For Ann Graham, news of her husband’s prostate cancer came too late.
But she is determined to carry on his fight and make sure more men get checked for prostate cancer in time.
I’ve volunteered for Prostate Cancer UK for the past nine years. My main role has been giving awareness talks on why it’s so important to get yourself checked for the disease.
You might think it’s a bit unusual for a woman to be giving talks on a condition that’s far more common in men.
Let me assure you that my husband Albert, would be the one telling the story of his battle with prostate cancer – if he had survived to tell it.
The news no one wants to hear
Albert was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012. At that time, I was a senior charge nurse in a haematology ward that deals with cancers and other disorders of the blood.
I understood the implications of a cancer diagnosis all too well, but knew very little about prostate cancer specifically. Albert, who worked as a lorry driver at the time, knew even less.
It came as a total surprise, and the diagnosis tore our world apart in a way that anyone who hasn’t had to hear such news will never fully appreciate.
Knowing what I know now, I can look back and see the warning signs. During 2012, I noticed my husband had started to get up during the night to go to the loo. This was something he had never done before.
As the months went on, he was getting up in the night more frequently and seemed to be taking ages in the loo. At times I would shout from the bedroom: ‘have you fallen asleep in there?’ But we thought nothing of it.
Eventually, when the problem didn’t go away, we thought that it was probably due to an enlarged prostate, which is typical in older men. He was 64 at the time. I encouraged him to go to the GP. He was reluctant at first but eventually agreed.
The GP did a rectal examination and warned Albert that his prostate was indeed enlarged, but there might be something else going on.
The prostate had felt irregular and lumpy, which could be a sign of prostate cancer. Within two weeks, he was seen in the urology clinic and had prostate biopsies taken.
The following week, we were informed that he had local advanced prostate cancer. We had no idea what that meant.
Breaking the news…
The nurse explained that the cancer had spread from the prostate gland into the surrounding tissues. This meant that it was incurable, but treatable. I’ll never forget the moment we heard the news, or the look on Albert’s face.
At that point, he didn’t want to tell anyone, especially our children. He was too embarrassed.
Eventually, of course, we had to break the news to our family, and to the wider world. It was a difficult conversation to have and there were many tears, but we all tried to stay positive about his treatment. I knew a lot of people on the oncology ward. He was in excellent hands. We could fight this.
Albert started on hormone injections right away. This would hopefully stop the disease from progressing and might reduce the tumours, too. Luckily, he did not have any side-effects.
We were given lots of information – leaflets and websites to look through, but we needed help making sense of it all. As a former nurse, I needed to know what we were up against and hated being in the dark.
Finding our way
We looked up ‘prostate cancer’ on the internet and came across Prostate Cancer UK. There was a wealth of information there and support from other men with prostate cancer and their families.
Albert spent a lot of time talking to other men in his situation. I think he found it easier to offload his thoughts and worries onto people who knew exactly what it was like.
For the first year, all seemed well. Albert was doing great in himself, staying brave and positive through everything. We both started volunteering for Prostate Cancer UK. I was giving awareness presentations and Albert was there to answer questions on his experience.
It felt right, being there for others at the same time they were there for us. Hearing about the disease first-hand from Albert really made it hit home for a lot of people. For those initial months, we really felt like we were going to be all right.
Making most of the time we had
Then in December 2013, Albert started to experience pain in his groin. There was nothing to see on the CT or bone scans but his PSA (prostate specific antigen) was beginning to rise, which wasn’t a good sign.
The doctors quickly realised that he had become resistant to his current treatment. He was started on a different form of hormone therapy, tablets this time. This bought us some more precious time together, but we started to see that the picture was changing.
We resolved to make the most of what time we had. In March 2014, we went on holiday to Canada. Despite the precious memories we made, it was clear his health was getting worse.
Albert walked into the country but was wheeled out in a chair. We cut the holiday short and flew home. The cancer had spread to his thigh bone. He had to have a rod inserted into the bone to prevent it from breaking.
We were determined to still fight, if we could. Albert was given a dose of chemotherapy, however, this proved too strong for his system and he was very unwell with the side-effects.
We tried a few other forms of treatment, but it was clear we were running out of time. It was only four months before the disease progressed and spread throughout his body. He died in October 2014.
Seven years on and I still miss him every day.
Carrying on the fight
I still volunteer for Prostate Cancer UK. It’s a powerful form of healing for me to be sharing our story and telling the message Albert would want other men to hear.
The message is simple: if you are in any of the risk categories [link to are you at risk of prostate cancer article] or have symptoms, you need to go and get checked by your GP.
Warning signs can include:
- Needing to pass urine more often- especially at night
- Difficulty passing urine – this includes a weaker flow, not emptying your bladder completely and straining when starting to empty your bladder
- Blood in your urine or semen
Prostate cancer can develop without symptoms at first, and spotting it early is key for successful treatment. It’s especially important to get yourself checked if you are:
- Over 50
- Have a close family history of prostate cancer
- Are of black ethnicity
Had I known in 2012 what I know now of prostate cancer and the risks, I would have encouraged Albert to be checked out sooner – before he started to experience symptoms.
I try not to let myself wonder what life might look like if we had. The outcome may have been the same, but we will never know.
It takes 30 seconds to fill in Prostate Cancer UK’s online risk checker. Take it from me, this could be the most important 30 seconds of your life.
For more information, talk to your Peppy practitioner or visit Prostate Cancer UK.