Unwelcome Guest in arse kicking sensation

The Brexit box-set psychodrama seems to be reaching the season finale, but let’s forget about that and concentrate on good news. I am now officially the James Bond of prostate cancer – my PSA level is 0.07.

Yesterday’s appointment with the oncologist, following two months of radiotherapy and a year on hormone therapy, revealed my PSA level to be ‘virtually undetectable’. Take that Unwelcome Guest, you now almost don’t exist.

To complete the Unwelcome Guest arse-booting contest my PSA level needs to be 0.03 or lower. Then it is undetectable and, for a while at least, I join the NED club. (No evidence of disease)

Now I know the Guest might already be planning a come-back tour but right now the NHS seems to have bested the little bastard. So first a big PHEW from me and then a huge thank you to all the wonderful urologists, oncologists, radiotherapists, GPs and nurses who have nursed me through this horrible twelve months. Without exception they have been splendid, caring and often funny. Who can forget the time I told a doctor that cancer had come as a shock as both my parents had died from heart disease, only for him to reply: ‘Don’t worry Jim, you’re still way more likely to die from a heart attack’. Such comfort.

So what now? I still have two years of unlovely hormone therapy to endure. I’m aware that some find this therapy truly horrible, and while I’m not crazy about it, if this is what it takes to be rid of the Guest then I’m in. I’ll see the oncologist every four months and hopefully my PSA level will decline still further. If it were to rise above two, that would be a cause for concern and would require further treatment.

I’m aware this game isn’t over, but neither is it game over. With one bound Jim was free to fight another day. I’m seriously considering having a couple of light ales this evening.

Prostate Cancer UK

Anybody reading this blog in the UK who has prostate cancer will almost certainly know about Prostate Cancer UK. This is their mission statement:

‘Prostate Cancer UK has a simple ambition – to stop men dying from prostate cancer. Through shifting the science over the next 10 years to focus on radical improvements in diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and support, we will stop prostate cancer being a killer.’

I’ve just been doing some copy editing for their website, which is an excellent resource that answers many of the questions both sufferers and their families may have about this pernicious disease. You can get your Man of Men charity pin from them too. Check out the website, if you haven’t already, and support a worthy cause.


The year of living cancerously

It’s now almost exactly a year since I discovered the Unwelcome Guest had set up shop in my prostate. The presumptuous little bastard.

To celebrate, and I’m going for gold in the most inappropriate use of an English word, I thought I’d look back on my year of living cancerously; not so much at the treatment and side-effects but rather at what it does to your life. SPOILER ALERT: It’s not all depressing.

One in two people in the UK will develop cancer at some point so to some degree it’s a shadow that hangs over us all but make no mistake there is a significant difference between a potential threat and the real deal. If you become a member of the cancer club, the club that nobody wants to join, it packs a punch. When the doctor looked at my scan and I got my first glimpse of the Guest, I broke into a sweat, felt faint and thought I’d collapse but lay down and gathered myself. I cried when Mrs Preen and I parted at the tube station.

Take the following thoughts and questions, mix them in a blender, and you’ll get a sense of how it feels in the first few days: What is a PSA test? How much is the biopsy going to hurt? Will I be here next year? What do I tell my 15-year-old daughter? What’s a Gleason score? Why me you bastard? For best effect have these going around your head at three in the morning while working up a muck sweat of worry.

Catch cancer early and you have a decent chance of survival. Fortunately my cancer was mostly contained within my prostate with the Guest just nudging one lymph node. When AA Gill was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he described himself as having the Full English. Mine is more of a continental breakfast, but no one should ever get complacent; what was once a croissant can soon become a fry-up.

In 2008 PJ O’Rourke was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer. He quipped: “I looked death in the face. All right, I didn’t. I glimpsed him in a crowd.” I guess the same goes for me. I once got drunk with PJ in Mogadishu when we were both there working for ABC News. We quoted Auden and Yeats at each other, pretentious little pricks, but I’m happy to say he’s still very much alive.

Pretty much at the outset I was given a 50/50 chance of my cancer being cured and if not cured, was told it had the potential to be managed successfully for a number of years. Dan, a fellow blogger, and prostate cancer patient has a warning: ‘Once you introduce the word cancer into your vocabulary, it never goes away, even if the disease does. There will always be that little cloud called “fear of recurrence” that will follow you around for the rest of your days’.

Perhaps its superstition or perhaps it’s just good sense but Dan’s wary of ever saying one is cured or cancer free. Maybe it’s like being an alcoholic, you are only ever a recovering alcoholic even if you haven’t had a drink in 30 years. He likes the acronym NED, ‘no evidence of disease.’ Saying you’re cured is dangerous; you may think you’re done with cancer, but cancer may not be done with you.

I follow a Facebook page ‘Prostate Cancer UK Support Group’ where others with their own Unwelcome Guests post their stories, conditions and questions. Many are poignant, funny and some unbelievably sad. I’ve seen posts detailing men who are diagnosed while still in their forties and early fifties, which seems so unbelievably unfair. Many also find the treatments that I’m on such as hormone therapy and radiotherapy almost unendurable. While everyone’s treatment will differ so will their reaction to the treatments and side-effects.

But of course it’s not just the patient who has to live with cancer, his family are also on the same unwelcome journey. Right from the outset I took the decision to be upbeat and to make the journey as bearable for them as I could.

Yesterday Mrs Preen and I took the dog for a longish walk in the countryside and I asked what it was like to be married to a husband who was foolish enough to develop prostate cancer. Her answer came in two equally surprising parts. First, she said she was worried she didn’t worry enough about me! Not, she was quick to reassure me, because she didn’t care but because she was convinced all would be well. She said that if on balance I’d like her to worry more she would get right down to it.

I’ve mentioned this before elsewhere, but she said she continues to be astonished at how remarkably upbeat I am most days and actually less grumpy than prior to my diagnosis. I guess all wives can use a less grumpy husband, but why this should happen after contracting cancer seems to defy logic. But you know what? I’m not going to dig too deeply into the whys and wherefores and just be happy that’s the case. There’s plenty of time to be miserable should the Unwelcome Guest decide to go medieval on me.

And what of my teenage daughter, what are her thoughts? She knows I have cancer, but I rarely mention my condition or treatments. I’ve done this to protect her, but it occurred to me that my cancer might be seen as off limits; something that shouldn’t be mentioned. What could be worse than fretting about something you can’t talk about? So, we had a chat about it and apparently her mother had told her that dad wasn’t going to die anytime soon and that had offered enough reassurance. At 15 there’s lots of other stuff going on and heaven knows I don’t want to be a worry when the spectre of GCSEs is causing enough terror all by itself.

When you tell people you have cancer, they don’t say it, but their first thought is, he’s going to die soon. That’s a reasonable assumption because that’s exactly what I thought when I was first diagnosed. I’ve got a pretty good shot at traveling on a few more years but I don’t know for sure where I’m headed and at some point, it might not be in a very desirable direction. Then I reserve the right to be less cheerful. But right now what cancer gives me is all the encouragement I need to live in the moment. When I was young the future was like a huge jigsaw puzzle that I’d construct when I finally got around to it. At almost 65 and living with cancer, the future is now.


Radio Days (13): Last Blast

On Wednesday of this week at 9.15am my prostate was blasted for the last time. My 39 rides on the doughnut of doom are complete and hopefully the Unwelcome Guest has been given all the encouragement he needs to fuck off.

But the doughnut wasn’t going to give up without a struggle. On Tuesday I was attending a work conference and sat on a panel dispensing words and wisdom and a couple of laughs on the stuff I do for a living. Talking in public meant my phone was switched off so I missed a call from St Thom’s radiotherapy department telling me the doughnut was busted and my final treatment might be delayed. So close to the finishing line and now this. I called RT, but nobody picked up, so I left it until first thing Wednesday, but then the number was constantly engaged. As regular blog followers will know my RT treatment has by no means been bad, but I really wanted it over.

Also I’ve made friends in the waiting room of doom and wanted to say a fond farewell to certain members of the early morning cancer crew.

Mulling over what to do I decided to head out as usual to St Thom’s even if I had to wait all day for the doughnut to be fixed. A friend of mine recently asked if my experience had put me off eating doughnuts. To which my answer is, if any reader wants to send over a box of Krispy Kremes, they won’t go to waste.

Arriving at St Thom’s it was just Aaron, ace radiographer, and me. He was on the phone but gave me the thumbs up to say the doughnut was in peak condition and ready to give Preen one last ride. Slowly, other RT technocrats started assembling and I started drinking my 350ml of water.

Alan and Peter, two of the cancer crew, arrived as they’d not heard the doughnut was broken, so I was delighted to be able to say goodbye to them and wish them well. It was Peter’s last blast too but unfortunately Alan still has around 12 fractions to go.

So there we are drinking our water and gabbing away as we do every morning. Unfortunately, it takes a while for me to be called through so when I’m lying in the doughnut I’m absolutely bursting for a pee, but it’s going to take an earthquake to stop me seeing this through and anyway it seemed disrespectful to piss all over the doughnut which has been doing so much to see off the Guest. Treatment complete I slide out of the doughnut, get my picture taken and leg it to the toilet. Doughnut done and dusted.

Friends have been so kind sending me jovial upbeat messages, Sarah & Tim sent a bottle of bubbly and I bought myself a litre of Jack, so I may not be quite so sober as I have been for the last two months.

All that remains is for me to thank the radio stars who have administered my treatment with caring professionalism and not a little humour. The NHS is blessed to have: Naeema, Rafiq, Helen, Damon, Orla, Georgia, Aaron, Eileen, Catherine, Hodma and Sharan.

Nothing now happens until January when I take a blood test to check my PSA level and talk with the oncologist about the next moves to keep the Unwelcome Guest off my back, not to mention my prostate. I plan to enjoy Christmas and put Jim’s cancer capers to the back of my mind.


Radio Days (12): Light at the end of the doughnut

With thirty-six rides on the doughnut of doom complete, there are only three more to go. By 10am next Wednesday my radiotherapy treatment will be complete; there’s light at the end of the doughnut.

Today Mrs Preen and I attended my final treatment review session with Maggie who seemed pleased with my progress. Not much has changed as far as side-effects go, though at night I’m wearing out the carpet on the way to the loo slightly more frequently. About three weeks ago this was getting to be quite a drag and lack of sleep was making me feel as tired as a teddy bear. It’s amazing how the body can adjust, because now, even though bog attendance has increased, once back in bed I generally go straight back to sleep. Feeling more rested, I managed to stay up until 10.30 last night; so rock & roll.

Maggie warned that for a week to ten days after treatment the side-effects may get a little worse but by strength of will and force of character, I’ve decided that’s not going to happen to me. Let’s see who wins, me or the doughnut.

For anyone reading this who’s about to start RT all I can say is that it wasn’t so bad though of course everyone’s experience differs. Alan, one of the early morning cancer crew, has found sleeping very difficult as he’s trudging to the loo on the hour every hour. The poor guy looks tuckered out.

I’ll be glad not to have to slog to hospital every morning, but the bicycling has kept me fit and I’ve continued to work throughout, though perhaps not quite at full speed. (Don’t tell the boss)

On our way out the door Maggie handed me a sheet detailing support group meetings for prostate cancer patients. At the end of every month there’s an event called Prostate Life! (their exclamation mark, not mine) where guest speakers are invited to talk on subjects ranging from ‘Prostate Cancer – what is it?’ to ‘Psychological issues and managing stress’. Interesting stuff and no doubt you’ll want me to put your name on the door, but the one I’ve got my eye on is The Festive Meeting on 28th December. Obviously, I’ll be wearing my Christmas jumper, but what does one take to a festive prostate cancer meeting? Frankly the mind boggles.