Prostate cancer is not just a disease of older men

We then discussed options and I nearly jumped out of my seat saying – “Just get it out, I don’t care what it takes.”

We then discussed options and I nearly jumped out of my seat saying – “Just get it out, I don’t care what it takes.”

Tue, Sep 4, 2012, 01:00

MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE:What do I tell my wife, we only found out she is pregnant?

‘FIVE YEARS ago my mum died from kidney cancer. She had a cough for a few weeks and when she went to have it checked out, she discovered she had a tumour. It was the same week we found out that my wife, Lorraine, was pregnant with our first child. Mum died five days after Jack was born. Since then I have made a point of getting checked out every so often.

Last October, I saw a special offer on full health screening so decided to have one done. The doctor highlighted that my PSA (prostate specific antigen) reading was high at 3.8 and said it was most likely to be an infection, so I should come back in six months for a re-test.

But in January, my PSA measurement popped into my head, and I made an appointment with my GP to get his opinion. He also said it was most likely to be an infection as there was a very low incidence of prostate cancer in men under 50.

He prescribed antibiotics and when I re-tested four weeks later my reading had reduced to 2.9, so I stopped worrying. But a month later I had another blood test and it went up to 3.98.

So I was referred to consultant urologist David Galvin for a physical exam and a biopsy. The results came back two weeks later and I went alone as I wasn’t expecting to hear any bad news.

As I was waiting to get the result, I took a deep breath and held it; then I heard the words: “Very unexpectedly, something has shown up.” I released all the air inside me, put my hand on my forehead and began rubbing vigorously. My body immediately began to shake all over. I was transported back to the day we were told my mum had cancer.

The first thing I said was, “What do I tell my wife, we only found out she is pregnant?” Once you hear the word cancer, all sorts go through your head, most notably, am I going to die soon?

After the initial shock the urologist explained that my cancer had shown up in four of the 12 samples taken from my prostate and it was a Gleeson 6 type, which was less aggressive. I calmed down a little and decided that I was going to fight this tooth and nail.

We then discussed options and I nearly jumped out of my seat saying – “Just get it out, I don’t care what it takes.”

For someone my age, an operation was the best route because if you receive radiation therapy and the cancer returns, surgery is no longer an option.

So it was agreed that I should have a radical prostatectomy either as open nerve sparing surgery or laparoscopy. I was very young to have open surgery and when I discovered it came with a high risk of prolonged penile dysfunction and incontinence, it was very sobering.

I then investigated laparoscopic surgery which, although it was done in Ireland, it was very specialised. Then one of the girls I work with sent me a blog of Tony Fenton talking about his prostate surgery in Leipzig, Germany. I contacted him and he told me to get myself to Leipzig Hospital where a technique called endoscopic extraperitoneal radical prostatectomy had been developed by Prof Jens-Uwe Stolzenburg.

I decided this is where I wanted to go and contacted the professor directly. I have private medical insurance which approved the operation and the professor agreed to do my surgery personally due to my age and because I was coming from overseas.

The operation went well and afterwards it is routine for the pathologist to examine the removed prostate and seminal vesicles and give the patient a full report.

A week after surgery I went home and 10 days later got a call to say the pathology results had shown cancer in the seminal vesicles and there was a chance that cancerous tissue had been left behind. This news was worse than being told I had prostate cancer in the first place.

Apart from the physical effects of surgery, mentally I was torn up and I genuinely found it difficult to keep it together.

I was referred to an oncologist (Gerry McVey) for follow-up treatment who, after some investigation, said he did not believe the pathology report from Leipzig, as the scenario was unheard of. Unknown to me, he requested my pathology samples from Germany and had them re-tested. Two separate reports showed that the cancer had not spread to the seminal vesicles – these results were then double-checked in Leipzig. I was so relieved.

It was a genuine mistake but it’s probably the only time I can say Ireland 1 Germany 0. It just shows you that although we have issues with our health system there are world class medical professionals working within.

I went through emotional and mental torture over the past few months as everything with my case seems to have been exceptional.

Whenever I read an article about prostate cancer, I still get the terrors, particularly if it’s about someone dying from it. And I worry will it come back and try to get me. But then I slap myself out of it and get on with trying to cleanse myself mentally of what I have been through.

Physically, I am doing well but I am constantly reminded of what I have been through as I have been left with erectile dysfunction. But with the help of treatment I will eventually conquer it and I am getting great support, particularly from Lorraine.

I have to have my PSA levels checked regularly and the last two tests have been below 0.003 – undetectable – which is fantastic.

Our fourth child is due on the 2nd of October, which will be a great diversion from what has been a pretty horrible year for us.

Prostate cancer is not just an old man’s disease and I am a prime example of that. I would advise all men to get a health screen every couple of years. Early detection is vital. Most screenings aren’t covered by insurance, but stay in for a couple of weekends and put the money aside. It was certainly the best €180 I ever spent.

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In conversation with ARLENE HARRIS

* Blue September is a campaign aimed at highlighting the cancers which affect Irish men and encouraging them to look for telltale symptoms and seek help if they have any concerns

* Ireland has the highest rate of prostate cancer in Europe with a 60 per cent higher incidence than the European average