This week sees me quietly celebrating the fact that I have survived another year after my operation in 2003 for prostate cancer. Perhaps with a single malt whisky in one hand and a photograph of my family in the other, reflecting my good fortune in having been diagnosed early by having the PSA test.
Although, in my case, I hadn’t given it much thought as I felt fit and well and hadn’t experienced any symptoms, such as going to the toilet in the middle of the night. As I tell it in my short story An Unexpected Diagnosis it came about as a result of a telephone call, informing me that my GP, whom I hadn’t seen for nearly two years, had retired.
The upshot of the visit to meet my new GP, a lady doctor and a new face to me, was her suggestion that being in my early sixties I should seriously consider the PSA test. As part of a general check-up it seemed the sensible thing to do, so a blood sample was taken and duly sent off to the lab to await a result.
This was back in 2001 and was to prove to be the beginning of a year and more of further tests, which eventually led to a radical prostatectomy on 7 April 2003. A serious operation with potentially unwelcome side-effects including incontinence and sexual disfunction, but after a considered discussion with my wife, a nurse, we both decided it was the right course to take.
My initial PSA result was a score somewhere between 7 and 8, instead of a reading around 4, which would have been normal for my age at 62. When it continued to rise during the ensuing months to over 9, and along with all the information I had gleaned about prostate cancer at that time, and what I have learned since, I am relieved, for myself and my family, that I made the right choice.
Because of my book, I have been approached by a number of people and organisations, including the Public Health Agency and an all-Ireland Study, to share my experience of post-op prostate cancer results.
In my experience it has been disappointing to learn how many men prefer not to consider taking the PSA test. It is a subject they are uncomfortable with, an area of their body they do not wish to think about; in contrast to women who are much more prepared to undertake regular screening in the fight against breast and cervical cancer.
Even when confronted with figures that state:
Over 40,000 men in the UK each year are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 10,000 will die.
More than 30,000 men are battling with terminal cancer and their quality of life has suffered.
Early diagnosis is critical to successful treatment, as it was in my case. It is absolutely essential that more men take the PSA test. Professor Kirby of the Prostate Centre in London, who also suffered the disease and has made a successful recovery, suggests that every man over 50 should ask for an annual PSA test.
I heartily agree. Virtually every day I think how fortunate I was to receive a telephone call inviting me to meet my new GP and her suggestion to take the test.