Each year over 40,000 men are diagnosed with the illness. It also kills one man every hour. With that in mind, it's safe to say that we need to talk about it more.
And what better time to talk, than during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month?
John Hinde, my father, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013. It was a strange time in our family, which wasn't helped by the fact that there was this huge elephant in the room that nobody really wanted to discuss.
It's not because we don't talk as a family - we do. The reason why I didn't bring it up was because I didn't know if my dad would feel comfortable talking about it. I was also scared about what he'd say if we did.
Meanwhile he didn't mention it much because he didn't feel the need to. We just carried on life as normal, but he had cancer.
During that time my head was filled with questions. Mainly "Is he going to die?" and "Why is it happening to my dad?" but also the more inquisitive: "What does cancer actually feel like?" "What on earth is a prostate?" "Oh, you have to have a finger up your bum?" etc., etc.
A year down the line and things have, thankfully, changed for the better. My dad had an operation to remove his prostate and I finally plucked up the courage to ask him the questions that, at the time, I didn't quite have the courage to say...
How and when did you find out you had prostate cancer?
When my dad found out he had prostate cancer, his doctor told him that it was a hereditary disease and therefore can be passed from father to son. So, he asked me to go and get checked out. At this stage I didn’t have any symptoms associated with prostate cancer and I didn’t feel unwell. But I went anyway to give him peace of mind.
At the doctors they gave me a blood test and found that my PSA levels were high – they’d hit 5 ng/mL and were meant to be less than 4 ng/mL.
After that I was asked back for the prostate test that every man dreads. The doctor checked my prostate and found it was quite hard. I then had to go for a biopsy at New Cross Hospital.
After the test results had come back, I had a call from the hospital asking me to go in and see them. They then told me I had prostate cancer, which was a huge shock. I think this was because I didn’t feel ill in myself, so it was hard news to digest.
It actually shocked Gina (my wife), more than it shocked me. She panicked, thinking “he’s going to die”.
Story continues below...
Was the second prostate cancer test as scary as everyone thinks it is?
It’s not really that scary, it’s just a bit embarrassing. As a bloke it doesn’t feel quite right to have a male doctor shove his finger up your bum. It didn’t hurt though. Now I know what to expect, it’s not a problem.
How did you feel after finding out you had cancer?
I was very calm about it especially as I didn’t feel ill in myself or have any of the symptoms. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect.
I wasn’t worried because it was early stage cancer and I felt relieved that I’d done the right thing by having it checked out. I think I would’ve been more worried had I been older and it had been there a while.
What options were given to you for treatment? And which did you choose?
I was given three options:
1) Leave it and see what happens – although I didn’t think this was a good idea.
2) Undergo radiotherapy – I didn’t like the idea of this as my dad has had radiotherapy and it’s knocked him about quite a bit.
3) Whip my prostate out with the Da Vinci robot – there were a few drawbacks to it such as erectile dysfunction and bladder problems but it seemed like the best option as the aim is to remove the cancer completely.
How did you feel about the treatment type you’d chosen? Did you feel nervous?
I didn’t feel nervous about it at all. In fact, I figured I’d be out cold anyway so if I was to die – which was the worst-case scenario - then I wouldn’t have known about it.
I just wanted to get rid of the tumour so that it was no longer a problem.
Explain the process of your treatment...
I was anaesthetised, there was a robot set up over my body and my doctor sat in a room with a computer which controlled the robot.
In theory, the robot did all of the messy stuff – making incisions, cutting muscle and removing my prostate. Dr Cooke operated it from behind a computer screen.
The operation itself was a very neat process. There were five small entry points on my body, which left no scars. I was literally in one day, had the operation, stayed overnight and was out the following day – it was a very quick process.
What was the scariest part?
The worst thing about the whole experience was having the drain removed from my stomach the day after the operation and having a sore throat from where the oxygen tube had been when I was under anesthetic. I kept coughing afterwards and it hurt my stomach which, as you can imagine, was very tender.
Also when the male nurse came and told me he had to inject me in my stomach, and then proceeded to tell me that I had to inject this stuff into myself at home for the next 30 days during my recovery at home.
Funnily enough, my biggest worry pre-op was having the catheter pulled out. When the nurse came to take it out, I didn’t even notice! It’s funny that the thing I was most worried about wasn’t even that bad in the end.
After your treatment, how did you feel?
I had issues with my bladder as I’d lost one of my sphincter muscles. When they first took the catheter out I had to wear pads, especially when I first went back to work. Nobody knows you’re wearing pads so that aspect is fine.
It took over eight weeks after having the catheter out for my bladder to get back to somewhere near normal. During that time it was a bit embarrassing as you’re like a kid and have no control over your bladder and you’re leaking everywhere.
You think it’s never going to get better but as you do your pelvic floor exercises and time goes by, it heals up and things go back to normal.
Were you able to get an erection?
It took a while to get that working again, about two or three months. The hospital had to give me some Viagra to help it along but it soon came back. That side of things is now working fine.
*Note: John had previously undergone a vasectomy, so he couldn't produce sperm prior to his operation. Removing the prostate will disrupt sperm production. According to Live Science, the prostate gland's main function is to secrete prostate fluid - one of the components of semen. Without a prostate, you will not be able to have children.
What was the after-care process like?
I was out of hospital the day after my op. At home, there was a nurse who came to visit occasionally to change my dressings and then there was a nurse who came to take the catheter out at the end, but that was about it. I couldn’t do much for six weeks so had to just sit around and watch TV.
I wasn’t moving about much, so put on a bit of weight. This was also down to the fact that I was eating a lot of sh*t like cheese and chocolate. As you can expect, my cholesterol levels went up.
Are you cancer-free now?
After the operation I had my PSA levels tested and they’d gone down. Now every six months I have to go for a blood test to check they’re still decreasing. In the summer they told me my PSA was as low as it could go which I was really pleased about.
When Dr Cooke tested the cancer after it was removed, they told me it was type five which is the most aggressive cancer you can get. So it’s a good job they removed it during the early stages.
Was it scary having cancer?
No because I didn’t feel ill and couldn’t feel anything so I didn’t feel worried. Had I not have been for the test I wouldn’t have even known I had it.
Gina worried about it but I guess it’s always like that. If it was somebody else in my shoes - like you or Gina - then I’d worry, but because I had the cancer it was up to me to do something about it.
Would you recommend the treatment you had to other men?
Yes definitely. The reality is you can live without a prostate so having it removed is the best option, and it doesn’t effect your ‘performance’, which is what most guys are probably worried about.
The robotic treatment was incredible and regardless of the few downsides it has, in six months I was pretty much back to normal and cancer-free.
Why don't men discuss prostate cancer more?
I don’t think it’s so much about the fact you’ve got prostate cancer but it’s the tests that go alongside it – the finger up your bum part is violating and men don’t like the thought of being violated in that way. I think it’s a pride thing, the fact it makes you feel emasculated.
Generally speaking, men don’t like talking about illness which all boils down to pride. We like to think we’re invincible and don’t like to think we can get ill. Then, when you find out that you’ve got a major illness it makes you feel weak – like you’ve succumbed and it’s beaten you. We don’t like being beaten.
My advice to any guy, regardless of how proud you are, would be that if there’s a history of prostate cancer in your family then get your PSA levels checked.
If the cancer is caught early enough then doctors can do something about it. If you bury your head in the sand then it can kill you.