it”. It puts the staff in a really difficult position – they are giving you advice about your treatment when actually there is a chance that the treatment will affect you more than the cancer itself. My treatment may still have been unnecessary but perhaps I’ll never know.
I arranged appointments early in the morning and went off walking in the Shropshire hills every afternoon. I was really worried that the radiotherapy would make me feel tired and unable to exercise, but this wasn’t the case for me – which was great, as I had already planned to do the Welsh 3000ers challenge [a walk covering all 15 of the Welsh mountains over 3000ft] that summer and I needed to stay fit!
During the second year of hormone treatment, I started to feel depressed. It was as if my brain had been taken over by someone else – my reactions didn’t seem to be my own. I had thoughts I wouldn’t normally have had. I would be tearful for no reason, and one day I wondered ‘is life like this worth living?’ and I knew I needed to do something about how I was feeling.
Initially, I wanted to come to terms with it all in my own time. I didn’t tell many people and I never told my mother – she was a worrier and it wouldn’t have helped me or her. Looking back, I think it would have done me good to have talked to more people sooner particularly as I was in a position of working for myself, at home, and at the time was quite socially isolated. This has been one of the biggest changes since my treatment. I began talking to people during my radiotherapy – you see the same people every day and do get to know them. I am now able to talk about my experiences in a very matter of fact way – it’s liberating. I speak to a lot of people about my cancer and about Lingen Davies, as well as being heavily involved in fundraising activities. I used to be wary of the reactions of others but now I will just mention it in passing and it doesn’t seem so difficult.