“I’ve got cancer” are the words no child should have to hear from one of their parents, let alone both. That’s why I’m taking part in Prostate Cancer UK’s March for Men this June - to stop other children from going through what I went through, and to raise awareness that prostate cancer can affect younger men.
When I was just 10 years old, my mum was diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer. The 12 months that followed were the most difficult of my life, as I watched my mum being dependent on round-the-clock care. For the final weeks of her life, the hospice she was staying in for palliative care became a second home for me and my dad. One memory that will always stick with me is trying on my high school uniform at the hospice so that she could see me wearing it, as deep down we all knew she wouldn’t be able to wave me off on my first day. My mum passed away at the age of 42.
Then, almost five years later and just days after I finished high school, my dad sat me down and broke the news that he too had been diagnosed with cancer, aged just 40. My initial reaction was to laugh, as I couldn’t believe this could be happening to our family again. I feared the worst, that I’d soon be left with no parents. However, straight away my dad told me that his doctors had reassured him that his was fully treatable by radical prostatectomy, during which the prostate, and cancer within it, would be fully removed.
At 40 years old, my dad was the youngest man his consultant had seen with the disease. NHS guidelines state that men over the age of 50 are entitled to a PSA blood test should they request it, but that GPs should use their clinical judgement to those aged under 50 who are considered to have higher risk for prostate cancer, for example due to a family history of the disease or being of Black ethnicity. Due to his age and not being at high risk of prostate cancer, it was only after numerous doctors’ appointments that my dad had his PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels checked, which were high enough to warrant a biopsy, which confirmed he had prostate cancer.
As I was going through my GCSEs at the time, he only told me of his diagnosis once my exams were over and before the operation to remove the prostate. Fortunately, the removal was a complete success, yet, upon further examination, doctors found that the tumour they originally believed was slow growing was in fact quite aggressive.
While my dad was recovering from his operation, I had just started my A-Levels, and since being aware of the devastating effects of cancer from a young age, decided to study Biomedical Science at university. During my first year, I realised that I wanted to pursue a career in cancer research, so after graduating with first class honours in 2016, I went on to study for a masters in oncology. I was then fortunate enough to be accepted onto a PhD programme researching markers which may provide potential new targets in the treatment of prostate cancer.
My dad was one of the lucky ones, yet for nearly 12,000 men in the UK each year this isn’t the case. Every 45 minutes, a man dies from prostate cancer. Alarmingly, prostate cancer has recently overtaken breast cancer as one of the biggest killers. All it takes is a simple conversation with the men in your life that could potentially save their life. Stereotypically, men try to avoid conversations about their health, particularly sensitive topics like this, yet an uncomfortable five-minute chat could buy back their health.
PSA tests, which diagnose the majority of prostate cancers, are simple, non-invasive blood tests that can be performed by your GP and give an indication of prostate health, which may trigger the need for further testing to confirm a diagnosis and ultimately a treatment plan. Despite the new statistics, when diagnosed early, prostate cancer is a largely treatable disease, yet once spread to sites which commonly include the bones, treatment becomes far more difficult, hence the high mortality rates.
March for Men is a perfect family event to attend, where every member of the family, young, old, or even four-legged, can get involved. The atmosphere and support throughout the March is incredible. With events like March for Men, vital funds can be raised to further research in this field. As a prostate cancer researcher myself, I see first-hand where fundraising goes in research, and with more people Marching for Men and funding ground-breaking research, one day we may be a lot closer to finding a cure for prostate cancer.