Prostate cancer kills around 10,000 men each year in the UK - but it isn’t uncommon for many sufferers to ignore the telltale early symptoms which can allow the illness to be treated early.
John Donaldson, from Crookes in Sheffield, knows this tendency all too well, and after undergoing surgery to treat the disease has volunteered his time to raise awareness and support other men recently diagnosed with the condition.
A special open day is also happening at the Weston Park Cancer Information and Support Centre on Thursday, aimed at helping survivors of prostate cancer learn about the services available to them during and after treatment.
John first experienced problems almost eight years ago, aged 63.
“I was having some bladder problems - I had to go to the toilet far too often, sometimes every 30 or 45 minutes,” he said.
“I ignored these symptoms. I believed they were just an age-related problem and I would just have to put up with them.”
However, rather than resolving itself, over the next 18 months the situation did not improve.
“My friends at work noticed that I was going to the toilet too often. They asked if I was OK - I said I was, and continued to ignore things. This is not uncommon in many men, I am sad to say.
“My son lives about 50 miles away from me, and things came to a head in November 2010 when I realised that I could not make the trip to see him without having to go to the toilet part way.
“I decided this was silly, and I made an appointment to see my GP.”
John went to see his doctor, but still believed he simply had an inflamed prostate.
At the surgery, the GP carried out an examination and also checked the level of PSA - prostate specific antigen - in his blood. A raised amount of PSA can be a sign of cancer.
“He believed that there was a problem, and sent me to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital for further tests,” John added.
“I had biopsies taken, and the result was that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had become one of 40,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, but I was determined not to become one of the 10,000 who die from prostate cancer each year.”
But John was a lucky patient. He had a PSA reading of seven, and was offered three possible treatments: active surveillance - sometimes called ‘watchful waiting’ - radiology and surgery.
“I decided on surgery because for me it seemed that surgery came in two self-contained boxes. The first is the surgery, followed by the recovery stage. Radiology would have been over four weeks followed by recovery.”
John had his operation in March 2011, spending less than three days in hospital.
“The operation was successful, and the cancer was completely removed. I had to wear a catheter when I was discharged, but only for two weeks. My recovery went well, but took approximately 12 months.”
John decided to help other patients when he had completely overcome cancer.
“When I had fully recovered, I felt that it would be useful if I could help other men who had been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, but were unaware of the journey ahead, or were unsure of which treatment to choose.”
He has now become a one-to-one peer support volunteer with the Prostate Cancer UK charity.
John continued: “I talk to men who have been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. I tell my story, and why I chose surgery, and discuss with them in detail all the problems that I had to overcome in my recovery, and answer any questions that they may have.”
Call the charity on 0800 074 8383 to speak to a specialist nurse or peer support volunteer.
Open day for survivors of condition
An open day is taking place on Thursday at the Weston Park Cancer Information and Support Centre aimed at prostate cancer survivors.
Men with the disease, their families and carers will be encouraged to access facilities on offer in Sheffield which help patients overcome their illness.
The ‘wellbeing day’ is being backed by Prostate Cancer UK, and a range of staff from various services will be attending during the day, including urology clinical nurse specialists, continence physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
Representatives from Activity Sheffield and Cavendish Cancer Care will speak to visitors, while welfare advisors will offer information on housing, employment, benefits and debt issues.
The event, at the centre on Northumberland Road, runs from 10am to 3pm.
A second wellbeing day is planned on January 15.