Around 1,000 men in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year - here veteran Portadown Times journalist Victor Gordon shares his personal story of diagnosis, treatment and recovery
Choral music ironically started and ended my prostate journey.
I noticed something was wrong one night at Portadown Male Voice Choir practice when I found myself gasping for breath and the end of each line of music – my lung capacity was, before then, rather good as I’ve been in choirs since
primary school days.
On top of that, my legs were playing up – worrying pains – and I knew something was wrong. My GP calls me a “refuse-nik” as I’m a very occasional visit to his surgery, but he sussed it right away.
Blood tests followed, prostate cancer was confirmed, and I went through the processes at Craigavon Area Hospital, accompanied by my wife, an ex-nurse whose knowledge was invaluable and encouraging.
The specialist told us that the PSA (prostate specific antigen - a protein produced by the prostate) count was around the 12 mark (‘intermediate’ rather than low level and the prostate was enlarged). I would have to undergo a bone scan, followed by an MRI scan to decipher whether or not the cancer had been contained within the prostate.
(There were also rather invasive probing that has to be done, but you close your eyes and try to think pleasant thoughts).
It all hinged on whether the demon had escaped into the main body. The success rate with cancer contained within the prostate is sky-high. If it had escaped… Well, let’s just wait and see and hope for the best, my wife encouraged.
The news was good, there was no trace outside the affected organ (both the GP and the specialist gleefully announced the good news) so it was down to business, with the City Hospital team visiting Craigavon and setting out my treatment programme.
My political friend, who had been through the mill, told me that rather concentrated injections were used in tandem with the radiotherapy. But as I was the ‘victim’ of a quadruple by-pass in years gone by, I was set upon a gentler course of medication for six months (ending later in December) and the die was cast.
My great mates who travelled with me, including family members, chatted about everything but matter medical, and the ‘craic’ was great. And down in the City, there was great camaraderie among the prostate squad, virtually all of whom could look forward to a positive outcome, with so many strides in that type of cancer.
They came from all arts and parts of Northern Ireland, including one from North Antrim whose treatment started and ended on the same days as mine. We began on October 7 and assiduously ticked off each day on our treatment charts until November 25 came and went and we went home rejoicing.
Another man (from North Down) was starting on our final week and we encouraged him – “It’ll pass.” He’ll be reaching the half-way stage soon and we wish him well.
I’ve kept that chart as a record – it ended “37 days gone, none to go!” Maybe I’ll have it framed…
Finally, back to the choral theme and I was looking forward to taking part in a concert by the male voice choir at the end of the marathon. I contracted laryngitis, but the lads managed!
The teams of professionals who led Victor successfully through prostate cancer
It was the sort of diagnosis nobody wants to hear – the bone-chilling word ‘cancer’ was included.
Thankfully, my prostate cancer was spotted early and expertly by my GP who set in train the journey that ended in success at the end of November - six months of dedication by the NHS teams to whom I will be eternally grateful.
The succession of professionals led from Portadown Health Centre, to Craigavon Area Hospital, to the Belfast’s City Hospital. People who not only know their vital trade, but who encourage, care, and thankfully invariably cure this genre of the dreaded disease.
And the fact that I was determined from the start to follow every instruction (for once!) and place myself in their hands completely, augmented the pathway to success.
Statistics show a 90 per cent plus success rate, if prostate cancer is caught early. It was explained to me at Craigavon that the main worry is that the cancer could “escape” the prostate, with the danger of bowel or bone cancer. That was the truly worrying part.
The travelling up and down to Belfast for 37 daily sessions of radiotherapy was tiring for this septuagenarian, but vital. When your very life is at stake… The mantra is to do exactly as you’re told.
There are a few side-effects which manifest themselves differently to different people, although I escaped without anything too serious. Each person reacts differently. I’m no expert. A case of taking your medicine and getting on with it and enduring the minor drawbacks.
And the consultant’s radiotherapy decision (rather than removing the prostate which can cause complications) proved the right one. Somehow, lying inert for about five or six minutes under and giant, groaning, buzzing machine (with dignity left at the door) became second nature, and the back-up care of doctors and specialists was so professional and reassuring.
Every weekday over the period, the therapy continued. They made three pin-point marks at the base of the abdomen and that’s where the radiotherapy penetrated, although I just lay under the fearsome-looking machine (usually number 1 of the eight ‘monsters’) following instructions.
And here I must pay tribute to the wonderful teams of therapists.
My eternal thanks to them all.
I’ll be on medication until the day after Christmas, and after that, there’s a monitoring timetable.
But all’s well that ends well.
Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer
Prostate cancer does not normally cause any symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra. This normally results in problems associated with urination (passing urine).
Symptoms can include:
*having a sudden need to urinate
*having pain during urination
*frequent urination, especially during the night
*the flow of your urine is weak and irregular
*having problems beginning urination
*feeling that your bladder is not empty after urination
*blood in your urine
Having the above symptoms does not mean you have prostate cancer. Many men’s prostates get larger as they get older due to a non-cancerous (benign) condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Symptoms that the cancer is progressing to a potentially more serious stage include:
*a loss of appetite
*If you do have any of the symptoms listed above, you should contact your GP.