Health Living: You hear the word ‘cancer’ and feel that there is nothing left

Chris Herd and his wife Jean at home in Hackenthorpe
Chris Herd and his wife Jean at home in Hackenthorpe
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Men with prostate problems urged to seek medical help after ‘lucky’ escape

AS the nation marks Prostate Cancer Awareness Month throughout March, reporter Sarah Dunn spoke to one Sheffield couple speaking out about their experiences of the disease to encourage others to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms.

THE ring had been bought and the all-important question popped, when the future that Chris and Jean Herd had been excitedly planning was turned upside down with the news that Chris had prostate cancer.

He was just 52-years-old at the time and the only symptom had been a bit of bother whilst trying to go to the loo.

It was his daughter Sarah, a nurse, who had encouraged him to go and see the doctor - but mainly for a ‘once-over’ health check now that he had passed his milestone half a century.

Jean said: “Chris had no symptoms other than going to the loo in the night more often than usual - he always said it was just old age though.

“His daughter wanted him to have a general well-man check up as he had turned 50 and convinced him to get a general health check just to make sure that everything was alright. I told him that he should get a test for prostate cancer whilst he was at it. His GP was reluctant to give him the test, saying that he was too young and had no other symptoms.”

At that point neither Jean nor Chris had even heard of a prostate-specific antigen or PSA test, which measures the levels of the protein produced in the prostate gland. PSA is present in small quantities in the serum of men with healthy prostates, but is often elevated in the presence of prostate cancer and in other prostate disorders.

But luckily they convinced the doctor to carry it out.

Although the results were returned soon afterwards and showed that Chris’ PSA levels were elevated, no further action was taken at that point.

“We weren’t overly concerned,” Jean said, “we just thought that if there was anything wrong they would come back to us.”

It was only when he returned to the doctor with another problem that the issue was looked into any further and Chris was re-tested.

By this point the plans were in full swing for the Hackenthorpe couple’s wedding, due to take place the following March.

But instead of picking out cakes, flowers and photographers and getting measured up for his suit, the next few weeks were filled with more tests and eventually a biopsy at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield.

Jean, aged 52, said: “It was a nerve-wracking time.

“But there were plenty of things on our mind at the time - not least a wedding to plan. I think we thought it was just one of those routine things. He was still young, you don’t really think of it happening when you’re that age.”

Three weeks later and the pair were called back to the hospital - and the seriousness of the situation started to sink in.

“It was when we were sitting waiting in that little consulting room that it just clicked inside me that this was something serious,” Jean said.

“It was devastating to hear those words and that diagnosis.”

Doctors told them that “time was on their side” and there were various treatment options available that could be carried out over the coming months.

But it was still a tough time for them both as they worked to take in the news and its implications.

Jean said: “I think we were both in shock.

“You hear that word ‘cancer’ and you think that’s it, there’s nothing else left. How long is it going to take to die? We were meant to be looking to the future and making plans together, and then suddenly we had this to deal with.”

In the event doctors told them it would be okay to delay any treatment until after their wedding - a “wonderful” occasion which took place at the Sheffield Park Hotel, Meadowhead, in March 2007.

Jean, who met Chris on the internet two years before they were married, said: “We were able to put everything out of our head for that day. And we had a wonderful time.”

After their honeymoon in Finland, Chris returned to hospital to have a brachytherapy implant fitted. This involves planting radioactive seeds in the prostate where they work for up to two years.

The two-hour surgery took place in Leeds and within a week Chris had returned to his job as a self-employed printer. Although there were some issues with side-effects after the therapy, five years on and Chris’ six monthly PSA checks continue to show things are okay.

Now they want to speak to out about their experiences to raise awareness of the symptoms of prostate cancer - and encourage both men and women to take them on board.

Jean said: “We feel very lucky that things have turned out the way they have.

“But we want people to be aware of the signs and to be knowledgable about things like PSA tests.

“Because of what we have both gone through I want to try and help others by sharing my experiences. I think men should be more aware and willing to talk about these things, rather than treating them as a taboo. Being a female and speaking out might help other women to learn about prostate cancer too, and then maybe they can badger their partners into visiting the doctor if they need to.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK.

37,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year.

250,000 men are currently living with the disease.

Prostate cancer can grow slowly or very quickly. Most prostate cancer is slow-growing to start with and may never cause any problems or symptoms in a man’s lifetime. However, some men will have cancer that is more aggressive or ‘high risk.’ This needs treatment to help prevent or delay it spreading outside the prostate gland.

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month runs throughout March, led by the Prostate Cancer Charity - the UK’s national support charity for those affected by the condition.

The charity runs a confidential helpline on 0800 074 8383 which is staffed by specialist nurses. it is open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday and Wednesdays from 7pm to 9pm. Visit www.prostate-cancer.org.uk for more information.