With no history or symptoms, a blood test saved Alan's life
LITTLE did I realise that a routine blood test was about to change my life forever.
"Your PSA (prostate specific antigen) level is elevated - I think we should follow it up just to rule out the possibility of prostate cancer," my GP, Dr Paul Cotton, said.
At this stage I wasn't particularly concerned - after all I had no other symptoms.
Paul discussed my options and explained to me that a relatively new procedure, a prostate MRI, could pinpoint with 90% accuracy whether or not prostate cancer was present.
The advantage was obvious; no unnecessary biopsies and if there was something there the surgeon would be able to pin-point the exact position where the biopsies would need to be taken.
I was referred to Dr John Yaxley, an urologist who specialised in prostate and bladder cancers.
The plan was to have the prostate MRI in the morning and the appointment with Dr Yaxley in the afternoon to discuss the results.
After the MRI, I was still feeling confident that nothing would be found and life would go on pretty much as normal - how wrong that would prove to be.
Dr Yaxley had reviewed the results prior to my appointment and they were not good.
"You have a large and aggressive tumour and without medical intervention you will only have a one-in-three chance of surviving 10 years," he said.
"So doing nothing is simply not an option.
"At this stage I believe the cancer is totally confined to the prostate gland and has not spread, but further tests will be needed to confirm my prognosis."
The news came as a total shock for my wife and me.
I had no family history of the disease and why didn't I have any other symptoms?
Dr Yaxley explained that it was a common misconception that prostate cancer would show symptoms in the early stages - even if the cancer had been present for some time, as was the case with mine.
"The only way to tell is to have regular PSA checks and, if required, a DRE (digital rectal examination)," he explained.
Basically Dr Cotton's diligence has saved your life."
What was to follow was a biopsy which confirmed Dr Yaxley's diagnosis. The tumour was rated as a T3a (an indicator of its size - T5 being the largest) and a Gleeson rating of 7 (an indicator of how aggressive it was - with 10 being the highest).
One aspect of the process which many find unusual is the course of treatment is decided by the patient, not the doctor.
"I have given you a referral to Dr James MacKean, a radiation oncologist with Genesis Cancer Care and he will give you some more treatment options."
At the end of the day I found I only had two possible options: surgery to remove the prostate and surrounding tissue or HDR (high dose rate) brachytherapy, which required the surgical implantation of a series of hollow rods into the prostate gland and then the introduction of a radioactive isotope for a specified time and distance down each rod. This would be done three times over a 36-hour period.
The procedure is then followed up by image guided external beam radiation each day over five weeks.
I discussed each option with my wife (who was my rock) and did some extensive research. At the end of the day I decided on the HDR Brachytherapy as being the right option for me.
The initial treatment required a four-day stay in the Wesley Hospital, a week off to recover and then five weeks of external beam radiation being conducted at the Genesis facility in Nambour.
After the radiation therapy it would be around three to six months before we knew if the treatment had been successful in eliminating the cancer.
It was in early December 2013 that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and my wife and I decided not to tell friends, family or colleagues until after the Christmas-New Year period.
There were two reasons for this: we did not want to spoil the festive period for them and we wanted to have a plan on what we were doing in place so we could answer the inevitable questions.
When we broke the news to everyone we received the expected outpouring of emotion from family and close friends, but what I didn't expect was the amount of caring, compassion and understanding I received from work colleagues.
Fraser Coast Chronicle general manager Darren Bosley said he was not surprised by the outpouring of support.
"It is just a sign of how much you're respected," he said.
A short time later I had reason to visit Dr Cotton and his comment after the consultation took me by surprise.
"Oh, and welcome back," he said.
When I inquired as to what he meant he said:
"I've noticed the changes in you since your daughter passed away (our daughter, Leanne passed away from metastatic melanoma cancer in early 2011 at age 39) and even tried to give you a nudge but it took this event to really rattle your cage and bring you back to Earth."
Since the loss of our daughter I had begun to drink more and stopped caring about my health and wellbeing - all without realising it.
While I was lying in hospital I thought long and hard about the positive things that had happened to me over the past few months - and I made the decision to change.
I decided to give up drinking, take more care with my diet and exercise more often.
The result: I have lost 20kg and feel great. Dr Cotton told me that I was healthier now than I have been in years - if only I didn't have cancer!
It will be some months before we know whether the treatment has been successful but in life you must cross one bridge at a time.
The important lesson here is for all men - regardless of age or family history - to have a regular PSA test.
Early detection is vital and gives far more treatment options should prostate cancer be detected.
- About 3700 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Queensland each year
- The risk of prostate cancer increases rapidly after 50 years of age
- There is currently no single, simple test to detect prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is complex - while some tumours grow quickly and prove lethal, others grow slowly and do not cause harm in a normal lifespan
- Call Cancer Council Helpline on 131120 for information or to discuss being tested for prostate cancer