Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Today, my Blog is a letter to Steve, at BBC Radio Cumbria, who asked me to report back to him after I attended a meeting last night, recommended on air yesterday.

Dear Steve,

Last night I went to my first, 'North Cumbria Prostate Cancer Support Group' meeting. As the 'new boy', I was made to feel very welcome by Jimmy Allen and the others. It was strange to see myself in a room where I was probably 10 years younger than most, this explaining why I was said to be 'very young' in this type of cancer group. They had a guest speaker on, who you had met earlier, David C Baxter-Smith, who was accompanied by his very pleasant wife. A recently retired Prostate expert from Worcester, David last practised in Birmingham and as you know, he now works for a Prostate Cancer charity, traveling the country, encouraging the forming of support groups and promoting and carrying out PSA testing for men over 50. Today he is in Maryport where he hopes to do several hundred of these tests, and then write to each individual and give advice based on the result. Why don't men just go to their doctor? Partly because they think it could never be growing inside of them, and partly because many doctors will simply turn them away if they have no symptoms. Doctors mainly have a poor knowledge of this disease, even though it is one of the biggest killers of men in the world. In the UK, 150 men everyday, are told the news that they have Prostate Cancer. Every fortnight, the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of men die from prostate cancer.

David's presentation was direct and from the heart, speaking without notes, he was extremely knowledgable and put the detail over in a very interesting and often amusing way. I particularly liked when he held his finger up and said, "this finger has been inside the bum hole of 40,000 men, including five members of the House of Lords". He explained that in his early surgical days, nobody specialised, and as others started to concentrate on, the heart, the lungs, the liver or the brain, he was just left with the 'water works', which included the prostate. He was also spurred on to specialise in this area because his Father, like mine, had died of Prostate Cancer, and because of this, he too has regular PSA testing.

As there were people present last night, who had decided to come along after hearing David on the radio earlier, he started by explaining exactly where the Prostate gland is located and what it's function is. He then went on to talk about the  symptoms of Prostate Cancer and the blood testing process to ascertain PSA levels. He explained the internal examination method and what the doctor was feeling for, and also talked about the different scoring systems related to the staging of the cancer. There is very little research practiced in the UK on this cancer, and considering so many men will fall to it, very little is known about it or how it is caused. It seems that it is common in Western Society, but not as common in China or the Far East. The further away from the equator you are the better, and yet Jamaica has the World's highest rate of the disease. You are twice as likely to get it if your Father or Brother have had it. If you are over 70, and sat at a table with 11 other men, 5 of you would have it, but you will probably all die of something else. However, if you are 50 to 60 years old, you are far more in danger from an aggressive spread and need to get it treated fast. Now when I say 'fast' spread, 'fast' in prostate cancer is nowhere as quick as 'fast' in breast cancer. So he assured me that if my cancer had been seen on the MRI as contained within the prostate capsule, even though it was aggressive, I did have time on my side, and I needn't panic on my progress through the system so far.

Jill Thursby, the Specialist Urology Nurse from the hospital was also there and I had a long chat with her afterwards. She had recently been to a seminar in Leeds where they had discussed the advantages of the Da Vinci machine. The conclusion being that the most important factor was the person doing your surgery and their success rate, rather than this new machine. We also talked at length about my case and I am contacting her tomorrow when she has promised to track down my file on Mr Eronini's desk! Jill also questioned David as to whether PSA testing and all the anxiety around it, was relevant in diagnosing this disease. The current increased publicity meant that a surge of people were having their blood tested for PSA, without the resources being made available to cope at hospitals. Many have raised levels and after examination are sent for biopsy with either only low grade cancer or nothing discovered. But David pointed to the huge amount of cancer that is discovered early, saying that without the PSA test, it would have gone undetected. I suppose if 10 men have to have a very uncomfortable biopsy, to find the one who has the disease, on balance, it's worth it.

Did you know that in the USA, 60% of men over the age of 50 could tell you their PSA score. In the UK, this is less than 5% and most men have never heard of it! Every man in Cumbria should know his PSA level and automatically be informed of his right to have this simple test on his 50th birthday. After all, when I got to 50, enough organisations had my details, being able to offer me stair lifts, viagra, funeral plans and disabled bathrooms!

I had a chat to David and his wife over a cup of tea after the meeting. He gave me some advice as to how I could swim through the bureaucratic mire that I find myself in, and also handed me his card with telephone number and e mail address on it. I promised to call him only if it was urgent, but his wife insisted that I could call him anytime, even if I was worried and just wanted to chat. You can't get kinder than that Steve, can you?

I look forward to linking up again with BBC Radio Cumbria in the near future, so that we can reach out to every man across the County with this message.......'Know your PSA'.

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