Einstein said that only two things are infinite: the Universe & human stupidity. That said, he admitted he was not 100% sure about the Universe.
I would agree with his sentiment. Humans – particularly middle aged and older men when it comes to illness – are indeed stupid. Here’s why.
Firstly, an admission so you can appreciate the context.
I have prostate cancer and apart from my immediate family you’re the first to know. But, I want you to know because I want you to learn from my experience. Apologies if you find it a bit graphic!
What prompted me to “come out” was a letter in the Press and Journal written by John Mair.
That he has prostate cancer and was prepared to talk about it made me decide I should as well and perhaps, given the Energy Voice circulation numbers reach a lot more readers. Those readers will mainly be in the energy sector and this is an industry still very much dominated by the roughy toughy, macho attitude. You know the type: “Me? Prostate cancer? No way… I’m a diver/driller/welder etc. (delete as appropriate)”.
My story is in some aspects quite common. However, there was a huge bucket of luck involved. You may not think finding out you have prostate cancer is in any sense lucky but believe me, it is because if you’ve got it then you really need to know you’ve got it and you need to know as early as you can.
Just before Christmas 2016 I started experiencing some difficulty in urinating. In broad terms it meant I had to “pee” three or four times rather than once.
Once I’d realised and more importantly, actually accepted something was going on it prompted a visit to the doctors in early 2017.
The diagnosis was pretty straight forward. An ultrasound device used to measure bladder capacity confirmed I was retaining a large amount of urine but the old finger up the rear end test suggested the prostate was probably normal. A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test also suggested there wasn’t a cancer issue. Further PSA tests supported that opinion by coming up with very low numbers.
Needless to say it is entirely natural to grab those results and run with them. After all a low PSA means no cancer doesn’t it? No it doesn’t or rather, no it doesn’t all of the time.
Fortunately, I was told on numerous occasions by some damn good doctors that the PSA test is nothing like as black and white as one might think. This proved to be a fortuitous piece of advice.
So it was decided that my prostate had swollen and was squeezing my urethra so restricting my ability to pee. This is very common with men of my age. It meant I would need to undergo an operation to chop out chunks of my prostate and relieve the pressure. I described the process to my consultant as sounding as if it was a bit like using an apple corer. That amused him but actually it really is!
Delighted to say though the procedure worked and I was back to stallion peeing performance levels fairly soon thereafter. Honest.
The crunch though came a few weeks later when the result of the automatic biopsy tests came in.
This showed that in fact I did have prostate cancer although the level of active cancer cells was pretty small.
I then underwent a bone scan and MRI scan. The former designed to determine that the cancer hadn’t spread into your bones and the latter to get a clearer picture of the extent of the cancer itself. My results showed that in fact the cancer was contained within the prostate capsule and was quite small. Good news.
Next step which I’m going through now is hormone treatment prior to a month’s worth of radiology. The hormone treatment is designed to lower your testosterone levels which I had never appreciated actually drives cancer cell activity. As a result my PSA level has now dropped to “immeasurable” which is exactly what was planned.
Oh and to avoid the sniggers from the back of the class hormone treatment does not result in you growing breasts. It does however give you some fairly intense hot flushes. I now understand fully what women going through the menopause are experiencing and boy do I empathise with them.
There you go; prostate cancer has finally made me a modern man.
Being told you have cancer is pretty scary. But as consultant urologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary Justine Royale says, prostate cancer is “eminently treatable” if caught early and mine was. In fact mine was caught before anyone really realised I had it which if anything cancer related is ideal then this probably it.
So in my case “eminently treatable” means curable. The evidence is clear. I have two friends whose prostate cancers were also caught very early and both have been 100% cured. They both did what I did and raised their own alarm when things in the pee department weren’t going well.
But I also had a friend who pretty much ignored those and other symptoms for years. Sadly, as a consequence he’s no longer with us.
But the fact remains that the number of men dying from prostate cancer has now overtaken the number of women dying from breast cancer. This can’t be allowed to continue.
Whilst I agree a routine PSA test could be valuable I believe strongly that recognising and accepting your own symptoms such as a change in your “peeing” routine are equally if not even more important. This will only be achieved through education and encouragement and I would strongly encourage the industry – perhaps through Oil and Gas UK – to develop a programme to achieve this.
I also believe that we could do with a better test than the PSA. A Harvard Medical School study says that although the chances of having cancer increases with greater elevations in PSA that can also apply to men with benign conditions such as an enlarged prostate. Harvard also claims about 75% of the patients who fall into this category who have undergone a prostate biopsy don’t have cancer and just to add to the confusion: 15% of men with a relatively low PSA who have a biopsy actually do have prostate cancer. So men with a “normal” PSA test result may have cancer, and most with an “abnormal” result don’t.
That’s why we need a new test but it also makes being alert to and acting on the signs of your own symptoms even more important. The industry should be encouraging this and maybe even funding some of the work on a new test.