United against prostate cancer

United against prostate cancer
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Pic: Chris Watt, UNP

As an experienced nurse, Mary Stott was the first to urge her husband David to visit their GP when he began getting up in the middle of the night to go to the loo. He was in his early 50s at the time and it was out of the ordinary. He was also complaining of a slightly sore sensation when he passed urine. At the back of her mind was the thought that the symptoms could indicate prostate cancer – which one in eight men in the UK will face at some point in their lives.

Tests on a protein produced by the prostate, which can indicate a problem, came back as normal. “We trusted our GP and of  course were relieved to hear he didn’t have prostate cancer. My elderly mother was very frail and ill at the time so we had other worries.”

It was only after Mary’s mother died several years later that it struck home that David was still having problems in his early 60s, so he sought more medical treatment. In September 2006, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 62 following another test on proteins from his prostate and a biopsy. “It was a big shock,” recalls Mary (71) who has been married to retired university professor David (now 71) for 45 years. “My first thought was that I’d lost Mum and was now going to lose David.”

With no children, the couple had always enjoyed a close, loving relationship – including a healthy sex life that Mary describes as: “excellent. Our married life has been undisturbed and probably our love life was taken for granted until prostate cancer came along. Then it became a huge problem,” she says.

The first hurdle after diagnosis was the four-month wait for surgery to remove David’s prostate. “Waiting for the treatment to start, knowing that there was a cancer growing inside me, was almost intolerable. I was worried, my wife was worried, but the health service wasn’t able to direct us to any support,” David says.

'Too often the partners and families of men with prostate cancer are forgotten, but the emotional impact can be enormous'

Eventually, he discovered a men’s support group at the local Maggie’s Centre, where he was able to talk to other men in his position. There was no similar support for Mary, though.
She says: “All too often the partners and families of men with prostate cancer are forgotten but the emotional impact on them can be enormous.” Although they stopped having sex largely through worry, Mary saw it as temporary, until after surgery.

Eventually in January 2007 David underwent a radical prostatectomy at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, followed by radiotherapy treatment. Then it dawned on Mary that the problem was not quite so temporary. “There was no way David could get an erection. It had never been a problem in the past. We’d both always felt happy and satisfied with our lovemaking,” she says. Suddenly, she could no longer hold in her anxiety and distress. The loss of her sex life brought  underlying problems with her childlessness and previous early  miscarriages to the surface, and she began having panic attacks.

“I’d always been a person for whom physical contact was important and suddenly sex wasn’t there when I needed it most. It became a big issue. I found myself looking at other men David’s age and thinking ‘I wonder if they can still perform?’ I was horrified even thinking like that. I was upset by my thoughts and it frightened me. “I was eating normally but was so anxious and agitated I lost a stone within months. I was shaky and tearful and couldn’t cope with life. I felt completely helpless,” she adds.

Referred for counselling by her GP, there was a six-month waiting list so she joined a general relaxation group at the Maggie’s Centre, which helped. She then received one-to-one counselling by an excellent trained psychologist, also at the Maggie’s centre, an organisation set up by a lady called Maggie Jencks, before she died of cancer, to give help and support to cancer sufferers and carers. More than two years after surgery,  things returned to normal, including their sex life, after they discovered an injectable drug – Caverject. Used just before love-making, it worked where tablets like Viagra had failed. “Although I found the injection just before sex a turn-off, I began going out of the bedroom and waiting until David was ready and we got our married life back,” Mary explains.

Realising there was a real need for specific support not just for men, but partners as well, Mary set up her own group at the Maggie’s Centre, “Talking to others who completely understand how you’re feeling and what you’re going through is one of the best medicines anyone can have.”

David had further health problems last summer, as a result of treatment, and the couple’s sex life came to a natural end. But this time they adjusted and were able to cope with it. Back to her normal self, Mary adds: “But when it did matter, it put quite a strain on our relationship. We’re so thankful we’ve still got each other.”

  • If you have concerns about prostate cancer, call Prostate Cancer UK’s Specialist Nurses on 0800 074 8383. The phone service is free to landlines and open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, and 8pm
    on Wednesdays.
  • For more about Maggie Centres visit www.maggiescentres.org

What you need to know

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located below the bladder that produces some of the fluid in semen and is crucial to a man’s sex life. Often it enlarges as men get older and in some cases can press on the tube carrying urine from the bladder and cause urinary problems.

The average age for men to be diagnosed with the condition is between 70 and 74 years. If you are under 50, your risk of getting prostate cancer is very low. Most men with early prostate cancer do not have any symptoms, but at a later stage the need to urinate more frequently, often during the night, can be a sign. There is no single, definitive test for prostate cancer, so your GP will discuss the pros and cons of the various tests with you to try to avoid unnecessary anxiety.

Men United is a movement for men’s health spearheaded by Prostate Cancer UK to raise funds and awareness of the disease. For more details visit www.prostatecanceruk.org/menunited

Rocking good time for funds

Rock legend Kenney Jones, who played in The Small Faces, The Faces and The Who, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013 and has since undergone treatment. This summer Kenney and his wife Jayne, who
admits that Kenney’s diagnosis had a huge impact on her, will be bringing together a host of musicians for just one day to raise funds for Prostate Cancer UK.

Stars including Mick Hucknall, Bill Wyman, Procol Harum, Andy Fairweather Low, Nik Kershaw and Steve Harley will be taking to the stage at Hurtwood Park Polo Club, alongside Kenney at this year’s Rock n Horsepower.

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